Jack Vallentyne's journey from pure academic limnologist to globe-carrying ecological advocate was seemingly predetermined from the beginning. An auspicious start at Queen's University led to graduate school at Yale University under the direction of G. Evelyn Hutchinson, an outstanding authority on the influence of living organisms on the chemistry of the Earth. Under the influence of this maverick and intellectual giant, it was during these early years in his career that Jack gained his first understanding of the workings of the planetary ecological system that he was later to consistently refer to as the Biosphere. He conducted research that lead to a seminal publication in the American Scientist in 1957 entitled, Principles of Modern Limnology, and by the summer of 1980 had strapped a globe to his back for the very first time at the First Global Conference on the Future (Toronto, 1980). Thus Johnny Biosphere was born.

While I later became familiar with the limnologist Jack Vallentyne's accomplishments through the decades subsequent to the 1950s, I was to formally meet the ecological advocate Johnny Biosphere in 1981 when he walked into my 2nd year biology class at Queen's University with the globe on his back. His unerring belief that visual presentation captivated more souls than all of the publications in the world held true, as he captured the attention of the youthful audience that spring day. As he explained the nature of growth as an exponential function, in which numbers double over constant intervals of time, he proceeded to pour whiskey into one, two, four, and eight shot glasses. He proceeded to explain that if growth was such a good thing, then he would show it by drinking one glass every five minutes. As he started to stutter and slur his words, his point was made–just as the human body had limits to the doses of whiskey it could take, ecosystems also have limits to the growth of population and technology. While Jack Vallentyne, of course, was drinking nothing stronger than coloured water, I never forgot that image and the message that was delivered.

I joined the Canada Centre for Inland Waters that summer (1981) as a student, and subsequently I had many opportunities to further my relationship with Jack over the succeeding years, as he was Senior Scientist there by that time. He often asked for the opinions of the young people working at the Centre, as he truly felt that this was the generation who was going to move government policy and scientific observations forward and change the environment for the better. As part of that “younger generation”, I helped proof-read his tome entitled Why I Carry a Globe on My Back, later retitled Journey to the Centre of the Mind (Vallentyne, unpublished, May, 1983), listened to his rationale for making 1982 the Year of the Biosphere (ten years after the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment), and provided assistance during the Centre's Open Houses as Jack perfected his Professor Trout routine. He consistently tried to find ways to bring “the message” to the youth and general population; he knew that only these people could truly effect the changes so necessary to saving the environment. He enlisted the aid of dramatists, environmental minstrels, and popular speakers (both scientist and non-scientist alike) in a heroic effort to educate young and old.

However, it is difficult in my mind to separate Jack Vallentyne the limnologist from Jack Vallentyne the ecological advocate. From the time that I first started teaching limnology courses at Ryerson University in 1997, my class has studied Jack's 1957 Principles of Modern Limnology. The students rigorously examine the concepts he puts forth, as the scientific publication remains a classic and original look at the physical nature of lakes. His work was some of the first to clarify the physics of the density of water and the workings of stratification in northern latitude lakes. The paper examines the nature of water's relative thermal resistance (RTR) to mixing and the physical work necessary to mix waters of differing densities. The notion that increased pressure on water at depth can lower the temperature of water's maximum density and the introduction of Lambert's Law (light absorbed by a solution increases exponentially with the light passing through the solution), are as relevant today as they were over half a century ago when Jack first wrote about them. Thermocline seiches, spectral distribution of the sun's energy after passing through varying depths of water, and the importance of wind energy in heat transfer, are all necessary pieces of information for the modern limnological student. Additionally, halfway through the treatise, Jack exhorts his reader to look at the lakes as ecosystems and to see the flow and transformation of energy as akin to the metabolic function in a living entity. This kind of language, where the lakes are vibrantly alive, is viscerally visual today in 2011–to publish this kind of language in 1957 comes from noone less than a visionary genius. My students often ask if we can invite Jack Vallentyne to our lecture hall as a Guest Lecturer. For my and the students’ sakes, I am so sorry that this will never come to pass.

In closing, there is so much more that can be written about Jack Vallentyne and it will be done so by others in this volume. But on a personal note, I want to emphasize the profound influence he had on my becoming a Great Lakes scientist and that a generation of “young people” surely miss Johnny Biosphere and Professor Trout.


Vallentyne, J. R.
Principles of modern limnology
Amer. Sci.