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John William Murray (1937 – 2021)

Known internationally for his pioneering work on the ecology and palaeoecology of foraminifera

John Murray
John Murray was born in London in 1937, but evacuated to Bury during World War 2, and the family subsequently moved to Worthing in 1953.

John showed an early enthusiasm for microscopy and natural science, and in 1956 went to Imperial College of Science & Technology, University of London, to read for a BSc Geology. At that time, Imperial had many strengths, not including palaeontology. However, taught by the late David Carter, John was introduced to fossil foraminifera as an undergraduate. Even more radically John remained at Imperial with David Carter to research the ecology of living foraminifera of Christchurch Harbour, southern England. Foraminifera were valued as biostratigraphical tools, but little was known about their modern ecology for reliable palaeoecological interpretation.


After a brief postdoctoral period at the Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, John was appointed to a lectureship at Bristol University, where he remained from 1962 to 1975. The Bristol period was very productive involving work on foraminifera from modern environments, including Abu Dhabi and the English Channel. The latter work arose from W.F. Whittard’s project mapping the floor of the English Channel, which led to publications on the Paleogene foraminifera of the Hampshire Basin, as well as living material from the Channel. The pattern of studying both living and fossil material was a characteristic of John’s career. During this period the influential book Distribution and Ecology of Living Benthic Foraminiferids (1973) was published.

From 1975 until 1989, John was Professor of Geology and Head of the Department of Geology at Exeter University, until the department was closed. He then moved to the National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton (a product of the merger of Southampton University Geology with the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences) and, following retirement in 2003, continued research there as Emeritus Professor.

Global scale

John’s scientific production is impressive. He studied and synthesized information about living benthic foraminifera and their environments on a global scale ranging from marshes to the deep sea, from the tropics to the subarctic. He also sought to apply knowledge of present environments to the interpretation of the past. His second book on Ecology and Palaeoecology of Benthic Foraminifera (1991) and his third on Ecology and Applications of Benthic Foraminifera (2006) remain of international importance. Other aspects of his research included studies of benthic foraminiferal population dynamics, organic matter palaeofluxes, cement mineralogy in agglutinated forms, taphonomic experiments, environmental variability vs change, the significance of rare species; all fundamental contributions to our understanding of benthic foraminiferal ecology and the implications for palaeoecological interpretations.

Service and awards

During his long career, John served on many professional bodies, was President of the Palaeontological Association and The Micropalaeontological Society, and was a Secretary of the Geological Society. Amongst many awards were the Coke Medal of the Geological Society and the inaugural Brady Medal of The Micropalaeontological Society (both 2007).

John died on 23 October 2021 in Southampton. His wife Jeanne predeceased him and he is survived by sons Richard and Rob, and four grandchildren.

By Elisabeth Alve, Alan Lord, Janice Weston, John Whittaker