Bob “JJ” Orth receives the Virginia Outstanding Scientist AwardBill Dennison ·
On March 1, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam presented Dr. Bob “JJ” Orth the Virginia Outstanding Scientist Award. This award is for a scientist who has made globally significant contributions to their field. I am so glad that Bob is being recognized in this manner. I have worked with Bob for 30 years. Over that period, I have co-authored proposals, papers and various reports with him. I have hosted Bob on visits to Australia when I was with the University of Queensland, as well as multiple visits to Maryland. He has hosted me in the Virginia Institute of Marine Science on multiple occasions as well. I served for many years on an international review panel with Bob, based in Perth, Australia. So I know Bob Orth well, and in a variety of settings. He is an exemplary scientist and an excellent colleague. Reflecting on this, Bob Orth is the most prolific and most supportive colleague of my career, and has worked with me the longest time out of any.
I am very glad that Bob Orth received this award, as he is very deserving for a host of reasons. I often think that Bob is under appreciated within the scientific community because of his boyish enthusiasm, silly nickname, continued involvement in field programs and his mapping and monitoring efforts. These are often viewed as mundane. I would argue that his boyish enthusiasm has served him well, allowing Bob to persist through difficult times. His nickname has actually helped him, a New Jersey boy, fit into the Virginia community that he has embraced. Based on his elected position in local government, it is clear he has in turn been embraced by his community. Bob has maintained a high quality submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) mapping and monitoring program that has become part of the bedrock of the Chesapeake Bay Program. This program has taken an incredible amount of persistent energy to continue its maintenance and evolution. Bob has not been content to just collect the data, but has been doggedly persistent about analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing the SAV data in context with the other water quality and land use data sets available. Many scientists, including myself, have greatly benefited from using this dataset.
At the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, we have embraced the Boyer model of scholarship; discovery, integration, application and teaching for our tenure and review process. Upon reflection, Bob Orth’s contributions demonstrate that he has truly excelled at these tenets of scholarship.
Discovery: Bob has made and stimulated important scientific discoveries throughout his career. In particular, he has made key discoveries in the role of seeds and reproductive biology of aquatic plants. He has also elucidated a suite of plant-animal interactions in aquatic grass beds. His large scale transplanting efforts in the Virginia seaside bays have led to important discoveries in the genetics of seagrass meadows. He and his students have been able to discern the effects of sulfide on submerged aquatic vegetation, a key finding that provided insights into the Florida Bay seagrass mass mortality.
Integration: Bob Orth has excelled in science integration. Bob and I co-led a global Seagrass Trajectories working group through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, CA. This project generated some seminal papers in the seagrass realm, including publications in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and Bioscience which have exceeded 1,000 citations each. Bob and I also participated in several Chesapeake Bay SAV synthesis efforts, starting with the SAV Technical Synthesis I (the third SAV Technical Synthesis is nearing completion now) back in the late 1980s. Bob and I convened a SAV synthesis effort in Annapolis on our own funding, resulting in a well cited paper published in 2010. And more recently, Bob secured funding from the Chesapeake Bay Program to convene a synthesis effort, which to date has resulted in two published and one in press publication.
Application: Bob Orth has excelled in science application. He has made innumerable trips to Annapolis to actively participate in various Chesapeake Bay Program activities, through the Science and Technical Advisory Committee, Science and Technical Assessment and Reporting group, the SAV Workgroup, Monitoring Realignment and Assessment Team, and various monitoring committees. Bob has worked closely with relevant State of Virginia agencies as well. He has published numerous reports, created an important and heavily utilized website, and made scores of presentations to resource managers and decision makers. He has worked tirelessly to make his science available for management and policy.
Teaching: Bob Orth has excelled as a science teacher by mentoring young scientists throughout his career. He has provided young scientists with amazing opportunities, such as taking them on field trips and to scientific conferences. Bob has generously shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with his students, as well as students that he was not directly advising. I know that my students greatly benefited from their interactions with Bob. He has fostered student career development by including them as co-authors and supporting their first author publications.
Bob’s scientific papers are important contributions to Chesapeake Bay and beyond. This is evidenced by the high number of citations his papers receive, including five that exceed 1,000 citations. Bob has also been active in a variety of scientific societies, and has served as President of the Estuarine Research Federation, now the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation. He and his students, postdocs and technicians are active participants at scientific conferences and workshops.
In summary, JJ is a most deserving recipient of the Virginia Outstanding Scientist Award. He has enriched Virginia in many ways for the past forty years. Through his multi-faceted scholarship, Bob has brought honor to his institution, Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Bob has directly contributed to the restoration of Chesapeake Bay and the seaside Virginia bays. Bob has been a global ambassador for Virginia, attracting international attention for his science and management accomplishments. Bob Orth is indeed an outstanding scientist, within and beyond Virginia.
Photo credits Bill Dennison.
About the author
Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.