• Profile: Dr. Dorothy J. Merritts
Harry W. & Mary B. Huffnagle Professor of Geosciences, Chair of Earth and Environment
Earth and Environment


Dorothy Merritts (B.Sc. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, M.Sc. Stanford University, Ph.D. University of Arizona) is a geologist with expertise in streams, rivers, and other landforms, and on the impact of  geologic processes and human activities on the form and history of Earth's surface.  In the western United States, she conducted research on the San Andreas fault of coastal California, and her international work focuses on fault movements in South Korea, Indonesia, Australia, and Costa Rica. Her primary research in the eastern United States is in the Appalachian Piedmont, particularly in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland, where she is investigating the role of human activities in transforming the upland woodlands and valley bottom wetland meadows of Eastern North America to a predominantly agricultural and mixed-industrial/urban landscape since European settlement.  She is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  In 2004-2005 she was the Flora Stone Mather Visiting Distinguished Professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  In 2011-2012 she was appointed the Cox Visiting Professor at Stanford University.  She is the author of two textbooks and more than 50 scientific articles, and the editor and contributing author for numerous scientific books.

Curriculum Vitae


B.Sc. Indiana University of Pennsylvania
M.Sc. Stanford University
Ph.D. University of Arizona


Focuses on geomorphology, surface water hydrology, and Quaternary tectonics. Specific research interests in sea-level change and the development of marine terraces, fluvial terraces, environmental change and geomorphic response to changes in base-level. Recent research focus on effects of dam building and removal/breaching on eastern US valley bottom landscapes and geomorphic processes.

The following articles in magazines and news papers provide an overview of the environmental and societal relevance of recent research on the impact of dam breaching on streams and the practice of stream restoration:

Earth Magazine:  Rewriting rivers: What it means for river restoration, March 13, 2009, by David B. Williams.  http://www.earthmagazine.org/earth/article/1eb-7d9-3-d

The New York Times:  The science of stream restoration:  Follow the silt, June 24, 2008, by Cornelia Dean. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/science/24stream.html?pagewanted=all

The New York Times Reporter's Notebook:  Unearthing Pennsylvania's Streams (video), June 24, 2008, Cornelia Dean and Patrick Farrell.  http://video.nytimes.com/video/2008/06/19/science/1194817122327/unearthing-pennsylvania-s-streams.html?scp=1&sq=unearthing%20pennsylvania%27s%20streams&st=cse

Swimming Upstream: Can our Rivers be Saved? (Making Contact radio segment, 19 August 2009)

Grants & Awards

Cox Visiting Professor, Stanford University, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, 2011-2012.

Geological Society of America, Kirk Bryan Award (Best Paper) to Walter, Robert C., and Dorothy Merritts, 2011, for "Natural streams and the legacy of water-powered mills", published in Science, 2008, v. 319, p. 299-304.  Citation and responses at http://www.geosociety.org/awards/11speeches/kirkbryan.htm

Bradley Dewey Award for Outstanding Scholarship, Franklin and Marshall College, 2010 http://www.fandm.edu/news/article/merritts-receives-dewey-award

Chair, National Academy of Sciences Committee on Challenges and Opportunities in Earth Surface Processes, 2007-2010.  http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12700&page=1

Presenter, William Morris Davis lecture (2nd annual), Boston College, 2009:  “An unnatural river runs through it.”  Audio and slides available at  http://wilma.bc.edu/program/merritts/

Senate Resolution 283 (2008) The State of Pennsylvania Senate Resolution 283: “Whereas, Professor Walter’s and Professor Merritts” scientific skills, professionalism and ability to communicate this new information have provided invaluable assistance to this Commonwealth and its partners in understanding stream dynamics and integrating this knowledge into restoration efforts of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries…”. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?syear=2007&sind=0&body=S&type=R&bn=283

Association of Women Geoscientists’ Outstanding Educator award, 2006.  

Flora Stone Mather Distinguished Professor, Case Western Reserve University, 2004-2005

Distinguished lecturer, Vassar College, October, 1997

Dissertation fellowship, National Science Foundation, 1983-1987

W. A. Tarr Award for Outstanding Senior Graduate, 1980

Recent Grants

Walter, Robert, and Merritts, Dorothy, 2010-2012, Floodplain restoration and Sediment/Nutrient Load Reductions, US EPA & PA Department of Environmental Protection.

Merritts, Dorothy, Walter, Robert, Mertzman, Stan, William, Chris, and Yoder, Claude (co-PIs), 2009-2011, National Science Foundation-Major Research Instrumentation Grant for the upgrade of existing XRF facilities and to purchase new analytical instruments, including XRD spectrometer, two gamma ray spectrometers, a laser particle analyzer, an x-ray particle analyzer, and RTK GPS instrument.

Walter, Robert, and Merritts, Dorothy (with M. Langland, D. Galeone, and A. Gellis, USGS), 2008-2010, Floodplain restoration and Sediment/Nutrient Load Reductions, PA Department of Environmental Protection.

Merritts, Dorothy, and Walter, Robert, 2006-2008, Statewide (PA) stream bank erosion and nutrient loads from legacy sediments:  PA Department of Environmental Protection (PA).


Walter, Robert, Kratz, Laura*, Merritts, Dorothy, Rahnis, Michael, and Cassel, Elizabeth 2012 (invited review paper in preparation), Unrecognized anthropogenic base-level controls on streams from historic dam breaching:  Sedimentary Geology.

Merritts, Dorothy, Rahnis, Michael, Walter, Robert, Hartranft, Jeff, Cox, Scott, Scheid, Chris*, Potter, Noel*, Jenschke, Matthew*, Reed, Austin*, Matuszewski, Derek*, Kratz, Laura*, Manion, Lauren*, Shilling, Andrea*, Datin, Katherine*, 2011 (in press), The rise and fall of Mid-Atlantic streams: Millpond sedimentation, milldam breaching, channel incision, and stream bank erosion:  Reviews in Engineering Geology, special issue on “The Challenges of Dam Removal and River Restorations”, editors Jerome V. DeGraff and James E. Evans.

Hartranft, Jeffrey, Merritts, Dorothy, Walter, Robert, Rahnis, Michael, 2011, The Big Spring Run restoration experiment:  Policy, geomorphology, and aquatic ecosystems in the Big Spring Run watershed, Lancaster County, PA:  Sustain: A Journal of Environmental and Sustainability Issues:  Issue 24, p. 24-30. http://louisville.edu/kiesd/sustain-magazine

Merritts, Dorothy, Walter, Robert, Rahnis, Michael, Hartranft, Jeff, Cox, Scott, Gellis, Allen, Potter, Noel, Hilgartner, William, Langland, Michael, Manion, Lauren*, Lippincott, Caitlin*, Siddiqui, Sauleh*, Rehman, Zain*, Scheid, Chris*, Kratz, Laura*, Shilling, Andrea*, Jenschke, Matthew*, Reed, Austin*, Matuszewski, Derek*, Voli, Mark*, Datin, Katherine*, Ohlson, Erik*, Neugebauer, Ali*, Ahamed, Aakash*, Neal, Conor*, Winter, Allison*, and Becker, Steven*, 2011, Anthropocene streams and base-level controls from historic dams in the unglaciated mid-Atlantic region, USA:  Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A, v. 369, p. 1–34. (One contribution of 13 to a Theme Issue ‘The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time?’)  http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1938.toc

Merritts, Dorothy, Walter, Robert, and Rahnis, Michael, 2010, Water-powered Milling and Its Legacy as a Source of Suspended Sediment to the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay:  Feature article in Susquehanna River Basin Commission Report State of the Susquehanna 2010: http://www.srbc.net/stateofsusq/documents/LegacySedimentsFeatureArticle.PDF

Voli, Mark, Merritts, D., Walter, R., Ohlson, E., Datin, K., Rahnis, M., Kratz, L., Deng, W., Hilgartner, W., and Hartranft, J., 2009, Preliminary reconstruction of a Pre-European Settlement Valley Bottom Wetland, Southeastern Pennsylvania. Water Resources Impact, v. 11, no. 5, p. 11-13. http://www.awra.org/impact/issues/0909imp_toc.pdf

Litchfield, Nicola, Ota, Yoko, and Merritts, Dorothy, 2009, Tectonic Uplift and Subsidence (Chapter 7), in Volcanic and Tectonic Hazard Assessment for Nuclear Facilities:  Cambridge University Press, edited by Connor, C., Connor, L., and Chapman, N., p. 116-141.      http://books.google.com/booksid=0axxZ2YSpD8C&pg=PA122&dq=litchfield,+ota,+merritts&hl=en&sa

Walter, R.C. and Merritts, D.J., 2008, What to Do About Those Dammed Streams (Comment and Reply), Peter Wilcock and Walter/Merritts, Science, 321 (5891), 910-912 [DOI:10.1126/science.321.5891.910b]   http://www.sciencemag.org/content/321/5891/910.2.full

Walter, R.C. and Merritts, D.J., 2008. Dammed You Say. Science Online: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/eletters/319/5861/299

Walter, Robert, and Merritts, Dorothy, 2008, Natural streams and the legacy of water-powered milling:  Science, v. 319, p. 299-304.  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/319/5861/299.short

Annual Conference of Pennsylvania Field Geologists Field Guide, Mount Holly Springs breached mill-pond (Eaton-Dikeman mill), September 25, 2008.  [PDF, 2.4 MB]

Choi, S.-J., D. J. Merritts, and Y. Ota (2008), Elevations and ages of marine terraces and late Quaternary rock uplift in southeastern Korea, J. Geophys. Res., 113, B10403,     http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2007JB005260

Wohl, Ellen, and Merritts, Dorothy, 2007, What is a natural river?  Geography Compass, v. 1, no. 4, p. 871-900, Blackwell Publishing, doi: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2007.00049.x.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-8198.2007.00049.x/abstract

Merritts, Dorothy, 2007, Fluvial environments:  Terrace sequences: in Elias, Scott (ed.), Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science, p. 694-704. 

Thomas W. Gardner, John Webb, Aaron G. Davis, Elizabeth J. Cassell, Claudia Pezzia, Dorothy J. Merritts, and Barton Smith, 2006, Late Pleistocene landscape response to climate change: Eolian and alluvial fan deposition, Cape Liptrap, southeastern Victoria, Australia: Quaternary Research, v. 25, p. 1552-1569.

Griggs, Gary, Savoy, Lauret,, Runyan, Kiki, and Merritts, Dorothy, 2005, The Northern California Coast: Oregon Border to Point Delgada, Chapter 9 in The Changing Coast of California, edited by Gary Griggs and Kiki Runyan:  University of California Press.

Merritts, Dorothy, Savoy, Lauret, Griggs, Gary, Walter, Robert, 2005, The Northern Coast of California: Point Delgada to Point Arena, Chapter 10 in The Changing Coast of California, edited by Gary Griggs and Kiki Runyan:  University of California Press.

Savoy, Lauret, Merritts, Dorothy, Grove, Karen, and Walter, Robert, 2005, The Northern Coast of California: Point Arena to San Francisco, Chapter 11 in The Changing Coast of California, edited by Gary Griggs and Kiki Runyan:  University of California Press.

Snyder, Noah P., Whipple, Kelin X., Tucker, Greg E., and Merritts, Dorothy J., 2003, Channel response to tectonic forcing:  Field analysis of stream morphology and hydrology in the Mendocino triple junction region, northern California:  Geomorphology, v. 53, p. 97-127. 

Snyder, Noah P., Whipple, Kelin X., Tucker, Greg E., and Merritts, Dorothy J., 2003, Importance of a stochastic distribution of floods and erosion thresholds in the bedrock river incision problem:  Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 108, B2, p. 2117-2132.

Snyder, Noah P., Whipple, Kelin X., Tucker, Greg E., and Merritts, Dorothy J., 2002, Interactions between onshore bedrock-channel incision and nearshore wave-base erosion forced by eustasty and tectonics:  Basin Research, v. 14, p. 105-127.

Gardner, Thomas, Marshall, Jeffrey, Merritts, Dorothy, Bee, Bhavani, Burgette, Reed, Burton, Emily, Cooke, Jennifer, Kehrwald, Natalie, Protti, Marino, Fisher, Donald, and Sak, Peter, 2001, Holocene forearc block rotation in response to seamount subduction, southeastern Peninsula de Nicoya, Costa Rica:  Geology (Boulder), v. 29, no. 2, p. 151-154.

Merritts, Dorothy J., Bodin, Paul, Beutner, Edward, Prentice, Carol S., and Muller, Jordan, 2000, Active surface deformation in the Mendocino triple junction process zone:  in Bokelman, Gotz, and Kovach, Robert L. (editors), Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Tectonic Problems of the San Andreas Fault System, Stanford University Publications/Geological Sciences Volume XXI, September, 2000, pages 128-143. See http://pangea.stanford.edu/GP/sanandreas2000/index.html.

Merritts, Dorothy, 2000, The effects of variable river flow on human communities:  In Wohl, Ellen E. (Editor), Inland Flood Hazards:  Human, Riparian, and Aquatic Communities, Cambridge University Press, p. 271-290.

Prentice, C.S. Langridge, R., and Merritts, D J., 2000, Paleoseismic and Quaternary tectonic studies of the San Andreas fault from Shelter Cove to Fort Ross, in: Bokelmann, G. and Kovach, R.L., eds.: Proceedings of the Third Conference on Tectonic Problems of the San Andreas System, Stanford University Publications, p.349-350.

Snyder, Noah P., Whipple, Kelin X., Tucker, Greg E., and Merritts, Dorothy J., 2000, Landscape response to tectonic forcing:  Digital elevation model analysis of stream profiles in the Mendocino triple junction region, northern California:  Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 112, no. 8, pl. 1250-1263.

Prentice, Carol S., Merritts, Dorothy J., Beutner, Edward, Bodin, Paul, Schill, Allison, and Muller, Jordan, 1999,  The northern San Andreas fault near Shelter Cove, California.  Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 111, n. 4, p. 512-523.

Pazzaglia, Frank J., Gardner, Thomas W., and Merritts, Dorothy J., 1998, Bedrock fluvial incision and longitudinal profile development over geologic time scales determined by fluvial terraces:  in Rivers Over Rock:  Fluvial Processes in Bedrock Channels, edited by Ellen Wohl, American Geophysical Union Geophysical Mongraph Series, no. 107, p. 207-235.

Merritts, Dorothy, Eby, Rebecca, Harris, Ron, Edwards, R. Lawrence, and Cheng, Hai, 1998, Variable rates of late Quaternary surface uplift along the Banda Arc-Australian Plate collision zone: In Stewart, I. S., and Vita-Finzi, C. (editors), Coastal Tectonics.  Geological Society, London, Special Publications, vol. 146, p. 213-224.

Merritts, Dorothy, 1996, The Mendocino triple junction:  Active faults, paleoseismicity, and causes of rapid uplift: Journal of Geophysical Research (special issue on Paleoseismology), v. 99, no. B7, p. 14,031-14,050.

Merritts, Dorothy, and Brustolon, Amy, 1995, The Mendocino triple junction:  Active faults, paleoseismicity, and causes of rapid uplift:  USGS Open-File Report on International Lithosphere Program-U. S. Geological Survey Workshop on Paleoseismology.

Merritts, Dorothy, and Tim Hesterberg, August, 1994, Stream networks and long-term surface uplift, New Madrid seismic zone:  Statistical and topographic modeling: Science, v. 265, p. 1081-1084.  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/265/5175/1081.full.pdf?sid=7245543c-9605-493a-bc7b-6f8250df8a5f

Merritts, Dorothy, and Ellis, Michael, 1994, Introduction to Special Issue on Tectonics and Topography, in Ellis, M. and Merritts, D., editors, Tectonics and Topography, Special Section Part I, Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 99, no. B6, p. 12,135-12,141.

Merritts, Dorothy, Vincent, Kirk, and Wohl, Ellen, July, 1994, Long river profiles, tectonism, and eustasy:  A guide to interpreting fluvial terraces:  in Ellis, M. and Merritts, D., editors, Tectonics and Topography, Special Section Part II, Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 99, no. B7, p. 14,031-14,050.

Chadwick, Oliver, Kelly, Eugene, Merritts, Dorothy, and Amundson, R. G., 1994, Carbon dioxide consumption during soil development:  Biogeochemistry, v.24, no. 3, p. 115-128. 

Merritts, Dorothy J., Chadwick, Oliver A., Hendricks, David M., Brimhall, George H., and Lewis, Christopher J., 1992, The mass balance of soil evolution on late Quaternary marine terraces, northern California:  Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 104, p. 1476-1499.

Merritts, D. J., Chadwick, O. A., and Hendricks, D. M., 1991, Rates and processes of soil evolution on uplifted marine terraces, northern California:  Geoderma, v. 51, p. 241-275.

Merritts, Dorothy, and Vincent, Kirk R., 1989, Geomorphic response of coastal streams to low, intermediate, and high rates of uplift, Mendocino triple junction region, northern California:  Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 101, p. 1373-1388.

Merritts, D.J., and Bull, W. B., 1989, Interpreting Quaternary uplift rates at the Mendocino triple junction, northern California, from uplifted marine terraces:  Geology, v. 17, p. 1020-1024.

Course Information

Geomorphology, hydrology, water resources, and environmental geology.