Citation in Honor of Carol de Wet, 2022 Recipient of the Bradley R. Dewey Award for Outstanding Scholarship

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Professor Carol de Wet is a geoscientist whose research program has inspired undergraduates to pursue their intellectual curiosity while interpreting geologic evidence to expand our understanding of the ancient Earth. Her research uses clues from rocks to create a picture of ancient landscapes, topography, and climate, including the plants and animals that inhabited these spaces. Unraveling the processes by which these environments were converted into rocks and fossils, thus preserving them for millions of years, involves detailed petrography—use of thin sections and a microscope or a scanning electron microscope—trace element geochemistry, and isotopes. Professor de Wet’s research pulls all these strands together to vividly reconstruct past environments, their burial, and subsequent exhumation to Earth’s surface again. Her research on limestones reveals significant detail about past environments. Her research is timely and impactful as climate shifts are occurring globally, and being able to understand how environments responded to changes in the past provides much-needed information regarding Earth’s future.

Professor de Wet has studied ancient freshwater limestones from Nova Scotia, Chile, Pennsylvania, Kenya, and Tanzania, documenting former springs and lakes. She also has worked on marine limestones, including a series of influential publications on Cambrian microbial marine carbonate reefs, and complex Jurassic shallow water limestones from southern England.

Professor de Wet has published significant research on the world-famous Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. She has done so in collaboration with highly regarded researchers, which attests to her stature in the field of carbonate sedimentology. Professor de Wet and her collaborators have discovered and characterized freshwater spring deposits within the Gorge that were likely the sources of potable water for hominids, rather than Lake Olduvai, which was largely saline and undrinkable.

Most recently, Professor de Wet has focused her research in the Atacama Desert, one of the most formidable environments on the planet. It is notable that last year, Carol and collaborators, including three F&M students, published their research in the Geological Society of America Bulletin, one of the most well-regarded, top-tier geoscience journals. The subject matter is particularly significant given dramatic climate shifts in the region and how past changes may inform future climate change there. This research suggests an important, ancient coupling between Pacific Ocean circulation and terrestrial precipitation in what is today one of the driest places on Earth.

F&M students have been full participants in Professor de Wet’s research. She is recognized for her high-quality mentoring throughout her career. This has been a hallmark of her role as a teacher-scholar. Students accompanied Professor de Wet to the field to collect data and samples, prepare rocks for analysis, and analyze their geochemistry using cutting-edge analytical techniques. She takes great pleasure in working at a microscope with students and participating in their delight as they interpret what they see and develop their own paleoenvironmental reconstructions. Students also see the hallmarks of excellent research when they work with her on scholarly publications and are co-authors on papers published in top venues or go to professional meetings where they present the work together. Professor de Wet’s research program has resulted in 100% graduate school placement for students seeking a graduate degree after completing a thesis with her.

Professor de Wet has consistently merged teaching and research with high-quality mentoring that inspires excellence in her students and enlightens them about the study of carbonate rocks and the story those rocks can tell. Her steadfast devotion to scholarly research at the highest level makes her a worthy recipient of the Bradley R. Dewey Scholarship Award.