Kelin X. Whipple

Prof. Kelin Whipple is a remarkable scientist, mentor, and community builder who is an ideal recipient of the 2019 G. K. Gilbert Award in Surface Processes for his seminal studies on the role of fluvial incision as the key process linking climate, tectonics, and landscape evolution. With over 120 publications and 21 mentored graduate students, Kelin contributes significantly to our field across many topical areas including fluvial and glacial processes, tectonic geomorphology, and debris flow mechanics linked with alluvial fan development. This unending scientific brilliance is combined with his selfless promotion of collaborative research and achievement by young scientists. Through his incisive integration of field observations with both natural and laboratory experiments and with prescient and creative analytical and numerical exploration, he leads efforts to quantify critical controls on mountain landscape evolution and its external drivers, climate variability, and active tectonics. Over the past 20-plus years, Kelin and his students and postdocs have published extensively, quantifying how river incision is the key process connecting the external drivers of climate and tectonics with landscape evolution, thus setting the pace for how landscapes evolve. Central to all of his work is his ability to couple detailed field, lab, and modeling efforts into an integrated “whole” that solves, or makes significant progress toward solving, important problems related to how planetary surfaces evolve. Kelin is an exceptionally keen field geologist as well as a meticulous experimentalist. Importantly, in addition to his scientific achievements and the continued vibrancy of his career, Kelin maintains remarkably good humor, tireless attention to detail, seemingly boundless patience, and enviable intellectual generosity. He is constantly giving back to our community in profound ways that are both piercing and compassionate. These qualities are an inspiration for all of us who work with him.

—Arjun M. Heimsath, Arizona State University, Tempe


I am so honored to receive this award. Having one’s name associated in any way with G. K. Gilbert and listed alongside the former recipients is incredible. It is humbling as well to think of the many scientists equally or more deserving of this honor. I am grateful to so many people: from friends and family who provided so much support, to mentors and advisors for challenging critiques, good guidance, wise words, encouragement at low points, and teaching by example in so many ways.

But science is not an individual sport, and this is not an award for individual accomplishments. This award belongs to the incredible group of students, postdocs, collaborators, and colleagues I have had the pleasure and luck to work with over the years. Each has contributed so much. It belongs also to my wife, Darla, and our two girls, Teagan and Daryn, who have tolerated countless hours of physical or mental absence. This award celebrates all you have done, and I thank you all. On behalf of this amazing group, I thank the Earth and Planetary Surface Processes community for this honor. I especially thank Arjun Heimsath for the very kind words in the citation.

Community is such an important aspect of the scientific endeavor. We are fortunate to have a vibrant, positive, and supporting community in surface processes. We owe a debt of thanks to all who have helped shape our community into what it is today. Maintaining a positive, collegial, and yet scientifically challenging community is critical. As a community, we have one significant challenge to overcome, however: a lack of diversity. We must all strive as best we can to do our part to rectify this shortcoming. Our community and the rate of scientific advance both would benefit from a proactive focus on enhancing diversity.

—Kelin X. Whipple, Arizona State University, Tempe


(2020), Whipple receives 2019 G. K. Gilbert Award in Surface Processes, Eos, 101, Published on 31 March 2020.

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