The 2017 Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Award is awarded to Dirk Scherler for his exceptional contributions to geomorphology that are forcing paradigm shifts and will have a long-lasting impact.
Dirk Scherler is an outstanding researcher whose combined field, laboratory, remote sensing and modelling work in geomorphology sits at the forefront of the field. Scherler’s broad research interests encompass the interplay of climate, erosion, tectonics, the geomorphic impact of climate change on landscapes, and the impact of climate change on glaciers, often using cosmogenic- nuclide analysis as a core method. He has also contributed to developing a freely available and widely used numerical toolbox for the geomorphic analysis of landscapes. He is a highly productive researcher, not only in terms of first-authored papers, but also in his contributions to the work of others, and his role in mentoring students. During his PhD, Scherler adapted and improved an optical remote-sensing correlation technique for application to ice flow measurements. He went on to produce an impressive study quantifying the variable response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change and demonstrating the importance of debris cover in explaining this variability. During a subsequent postdoc, he led a study of the buried Pliocene Tsangpo canyon in Southern Tibet, the discovery of which was enabled by access to borehole data produced by Chinese collaborators. Scherler made a remarkable analysis that challenged the popular tectonic-aneurysm theory, according to which rapid uplift at the eastern Himalayan syntaxis would be driven by river incision, and proposed an alternative tectonic origin. He also carried out another landmark study of Holocene terraces in the upper catchment of the San Gabriel River in California, which are considered as the archetype example of climate-driven terraces. Using optically stimulated luminescence dating, his own detailed field observations, and comparison with other catchments in the San Gabriel ranges, Scherler was able to propose an alternative interpretation, which relates the sediment-choking of the valley to a massive landslide in the upstream part of the catchment, which he documented, and was possibly triggered by an earthquake on the nearby San Andreas fault. As these examples show, Scherler’s ability to recognise important problems, design effective research approaches, and communicate his results with an impeccable degree of precision and clarity has been instructive and inspiring, not only for the students he has mentored but also his colleagues. Scherler is an outstanding early-career scientist with exceptional breadth and depth, who has already produced results that will have a long lasting impact and are forcing paradigm shifts. For these reasons, Dirk Scherler is highly deserving of the Geomorphology Division’s Outstanding Early Career Scientist award.