Veronique Dehant

Royal Observatory of Belgium and Université catholique de Louvain

2016 Charles A. Whitten Medal Winner

Veronique Dehant was awarded the 2016 Charles A. Whitten Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “outstanding achievement in research on the form and dynamics of the Earth and planets.”


Veronique Dehant’s research area is the modeling of the deformable Earth’s interior in response to external forcing factors such as the gravitational attraction of the Sun and Moon and the rotational forces associated with the motion of its axis of rotation in space. She extended this research to the solid planets of the inner solar system as well as to the icy satellites of the outer planets. She and her team made groundbreaking contributions in these domains over the past decades.

Firstly, Veronique’s research was centered on the rotation of the Earth in space (precession and nutation) and its strong link with the global structure of our planet. She developed a model of deformable rotating Earth, taking into account all components of the solid Earth and their interfaces. Veronique also studied the effects of mantle anelasticity on Earth tides, the resonances between the liquid and solid inner cores, which led to better understanding of the free oscillations of the Earth and the influence of the geophysical fluids on its deformation and rotation. Further to her work on atmospheric effects on Earth’s rotation she led research within working groups and commissions of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) with the aim of improving knowledge of each component of the deformable Earth system impacted by or impacting the Earth’s rotation. A major outcome of her efforts was the definition of a new nutation model adopted by IAU in 2000. The culmination of decades of work in this area is her book with P. M. Mathews, Precession, Nutation, and Wobble of the Earth (2015).

Veronique has also been very active in making and leading research in planetary geophysics: modeling the interior of Mars, the processes of sublimation and condensation of its polar caps, and its gravity field temporal variations. She applied this approach to Venus and Mercury and to the icy satellites of the outer planets. She proposed a radio science instrument on the ExoMars space mission and was selected as principal investigator. She is an investigator of several missions of the European Space Agency to Mars and Venus (Mars Express and Venus Express), as well as to Mercury (BepiColombo).

For her remarkable scientific achievements Veronique has received several prestigious prizes and is member of several academies. Considering all these and her creativity, her outstanding leadership and services to the community, and her enormous influence in mentoring many junior colleagues, Veronique highly deserves the 2016 Whitten Medal of AGU.

—Georges Balmino, Centre National d’Études ­Spatiales Paris, France


Thank you so much, Georges, for the very generous citation! Thanks also to the colleagues who have proposed me to the Whitten Medal Committee, and its chair, Anny Cazenave, in particular. I am extremely honored and grateful to receive the prestigious Whitten Medal!

I studied mathematics and physics, and I did not anticipate that I would be a researcher in the field of dynamics of the Earth and planets, recognized by the Whitten Medal. I came into the field of Earth dynamics after my master’s degrees in mathematics and physics and thanks to the heartfelt and appreciated mentorship and guidance of Paul Melchior, Paul Paquet, and André Berger from Belgium. Research rapidly became a passion. John Wahr, with whom I had the opportunity to work at the beginning of my career, was a great inspiration to my work.

I then came into the field of planetary science about 15 years ago. This happened when space missions were more and more aiming at understanding internal dynamics of planets. Understanding the evolution of planets has become fascinating to me as well, and I am now preparing an instrument for a mission to Mars, Lander Radioscience (LaRa), aiming at obtaining Mars rotation dynamics and to learn about its deep interior.

More than 10 years ago, I decided to write a book, Precession, Nutation, and Wobble of the Earth, ­coauthored by Sonny Mathews. This was a very nice experience, which allowed me to have the necessary distance to understand where efforts have to be put for the next generation of Earth rotation and orientation models. I decided then to propose the idea of working on coupling mechanisms at the core-mantle boundary for a European Research Council Advanced Grant, which I got. This is very exciting as I am now back to studying Earth in parallel with being principal investigator of a selected space mission, which is very challenging and exciting.

This award wouldn’t be possible without the constant support of the Royal Observatory of Belgium and the great team that I have had the good fortune to work with at the various stages of my career. An invaluable treasure in my life was and is the ongoing support from my beloved family and friends. I praise them for all the good things they have provided for me, and, in particular, Guy, my husband, who transformed my dreams into reality, supporting me over my entire career.

—Veronique Dehant, Royal Observatory of Belgium and Université Catholique de Louvain