Jerolmack Receives 2010 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award

Douglas J. Jerolmack received the 2010 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award at the 2010 AGU Fall Meeting, held 13–17 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.”


jerolmack_douglasI am extremely happy to introduce Douglas J. Jerolmack as the first recipient of the Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award. Doug’s signal contribution has been to show how concepts from nonlinear dynamics can be used to construct new kinds of predictive models of pattern formation on Earth and planetary surfaces.

During his graduate research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Doug developed a novel model for river dune dynamics. At the grain scale he advanced our understanding of eolian transport mechanics, while at a larger scale he contributed new ideas on channel pattern and fan formation; both approaches were extended to Mars to constrain paleoenvironmental conditions there. Doug continued at the same rapid pace throughout his postdoc at St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, University of Minnesota, and during his first 3 years at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has jump-started his own highly productive research group. Highlights of his further work include showing how autogenic (internally generated) variability in landscapes can destroy high-frequency environmental signals and the quantification of how river channels fill space to build deltas.

Doug is carrying on two important threads of Luna Leopold’s research: a rigorous, quantitative approach and great range and creativity. Luna was also a wonderfully compelling ambassador for the science of landscapes. In this sense, it is fitting that Doug is the first recipient of the Leo­pold Award: He has energy to burn, speaks and writes effusively and clearly, and is capable of making landscape science come as alive for first-graders as for mathematicians and physicists. I have had the privilege of working with Doug since 2002, when he arrived at MIT as a new graduate student with a love for sediment ripples; I know that this award is richly deserved. I also know that we can expect from him many unexpected and significant contributions to Earth and planetary surface science in the years ahead.

David C. Mohrig, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin


Thank you. I stepped into geomorphology at an amazing time, when the quantitative transformation initiated by Luna Leo­pold was hitting its stride. The past decade has witnessed the creation of the National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics; our own journal and focus group within AGU; a division for surface processes within the U.S. National Science Foundation; and the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System. These efforts have been organized by many in this room today. Through the Gilbert Club, town hall meetings, and white papers, the very same people who helped transform the science of geomorphology have also galvanized the community. That you would recognize my work as contributing to this change is a deep honor.

I grew up on Brandywine Creek, in Pennsylvania, a stream made famous by Leo­pold’s pioneering work. As a naive graduate student I explained to David Mohrig my vague notions of uniting statistical physics with geomorphology (I knew nothing about either one). Fortunately, David is a patient man, and he slowly narrowed my focus toward fundamental problems. His infectious enthusiasm, coupled with a deep physical intuition and an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock music, showed me that it’s possible to be a great scientist and a likable person! Chris Paola, my postdoc advisor, challenged geologists’ preoccupation with fluid turbulence in sediment transport, helping to send me down a very fruitful path. David and Chris have been fountains of ideas, and they taught me that there is always more good than harm in being generous with them.

There are so many first-order problems waiting to be solved and so many enthusiastic young people—from a variety of backgrounds—who are joining our ranks and enriching geomorphology. I look forward to many fun years ahead of collaborating with my past mentors, students, and future colleagues. Thank you so much.


Douglas J. Jerolmack, Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia