Professor Andrew Watson
Royal Society Research Professor


After studying physics as an undergraduate at Imperial College, in 1975 Andy began a PhD supervised by James Lovelock, at that time just developing his Gaia theory. Together they experimented with lighting fires under different atmospheres, in order to place limits on past atmospheric oxygen concentrations. From there Andy moved to the United States and the University of Michigan, researching the evolution of the atmospheres of Earth and Venus as part of NASA’s Pioneer Venus mission. Returning to the UK and turning to marine science, he developed tracers that could be detected in the ocean at minute concentrations. He used these to solve diverse problems in oceanography, for example making the first direct measurements of vertical mixing rates over ocean-basin scales, directly measuring air-sea gas exchange, and enabling the iron release experiments that showed unequivocally that iron is an important limiting nutrient for marine life. He also developed methods automated instruments for measuring carbon dioxide in the surface ocean, which are now used worldwide on commercial ships. He retains a strong interest in Earth and other planetary histories, and the processes setting the concentrations of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere, co-authoring the book “Revolutions that made the Earth” (OUP, 2011) with colleague (and former student) Tim Lenton.

Andy heads the Exeter Marine and Atmospheric Science group that specializes in making and interpreting ocean and atmosphere measurements to high accuracy, particularly of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, chlorofluorocarbons and other ocean tracers. They use these to research the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide by the oceans, ocean mixing and air-sea exchange processes.

Andy was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003. He is a recipient of the European Geophysical Union’s Nansen Medal for contributions to marine science (2003), and the Plymouth Marine Sciences medal (2009). Since 2009 he has been funded as a Royal Society Research Professor, which enables him to concentrate full time on research. He is currently a member of the Natural Environment Research Council, the Science Advisiory Board of the Centre for Climate Dynamics in Bergen, Norway and the Steering Committee of the National Oceanography Centre Association.

Broad research specialisms:

  • Earth system science,
  • physical and chemical oceanography
  • ocean and atmosphere observations of biogeochemical cycles.


BSc (Imperial College)
PhD (University of Reading).


BSc (phsyics, 1st) Imperial College, 1975

PhD Reading 1978

Positions held

2013-               Research Professor, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

2009-               Royal Society Research Professor

2008-               Member of the Natural Environment Research Council

2007-               Director, Laboratory for Global Marine and Atmospheric Chemistry, UEA                   

1996-2013        Professor, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich

1988-1995        Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Research scientist/project leader

1981-1988        Marine Biological Association, Plymouth; Research Scientist

1978-1981        Assistant Research Scientist, Atmospheric Oceanic and Space Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA


Contact details

Internal tel3792
Tel+44 (0) 1392 723792
AddressLaver Building
University of Exeter
North Park Road

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