Jack Talling, aquatic scientist

Jack Talling
Jack Talling
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Jack Talling, who has died at 88, was an outstanding aquatic scientist and fellow of the Royal Society, who undertook pioneering research on the large and small lakes of the African Rift Valley and in the English Lake District.

A pioneer in the study of phytoplankton, photosynthesis and of freshwater ecology, he led studies in the River Nile, and made major contributions to our understanding of the functioning of our own temperate lakes, by developing mathematical models that have been applied worldwide.

He produced more than 100 research papers over a 64 year period, the last just two years ago.

Dr Talling was born in Grangetown, in what was then the North Riding, and began to develop his interest in nature on family holidays to a farm in mid-Swaledale.

At Cotham School, he studied the sciences, and the availability of two microscopes passed on by his amateur-microscopist father, triggered a fascination with the microscopic life of ponds. Several boys in his sixth form shared his interests - none more so than Peter Dixon, who later became a world authority.

His interest in plant science flourished during his three years at Leeds University, and a field trip to Wray Castle on the shores of Windermere led to the publication of his first scientific paper.

In 1953, armed with a PhD from Leeds, he took a job at the University of Khartoum, in Sudan, where a newly created hydrobiological research unit allowed the scientific exploration of the Upper Nile, and he was able to demonstrate how the river between Lake Victoria and Khartoum was affected by its different constituents.

He moved in 1957 the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California to take up a post-doctoral fellowship. There he plunged into oceanography and also met his wife, the Icelandic scientist, Ida Bjornsson.

He later worked in Jinja, Uganda, during which time he and Ida undertook a remarkable time and space study of Lake Victoria and other east African lakes. His studies on African lakes and rivers helped lay the foundation of our knowledge of African aquatic science.

He continued to support research in Africa by training scientists for the International Biological Programme in Uganda, and co-wrote a book on the ecological dynamics of tropical inland waters.

Among his many innovations was a method for assessing water colour in Africa using a standard of diluted whisky. The importance of his work as a master limnologist was recognised with his election to the Royal Society in 1978 and the award by the International Society of Limnology of the Naumann-Thienemann medal, in 1989.

In the late eighties, he undertook surveys of rivers with sources in the high Pennines, and produced an assessment of the upland Malham Tarn, a project that enabled him to return to the Yorkshire Dales he had known as a boy.

In retirement, he continued as an honorary research fellow with the Freshwater Biological Association, and revelled in the opportunity to take visiting scientists on tours of his beloved Yorkshire.

He is survived by Ida and by their children, Thora and Peter.