SOUTH African environmental scientist Bob Scholes has been elected a foreign associate to the US National Academy of Sciences – one of the highest honours a scientist can achieve.

Scholes, a systems ecologist at the CSIR in Pretoria, said yesterday he was “blown away and humbled”.

“It puts me in the company of internationally respected colleagues. It is a huge honour, both for me and for South Africa.”

He joins a small group of elite scientists who have been elected to the US National Academy of Sciences, an independent, non-profit society, established by the US Congress in 1863. Only 21 foreign scientists are elected as associates every year and there is no membership application process. Only academy members may submit nominations. These are subjected to extensive vetting. Members are elected in recognition of their distinguished achievements in original research.

Scholes is among the top 1 percent of environmental scientists worldwide based on citation frequency.

Scholes works in the field of ecology, global change and earth observation. He has been a leader in several high-profile studies including the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change and the Assessment of Elephant Management.

He has been a member of steering committees on many research programmes for the International Council of Scientific Unions and has served as a co-ordinating or lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change during the third, fourth and fifth assessments.

Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said Scholes’s appointment was a great honour for South Africa as it recognised the excellence of local researchers and their contribution to the global body of knowledge. – Staff Writer