The Urey Medal is awarded annually for outstanding contributions advancing geochemistry over a career. The award is based solely on scientific merit. It is named in honor of Harold Clayton Urey, an American physical chemist whose pioneering work on isotopes earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934 and later led him to theories of planetary evolution.
Boyle, a marine chemist, is especially interested in the distribution of trace elements in the ocean. His Trace Metal Group is concerned with the response of the ocean to anthropogenic lead emissions, as well as the relationship between dust and iron in the ocean with marine biological activity.
For a recent example of the group's work, look at the phenomenon of leaded gasoline. Since the 1970s, leaded gasoline has been slowly phased out worldwide. But while usage has decreased drastically in the last few decades — leading to decreased surface ocean lead concentrations in the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans — lead itself is still pervasive in the environment.
Boyle has been tracking lead, lead isotope ratios, and other trace elements in Earth’s oceans for the past 30 years. Recently, his group has been surveying the Indian Ocean, using water and coral samples to trace the history of anthropogenic lead there over the past half century. Among his team's findings are that lead concentrations in the open Indian Ocean, as well as closer to population centers such as Singapore, are now actually higher than in the northern Atlantic and northern Pacific — two regions where lead levels, once high, have been falling since the phasing out of leaded gasoline.
Boyle holds a PhD from the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (1976) and has been a professor at MIT since 1977. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (1994), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1999), and the National Academy of Sciences (2008).
The award will be presented at the Goldschmidt2014 conference this June. Boyle's PhD advisor John Edmund received the Urey Award in 1999.