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ASU geologist receives national award

Kelin Whipple
January 16, 2014

Kelin Whipple, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and a senior fellow in the Earth System Evolution Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, has been recognized with a prestigious award from the National Academy of Sciences.

Whipple, internationally recognized for his work in geomorphology, studies the interaction of climate, tectonics and surface processes in the sculpting of the Earth's surface. His current research activities focus on the mechanics of river incision, the role of climate variability in landscape evolution and the expression of tectonic activity in the topography of mountain belts.

He has conducted extensive research in such areas as the Tibetan Plateau (China), Himalaya (Nepal and Bhutan), Andes (Peru and Bolivia), Southern Alps (New Zealand) and western North America. His work explores the possible influence of climate-driven erosion on the rate and style of deformation deep in the Earth’s crust and the utility of topographic analyses for identifying seismic hazards in remote, poorly studied regions.

During his career, Whipple’s research contributions have been internationally recognized, including receiving the Bagnold Medal from the European Geosciences Union and being elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America.

The professor's new award is the G.K. Warren Prize, presented every four years for distinguished contributions to river-related geology. Whipple is being honored for his seminal studies on the role of fluvial incision as a key process that links climate, tectonics and landscape evolution. Established by Emily B. Warren in memory of her father, the award honors noteworthy and distinguished accomplishment in fluvial geomorphology and closely related aspects of the geological sciences.

“Kelin’s extensive and broad quantification of how a river’s overall form reflects the way tectonic and climatic forces shape the landscape is widely recognized as being among the most influential in the field. Over the past 15 years, Kelin and his students have published about 50 papers quantifying how rivers carve through the Earth’s surface and are the key process connecting the external drivers of climate and tectonics with landscape evolution. His work shows clearly how rivers set the pace for the way that landscapes change over time,” says Arjun Heimsath, a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “It is truly inspirational to team-teach classes with Kelin, co-advise PhD students with him and to be helping shape the direction of a new school with him and our colleagues in SESE.”

Whipple and 15 others receiving NAS awards this year for their extraordinary scientific achievements will be honored in a ceremony April 27 of this year during the academy’s 151st annual meeting.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and – with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine and National Research Council – provides science, technology and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

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