We are pleased to congratulate Professor Dorothy Merritts, alumna of Geosciences Uni. Arizona, for her selection to the National Academy of Sciences. Professor Merritts has made wide-ranging contributions to the field of fluvial geomorphology.

June 18, 2022

Professor Merritts has made fundamental advances in our understanding of how rivers respond to tectonic uplift through a series of transformative studies along the Pacific Coast. Specifically, she has studied the shapes of river profiles in areas where tectonic uplift rates are independently known from the study of marine terraces, to quantify how rivers of different size and rock type respond to the steepening that results from uplift. This work is firmly rooted in field observations and measurements but has also taken full advantage of the wide availability of high-quality digital topographic data starting in the late 1990s.

Dorothy Merritts picked a challenging PhD topic in the field of tectonic geomorphology, at the time when the term tectonic geomorphology was barely in the lexicon. She decided to study northern California seacoasts in the forefront research team of Professor Bill Bull. Thanks to her brilliant study we now know how the landscapes of this wild seacoast evolved and what to expect regarding the frequency and extent of damaging future earthquakes.

Professor Merritts has also transformed in our understanding of how river channels adjacent to the Atlantic Coast responded to European settlement, with major implications for river restoration. In her most widely cited paper (published in Science in 2008), she summarized years of work documenting the natural state of mid-Atlantic rivers prior to European settlement. This work demonstrated that these rivers were complex channel systems characterized by multiple threads of flow that diverged and reconverged within extensive systems of wetlands. European settlement and the establishment of mill ponds along these waterways buried much of these channels in fine sediment that resulted in incised channels that, prior to her work, had been deemed the ideal state of restored rivers.    

We are immensely proud of the contributions that Professor Merritts has made to the geological sciences. Please join us in congratulating her on this richly deserved honor.