Nittrouer Receives 2013 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award

Jeffrey A. Nittrouer received the 2013 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award at the 2013 AGU Fall Meeting, held 9–13 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.”



Jeffrey Nittrouer has earned the 2013 Luna B. Leopold Award based on his research related to the most significant new discovery in fluvial morphology since the turn of the century, that is, for the identification of the lower Mississippi River as a mixed bedrock-alluvial stream, for his thorough quantification and elucidation of the dynamics of sand flow through it, and for his contributions to the use of Mississippi River sand as a tool for restoring lost land in the Mississippi delta wetlands.

—GARY PARKER, University of Illinois, Urbana


I am grateful for receiving the Luna B. Leopold Award from the Earth and Planetary Surface Processes (EPSP) focus group at AGU. I am thankful to the mentors and colleagues who played important roles in shaping my science over the past 10 years. Significant credit goes to three people in particular: David Mohrig, Gary Parker, and Mead Allison. These gentlemen patiently developed and honed my skills for observing, modeling, and theorizing about the physical processes that produce fluvial-deltaic morphology and stratigraphy. It was an incredible opportunity to have worked with such a diverse set of thinkers, who regularly pushed me to consider and pursue new ideas, preventing too much comfort with the scientific status quo. Their mentoring fostered an independent and creative focus that produced the science for which this award has been generously given.

At first glance, especially when standing on ground level, river deltas present themselves as boring if not inhospitable landscapes: Vegetation often obstructs a view of the flattest surfaces on Earth, there is very little dry land, distributary channels meander their way over endless swamp and wetlands, and fresh sediment deposits make traveling arduous. In reality, however, river deltas are among the most dynamic landscapes on the Earth’s surface. Vertical movement is established by subsidence and induced through sediment compaction, growth faulting, and geodynamics, whereby the rates of motion rival the fastest uplifting mountain ranges. Lateral mobility of channels means that delta sediments are routinely reworked, and proximity to ocean receiving basin renders delta morphology subject to the whims of sea level fluctuations. Relief is reserved only for the subaqueous channels and associated levees, and the pressure forces that drive fluid flow and sediment transport within these channels reshape coastal landscapes, on many time scales.

River deltas are critical for two scientific reasons. On these landscapes, active sediment accumulation produces an archive of dynamic climatic and tectonic signals, so that delta stratigraphy may be used to decipher past environmental conditions. A significant amount of progress has been made (and advances are forthcoming) by utilizing deltaic stratigraphy to decode planetary surface processes, on Earth as well as Mars. Second, modern river deltas host hundreds of millions of people worldwide due to bountiful resources and luxuriant ecosystems. Society is dependent on these delicate landscapes, and sustainability is critical for preserving the diverse cultures that have typified deltas for millennia. I am thankful for the opportunity to research these unique environments and contribute to the growing field of EPSP.

—JEFFREY A. NITTROUER, Rice University, Houston, Texas