Anderson Receives 2015 G. K. Gilbert Award in Surface Processes

Robert Anderson will receive the 2015 G. K. Gilbert Award at the 2015 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held 14–18 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes “a scientist who has either made a single significant advance or sustained significant contributions to the field of Earth and planetary surface processes, and who has in addition promoted an environment of unselfish cooperation in research and the inclusion of young scientists into the field.”


The diversity of opportunity that greets geomorphologists today is stunning: It ranges from Google Earth’s view of the entire planet to our ability to measure rocks flexing beneath breaking waves. Today, our challenge is less in making observations; rather, it’s deciding which observations can provide critical insights on how, when, and why diverse surface processes sculpt Earth’s surface.  Few geomorphologists have been as incisive in choosing the key observations needed to quantify a problem, as creative in their use of technology, as diverse in the range of geomorphic environments that they have studied, or as productive in developing new, quantified theories of landscape evolution as this year’s G. K. Gilbert Award winner, Bob Anderson.

For nearly 30 years, Bob has shown us how to combine a rich understanding of geomorphic processes with strong skills in mathematical and physical analysis in order to attain fundamental new insights on landscapes. He has used this combination to develop novel theories explaining processes and landforms at scales that span from eolian sand grain impacts to mountain ranges. Bob’s ability to move seamlessly from the geophysical aspects of crustal dynamics to the mechanics of frost cracking to new applications of cosmogenic nuclides has repeatedly given us remarkable insights on how the Earth works.

During his years at Santa Cruz and Colorado, Bob has mentored a noteworthy group of younger geomorphologists who are now advancing our field in new directions. In nearly all of their publications, Bob’s mentorship and intellectual “fingerprints” are clearly visible. Bob’s freely available pedagogical gem “The Little Book of Geomorphology: Exercising the Principle of Conservation” typifies his rigorous thinking, his perennial enthusiasm and curiosity, and his scholarly generosity.

For his remarkable, provocative, and diverse contributions to our field, Bob Anderson is distinctly deserving of the 2015 G. K. Gilbert Award.

—Douglas Burbank, University of California, Santa Barbara



I am deeply honored to receive this award, and I thank Doug for this flattering citation. This award reflects the inspiration of the geoscientists by whom I was lucky enough to be taught, the quality of the colleagues with whom I have worked over the last 30 years, and, perhaps most importantly, the hard work, the fun, and the friendship of the students with whom I have collaborated.

Let me feature one deserving more credit than most, my wife and colleague, Suzanne. I thank her for her support and inspiration in all facets of our lives. That little book Doug refers to was followed by the bigger book that we cowrote and that so dominated the early lives of our kids.

Having written as my master’s thesis a biography of Clarence Dutton, who worked with J. W. Powell and G. K. Gilbert to introduce the world to western North American landscapes, I have been acutely aware of Gilbert’s work throughout my career. His research, his choice of problems to address, and the organized manner in which he went about it are mirrored in the research of the prior Gilbert awardees and have set the tone of our community’s growth in the last few decades.  Being a part of this legacy has been one of the chief joys of my research life.

But there is still much to do. Although I was lucky to catch the waves of numerical landscape modeling and application of cosmogenic radionuclides, it is clear that new technologies like autonomous vehicles, lidar, structure from motion, and miniaturization of environmental sensors will further push surface process research into new frontiers and perhaps new worlds. But who knows what new tools will arise on the longer time frame?   That’s why we play the game and what makes it so much fun.

—Robert S. Anderson, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder