Dorothy J. Merritts, professor of geosciences and chairperson of the program in environmental studies, is the 2010 recipient of the Bradley R. Dewey Award for Outstanding Scholarship, Franklin & Marshall's highest honor for scholarship. The following citation was presented to Merritts during the College's Commencement ceremony on May 15:
Dorothy J. Merritts is a geologist, environmental scientist and humanist who revels in the study of change in the physical world. Earth's landscapes, once thought to be little altered since their creation, are the outcome of eons of imperceptible change. Modern technology, wielded in the hands of scientists like Dorothy Merritts, makes it possible to measure this change at the interface between the construction of continents by mountain building and subsequent erosion.
Before arriving at Franklin & Marshall in 1987, Professor Merritts completed an undergraduate degree at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, followed by a master's degree at Stanford in engineering geology and a Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in geology. Currently, she is professor of geosciences and chairperson of the program in environmental studies. She has received extraordinary recognition for her contributions. In 2004-05, she served as the Flora Stone Mather Distinguished Professor at Case Western Reserve University. She chaired a committee convened by the National Academy of Sciences in 2007 to assess "Challenges and Opportunities in Earth Surface Processes." That committee's report is now guiding research on the critical zone of intense interaction between surface processes and the solid Earth. Just this month, she was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America.
Professor Merritts is at the forefront among scientists using precise field measurements of landforms and accumulated sediments, radioisotopic ages and geochemical analyses to quantify rates of soil formation and erosion. Her early work focused on development of—and later, cutting of—river terraces in coastal California, at the northern end of the San Andreas Fault. This work led to an invitation to join in editing a set of 40 papers, spanning three issues of the Journal of Geophysical Research, constituting a major reassessment of the tectonic significance of fluvial terraces.
She then expanded the already broad scope of her research to include studies of surface deformation arising from the New Madrid, Mo., earthquakes of 1811-12; the take-up of carbon dioxide and leaching of silica that occur in soil development; tectonic implications of spectacular flights of terraces in Indonesia; and surface expressions of fault movement in Australia and Korea.
Now working with her husband, Professor Robert Walter, Professor Merritts has turned her attention to sediments accumulated upstream from Pennsylvania's Colonial-era mill dams. As the dams deteriorate, this sediment is being eroded and carried, with accompanying trace elements, to the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. Having attracted substantial grant support, the project is prompting a significant revision of our understanding of stream processes. The publication of these results in Science was recognized by a special congratulatory resolution approved by the Pennsylvania State Senate in April 2008.
Professor Merritts' varied and prolific research is the product of a lively scientific imagination, boundless energy and the ability to attract and coordinate the efforts of numerous students and colleagues to collaborate on her projects. She is an exceptional mentor to her students and an inspiration to her colleagues. Professor Merritts brings just the sort of credit to Franklin & Marshall College that we have come to associate with recipients of the Bradley R. Dewey Award.