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‘Fearless’ community champion and world-renowned oceanographer remembered

PUBLISHED: 16:31 14 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:36 14 February 2020

Bob Dickson with one of his six grandchildren. PHOTO: Courtesy of CEFAS

Bob Dickson with one of his six grandchildren. PHOTO: Courtesy of CEFAS

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A world-renowned oceanographer, historian and wordsmith has been hailed as a “fearless and much-loved” husband and father.

Bob Dickson. PHOTO: Courtesy of CEFASBob Dickson. PHOTO: Courtesy of CEFAS

Dr Bob Dickson was heavily involved in community life around Lowestoft, from his work with the Lowestoft Players to his historical talks and volunteering efforts, until his death in December.

The 78-year-old, who was born in Edinburgh, was one of the first to gain an PhD in physical oceanography from UEA, and was awarded a CBE in 2006 after three decades with CEFAS in Lowestoft.

His wife Deanne Dickson said: "He was recognised worldwide as an oceanographer but he used his people skills to help raise funds for local causes after he retired.

"He was a man with many skills and interests and this was another string to his bow.

Bob Dickson. PHOTO: Courtesy of CEFASBob Dickson. PHOTO: Courtesy of CEFAS

"He was like a dog with a bone once he had an idea and that was part of his success."

After a year-long sabbatical in California, Dr Dickson returned to Lowestoft, but his desire for travelling remained.

Mrs Dickson said: "He had a bypass but we already had a round-the-world trip booked as a celebration of his retirement for a few weeks later. He felt fine and no one stopped him. He was a risk-taker and fearless, but it was a bit hairy for me.

"We visited Hong Kong and New Zealand, but we were in a hotel in Las Vegas when he had a phone call saying he had been awarded a CBE."

Bob Dickson. PHOTO: Courtesy of CEFASBob Dickson. PHOTO: Courtesy of CEFAS

Dr Dickson regularly hosted local history events, welcoming a range of guest speakers, with money raised going to a number of local causes, including the Lowestoft Players.

He also volunteered at the Maritime Museum, as well as taking part in the British Library's oral histories project.

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Mrs Dickson said: "Unfortunately, the day after he died, his final book, Tracking Down the Last of the Driftermen, came out. He spent a lot of time working on it and it became quite a fascination to him.

"He was always following his nose to track down whoever he needed for his books.

"He spent a lot of time writing poetry for the whole family.

"Anytime anyone had a birthday or celebration, he would write something. He really was a great wordsmith. He did he very best and was always very generous with his time and money.

"He had angina for a long time and you take it for granted because he was so strong in the face of it all, but one day it had to catch up to him."

Dr Liam Fernand, of CEFAS, said: "In his 50 year career he published prolifically including many papers in Nature, the most important science journal in the world, and worked at a high level on a multitude of topics, including the dispersal of radioactivity, sediment and nutrient transport, and primary production.

"He spent much time at sea in his early career, in the North Sea and Barents Sea, investigating fisheries and the link to climate.

"This led on to his work in the Denmark Strait, west of Iceland, where water in the Artic overflows, sinks to depths of 2-4km and then flows towards the equator filling the bottom of the planet's "ocean conveyor".

"Bob knew how to tell a story and it was this joy of words that really set Bob apart from most scientists and led to his global influence and success with funders.

"He was able to take detailed pieces of science and connect them with all the other parts of the puzzle to tell whole stories of ocean-atmosphere climate variability and its ecosystem effects.

"In addition to his CBE Bob was recognized internationally, honorary professorships at UEA and Oslo, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and recipient of the prestigious Albatross award.

"As an oceanographer he was most famous for identifying the Great Salinity Anomaly, or 'the blob that crossed the Atlantic.'

"Caused by a pulse of fresh Arctic seawater entering the North Atlantic from the Arctic and passing around its boundary, the anomaly would affect the salinity and temperature of the ocean currents and was linked to a reduction in fish stocks."


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