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European Geosciences Union

Heather A. Viles

Heather A. Viles
Heather A. Viles

The 2015 Ralph Alger Bagnold Medal is awarded to Heather A. Viles for establishing the field of biogeomorphology and providing the foundation synthesis of the biological component of geomorphology in a range of climatic environments.

Heather Viles has been a key figure in the development of the field of biogeomorphology. Her 1988 volume established the field and provided a synthesis of the biological component of geomorphology in a range of climatic environments. She has led the development of the field of microbial biogeomorphology, setting its research agenda via theoretically advanced papers that both provide a conceptual framework for rock-breakdown systems and define the role of microbial processes therein. This follows her earlier work on the issue of scale in weathering processes that provided the stimulus to redirect the field from a reductionist approach towards one that investigates breakdown processes across the spectrum of scales.

Viles is also an outstanding field geomorphologist. She combines detailed field data collection with rigorous analytic techniques that investigate process mechanics across experimental platforms. These data are linked up to larger scale questions in Earth and environmental sciences. She has published important papers that explore the links between ecological and geomorphological systems in disturbance regimes and nonlinear perspectives on slope instability.

Her work is set apart by its innovation. She has provided cutting edge, methodological developments for the field. For example, her research group was the first to apply DNA sequencing to rock breakdown. Of particular importance is her pioneering work on the development of non-destructive field techniques in rock-breakdown studies. Her recent experimental work investigating the role of inheritance on rock-breakdown processes on Mars and the weathering processes on asteroids illustrates her highly original approach to challenging research environments.

In addition, Heather Viles is an inspirational leader in paving the way for the next generation of geomorphologists. In her work as an individual she builds opportunities for early career scientists to gain important experience.