Larsen Receives 2017 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award

Isaac Larsen will receive the 2017 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award at the 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held 11–15 December in New Orleans, La. The award recognizes a young scientist for “a significant and outstanding contribution that advances the field of Earth and planetary surface processes.”


It is an honor to present Isaac Larsen as the recipient of the 2017 Luna B. Leopold Award. Isaac’s accomplishments span a ridiculously diverse array of basic and applied geomorphic problems, including postfire hydrology and erosion, landsliding and landscape evolution, soil production and weathering, and megaflood erosion. Consistent with Luna Leopold’s legacy and scientific approach, Isaac’s discoveries invariably incorporate fundamental observations that inform and advance theory on surface processes and landforms. During his Ph.D., Isaac incorporated landslides into an accounting of uplift and erosion in an active and well-studied region of the Himalayas. In the process, he mapped oodles of landslides and revisited how scaling relationships can be applied to soil and bedrock slope failures. His findings support the threshold slope conceptual model, a central theory of geomorphology that had never been definitively tested in a natural setting. Working in the Southern Alps in New Zealand, Isaac conducted several intense and physically demanding field campaigns to document remarkably rapid rates of soil production and weathering that challenge how we conceptualize feedbacks between physical and chemical denudation and critical zone evolution. For his postdoctoral research, Isaac considered how the Missoula Floods may have eroded iconic features like Moses Coulee. His calculations offer a mechanistic explanation for how progressive incision may be responsible for shaping portions of the Channeled Scablands, and this work motivates continued investigation of that remarkable landscape. In a relatively short amount of time, Isaac’s discoveries have established him as an intellectual leader in our field with skills for tackling problems relevant to human and geologic timescales, such as climate change, soil sustainability, and carbon cycling. His worthiness of the Leopold Award is unquestionable, and his contributions serve as inspiring examples of how process-based observations in geomorphology can be used to tackle big questions.

—Josh Roering, University of Oregon, Eugene


It is an exciting time to be a geomorphologist. The scientific approach ushered in by Luna Leopold and his colleagues continues to break new ground, spurred by the wealth of new tools that enable us to answer questions that could only be asked in decades past. Like Luna, I had the good fortune to work on a wide range of topics along my early career path. On that path, I had the pleasure to interact with numerous mentors who shaped the scientist I am today. Among those, I would like to thank the faculty at Carleton College for introducing me to the joy and challenge of interpreting the Earth; Jeff Strasser for an eye-opening summer of research in Alaska, where the seeds of an academic career were first planted; Jack Schmidt for instilling his unwavering commitment to scientific stewardship of Earth’s landscapes; Joel Pederson for introducing the challenge of grappling with landscape evolution on timescales beyond what I could observe; Lee MacDonald for steadfast support and brutally honest feedback that turned me into a writer; John Stone for unselfishly sharing his exhaustive knowledge of cosmogenic nuclides; Dave Montgomery for modeling a scientific worldview that I can only aspire to; and Mike Lamb for profoundly expanding my horizons with new landscapes and quantitative vision.

Thank you, Josh, for those kind words, and all who supported my nomination. Much of the research that brought on this award has involved colleagues from around the world, and I cherish the friendships with my many collaborators. Finally, I cannot thank my family enough for their love and support. I am humbled to be honored with the Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award. I thank you all for joining me to celebrate Luna’s legacy and for making this an exciting time to be a geomorphologist.

—Isaac Larsen, University of Massachusetts, Amherst