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Ralph Brown Expedition Award

The Ralph Brown Expedition Award is a single annual award of £12,500, offered to the leader of an expedition working in an aquatic environment. This includes the study of coral reefs, rivers, lakes and shallow seas. The project should be of value to the host country and, where possible, to the local community.

2011 recipient Dr Phillip Dustan, with Orla Doherty and Abigail Alling (Biosphere Foundation and University of Charleston). The Menjangan Island Reef Project Indonesia, seeks to preserve ocean biodiversity in Marine Protected Areas, by defining the tipping point between reef degradation and collapse of fish populations

Applicants must be Fellows or members of the Society. The grant is open to applicants from any nation.


23 November (each year)


 Ralph Brown Expedition Award guidelines (PDF) 
 Code of Practice for the Grants Programme (PDF)




This year's recipient

 Professor Andy Hodson (University of Sheffield). 'Rapid ventilation of sub-permafrost methane through pingos, springs and pockmarks in the coastal High Arctic'

Throughout the spring and summer of 2017, Professor Andy Hodson and his team will be investigating methane escape from beneath permafrost via shallow marine and terrestrial seepages in northern and central Spitsbergen. The escape of this dangerous greenhouse gas will be linked not only to contemporary climate change, but also to landscape changes over the last 12,000 years. Remotely operated vehicles and bespoke groundwater samplers will be employed, allowing the team to describe the sources, origins and dynamics of methane escape throughout the entire year.

Past recipients

 2016: Dr Michael Chadwick (King's College London). 'Exploring biodiversity of headwater streams in the Temburong District, Brunei Darussalam'

Temburong District is situated within a biodiversity hotspot with pristine topical climax forest and river ecosystems. It is a priority location for conservation and restoration efforts and a suitable reference site for comparable ecosystems, but limited biogeographical data exists for the region. This project seeks to document novel aquatic habitats and biodiversity using a combination of survey methods and aerial and underwater imagery from impenetrable headwater waterfalls to swiftly flowing coastal plain meanders along the unique Sungai Temburong River and its largest tributary, Sungai Belalong.

  2015: Professor Alex Rogers and Dominic Andradi-Brown (University of Oxford). 'Thinking Deep: Exploring the role of mesophotic coral ecosystems as depth refuges'

Mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) (reefs at 30-150m depth) have been poorly explored due to inaccessibility, but are likely to be buffered from shallow reef impacts because of depth. With shallow reefs severely threatened, crucial questions for conservation managers include what percentage of shallow species can be found on MCEs, and do MCE populations represent discrete (isolated) populations, or are they fully connected to shallow populations.

MCEs refuges may not be beneficial if exploited by invasive species such as Lionfish (Pterois volitans). This expedition explores Mesoamerican Barrier Reef MCE biodiversity in Honduras and investigates their roles as coral and fish refuges.

  2014: Dr Paul Aplin (University of Nottingham). 'A spatial assessment of how oil palm cultivation is degrading the North Selangor peat swamp in Malaysia'

Many peat swamps in Malaysia are experiencing rapid and large-scale conversion to oil palm agriculture, contrary to prevailing environmental guidelines. This project combined in situ vegetation, soil and gas flux data from North Selangor, with airborne remotely sensed imagery to investigate the environmental effects of this land use change.  

  2013: Dr Merlijn Jocque (Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences). 'Hurricane dispersal of aquatic invertebrates in Honduras; or how do microcrustacea (Ostracoda, Cladocera and Copepoda) end up in tank bromeliads?'

The project sampled a large number of locations in two mountainous regions in North-Eastern Honduras close to the coast with complex topography, and thus different hurricane exposure. The team obtained samples from a wide geographic coverage to test the hypothesis that hurricanes affect diversity patterns of aquatic invertebrates.

  2012: Dr Richard Teeuw (University of Portsmouth). 'Coastal geomorphology, geochemistry and biodiversity in a volcanic setting: the NW coast of Dominica'

A multidisciplinary study of hotspring conditions, habitats and landscape stability. This project examines the coastal flanks of an active volcano, Morne aux Diables, on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

  2011: Dr Phillip Dustan (University of Charleston and Biosphere Foundation). The Menjangan Island Reef Project Indonesia, seeks to preserve ocean biodiversity in Marine Protected Areas by defining the tipping point between reef degradation and collapse of fish populations.

  2010: Dr Helen Findlay (Plymouth Marine Laboratory). The Arctic is at the forefront of climate change, undergoing dramatic increases in temperature and rapidly becoming affected by ocean acidification. This project measured the changes in levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, ocean and ice.

  2009: Dr Peter Long (University of Bath). Wetlands are some of the most important and threatened ecosystems in Madagascar as they provide vital services for the human population. This project mapped those services and evaluated the impact of population growth and climate change.

  2008: Dr Ruth Robinson (St Andrew University). This project documented the quantity and characteristics of the sediment and water transported along the length of the tropical Irrawaddy river in Myanmar, in order to link the flux of sediment and carbon to its source areas in the catchment.

  2007: Dr Eduard Reinhardt (McMaster University, Canada). This research documented the Thecamoebians and Foraminifera in submerged cave systems in Mexico, in order to determine whether they can be used as an environmental proxy to better understand cave evolution.

  2006: Iwona Conlan (University of Melbourne). This project investigated the geomorphic processes and hydrological conditions responsible for the maintenance of large pools on the lower-Mekong River. The pools, which provide a dry-season habitat for numerous fish species, are at risk of filling in with sediment if large scale hydropower development proceeds on the upper-Mekong in China.

  2005: Dr Colin Breen (University of Ulster). The University of Ulster in Northern Ireland partnered with a number of agencies within Tanzania and Zanzibar in order to research the Marine environment in Zanzibar.

  2004: Dr Terence Dawson (Oxford University). This project studied two reefs on the coast of Cuba, each having undergone different levels of disturbance. It gave a better understanding of human impact/natural disturbances on reef systems and laid the foundation for a sustainable and productive long-term monitoring programme.

  2003: Dr Ellinor Michel (University of Amsterdam). The team surveyed the fluvial wetlands of Malagarasi, Western Tanzania, to provide baseline scientific data on the biodiversity and functioning of this extensive yet under-explored environment.

  2003: Dr Richard Taylor (University College London). The project explored the impact of recent climate change on aquatic ecosystems of the Rwenzori Mountains, East Africa.

  2002: Colonel Mike Allen (Independent and Zoological Society of London). The team carried out a fish and biodiversity survey of the navigable stretch of the Babai River, Nepal, in order to provide essential baseline data for a longer-term project and a conservation management plan for the Royal Bardia National Park area.

  2001: Dr Andrew Plater (University of Liverpool). The project studied the nature of the sedimentary record of the floodplain lakes in Mkuze Wetland, South Africa.

  2001: Daniel Bennett (University of Aberdeen). The project sort to determine the absolute abundance of hippopotamus on the Black Volta River and the abundance of the slender-snouted crocodile, in the BUI National Park, Ghana.

  2001: Dr Scott McMurry (Texas Tech University, USA). This project examined exposure and response of Morelet’s crocodile populations to endocrine disrupting compounds in contaminated lagoons in Belize, Central America.

  2001: Professor Peter Smart (University of Bristol). The project studied hydrochemical processes and cave development along the Caribbean Coast, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.

  2000: Jennifer Sampson (10,000 Years Institute. Washington, USA). The project researched the aquatic communities of the Selenga River, Russia, determining the effects of chemical contaminants on its unique biodiversity.

  2000: Falk Huettmann (University of New Brunswick, Canada). The project investigated the importance of the complex Sea of Okhotsk ecosystem, Russia, using migrating shorebirds and their habitat as indicators.

  2000: Dr David Higgitt (Durham University). The project studied the environmental sustainability of the Yangtze river as a densely populated agricultural region and site of the Three Gorges Project.

  1999: Peter Meadows (University of Glasgow). The expedition studied human impact on mountain environments in the Chitral area of the Hindu Kush. These are some of the least accessible and scientifically explored parts of northern Pakistan.

  1999: Dr Steve Ormerod (Cardiff University). River Biodiversity of Mustang and the Kali Gandaki Valley, Nepal, and the rapid environmental change that threatens these rivers systems.

  1998: Dr David Minter (CABI). Ukraine has varied landscapes, many of which were severely affected by fallout from Chernobyl. However, western Polissya is clean and contains many forests, meadows, bogs, rivers and lakes. The team searched for new locations of rare organisms, surveyed & described areas suitable for conservation, recommended practical conservation measures to local government agencies and trained local post graduate students as field.

For further information on the projects, including a summary of the research and expedition reports, please browse the Society's Expeditions Database.

About the Award

Ralph Brown was a Californian who lived much of his life in New Zealand. He took part in expeditions and was a keen advocate of the use of jet boats to navigate inaccessible and dangerous rivers.

Brown died in 1996, shortly after winning the World Jet Boat Championship in Canada. He bequeathed a portion of his estate to RGS-IBG to fund both the Award and the Grants Officer at the Society.

The Ralph Brown Award is for research in aquatic environments. The award has supported projects since 1998, ranging from the wetlands of Ukraine to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, from coral reef studies to mountain river hazard surveys, and studies of human's interaction with waterways.

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