Ganti Receives 2015 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award

Vamsi Ganti will receive the 2015 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award at the 2015 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held 14–18 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes “a young scientist for making a significant and outstanding contribution that advances the field of Earth and planetary surface processes.”


It is an honor to present Vamsi Ganti as the recipient of the American Geophysical Union Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award for 2015. Vamsi has earned the Leopold Award for rigorous, creative work bridging stochastic and mechanistic approaches in geomorphology and hydrology. His starting point was stochastic hydrology, and his first major research contribution focused on so-called heavy-tail (power law) stochastic processes and what they mean for Earth surface behavior. Vamsi played a major role in understanding how power law distribution of transport step lengths in fractal landscapes leads to new fractional diffusion laws that change the way we think about erosional landscapes—the flux is no longer set by the local slope but instead is influenced by slopes elsewhere. This leads to replacement of ordinary integer-order derivatives in the diffusion equation with fractional-order derivatives and, in turn, to new solutions for the evolution of surface profiles with time. Moving to the opposite end of the source-sink system, Vamsi and colleagues showed that even though the physical geometry of stratigraphic recording (bed thickness) is dominated by “thin-tail” (exponential) statistics, the recording of time is thick tailed (power law), bounded by a time scale that is, on independent evidence, set by the avulsion frequency. He has also made important contributions on subjects ranging from controls on the shape of stratal boundaries to how backwater dynamics influences delta morphology.

Vamsi has already compiled a remarkable record of highly creative, quantitative research across a broad range of Earth surface dynamics. He has also been very deliberate—and not a little courageous—in leaving his comfort zone in mathematical statistics to develop a unique research style that is breaking down two of the major, and increasingly anachronistic, divides in the surface process world: between erosional and depositional systems and between stochastic and deterministic approaches. Although Vamsi’s starting point on the road linking mathematics with the Earth’s surface has been opposite to Luna Leopold’s, Vamsi has ended up at a point that I think nicely reflects the spirit of Leopold’s work. It is entirely fitting that he is the 2015 Leopold Award recipient.

—Chris Paola, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minneapolis



I thank the Earth and Planetary Surface Processes focus group (EPSP) and the people who nominated me for this award. I am deeply honored to receive this award. During my short career, I have been incredibly lucky to be part of interdisciplinary research environments at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory (at a time when the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics was in full flight), California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and now Imperial College, which shaped my scientific outlook. I share this award with my collaborators, colleagues, and mentors—both past and present—who have contributed in various ways to my development as a scientist. Thank you to Bill Dietrich, Gary Parker, Sanjeev Gupta, Woody Fischer, Vaughan Voller, Kyle Straub, Brandon McElroy, Colin Stark, Paola Passalacqua, Roman DiBiase, and Joel Scheingross for support and insightful discussions.

I would like to, however, single out three people to whom I owe much of my scientific growth and development. Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, my Ph.D. adviser, patiently guided me through my early years in science and provided me with unparalleled freedom to pursue a diverse set of research problems. Chris Paola introduced and inspired me to the fascinating worlds of laboratory experiments and the sedimentary record and encouraged me to blend stochastic and deterministic approaches in geomorphology and sedimentology. Mike Lamb advised my postdoctoral work, and his creativity and simplicity in approach and diversity of topics have been instrumental in fostering my scientific growth. It was under Mike’s mentorship, I believe, when I made the transformation from being an engineer interested in Earth science problems to an Earth scientist who uses engineering and mathematical tools.

It is my pleasure to be a part of such an invigorating and vibrant community like EPSP. I look forward to many engaging and fun years of collaboration with my past and future colleagues. Thank you.

—Vamsi Ganti, Imperial College London, London