Peter Birkeland Soil Geomorphology Award

About the Peter Birkeland Award

A generous gift from Peter Birkeland established the Peter Birkeland Soil Geomorphology Award in 2016 to contribute to the advancement of soil geomorphology.  The purpose of the award is to support promising M.S. and Ph.D. graduate students working on a thesis with a research focus in soil geomorphology.  In the event there are no soil geomorphology applicants, the award may go to a student doing research in the general field of weathering, Quaternary stratigraphy, or geomorphology, in that order. The Division granted the first Birkeland Award in 2017.

Below, Peter Birkeland describes the impetus for the award.

I have decided it is time to start a soil geomorphology award to add to the other Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology student research awards: the Howard, Mackin, and Morisawa. I got the idea from the philanthropy of fellow geomorphologists Roy Shlemon (we learned soils together at the University of California- Berkeley) and Don Easterbrook (a fellow undergraduate at the University of Washington). I also have a connection to two of the people for which the awards are named: Mackin inspired me to study geomorphology and Howard was my thesis advisor. When it came time to write my thesis, however, Howard was on leave overseas, so Mackin graciously offered to check my fieldwork and to read the thesis. Little did he know how terrible my writing was then. He found that he could only edit every other page, leaving the rest to me. In time I learned.

I want this award to contribute to the advancement of soil geomorphology. I learned soils from Hans Jenny when I was a young professor in his soils department at the UC-Berkeley and I felt badly when I left for University of Colorado-Boulder. Another part of my soil education was from field trips sponsored by the GSA, as well as by Friends of the Pleistocene. Furthermore my poor grant record denied my students this aspect of funding. However, they were motivated and frugal and most did the work unfunded or with small grants and produced impressive results on a variety of soil geomorphology topics. A few had USGS or other government support. Their work spanned a large geographic area from the western USA and the midcontinent to overseas field sites in Andorra, Canada, New Zealand, Peru, and Slovenia. So my hope is that this award helps promote the field that Jenny got me into as well as supporting soil geomorphology students.

This award will be fully funded from the start thanks to the US Army. As a draftee in the Army (’53-55) we all had a $10K life insurance policy. Alas the policy was never activated and I survived as a member of the Camp Hale ski team. Upon discharge, I kept the insurance and the benefit is now sufficient to fund this award.

Students currently enrolled in a Masters or Ph.D. program, with a research focus in soil geomorphology, are encouraged to apply. Evaluation of the proposals is done by the Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology management board and an ad-hoc review committee of Division members. These merit-based division awards are entirely separate from grants from the GSA Committee on Research Grants to support student research.

How to apply for the Peter Birkeland Soil Geomorphology Award

 is done via the student research grant program run by GSA. Any research grant application that has “Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology” selected as the General Field of Research Project will be automatically eligible for consideration for our awards.  PLEASE NOTE that a single application can be simultaneously considered for multiple awards.


Applications are due February 1 of each year.


Peter Birkeland Award Winners

2023 Adrian Wackett,
Stanford University. Global w'o'rming: assessing whether earthworms weather silicates in soils. 

2022 Nora Vaughan, University of North Carolina Charlotte. Factors controlling Holocene piedmont hillslope processes.

2021 Alyssa Sims, Minnesota State University, Mankato. Reconstructing regional paleoenvironments and geomorphic history of High Plains playa-lunette systems.

2020 Jason Windingstad, University of Arizona, for the proposal Soil-landscape evolution across an alluvial fan-playa-dune system in the Eastern Mohawk Valley, Arizona

2019 Evan Thaler, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, A scalable remote sensing method for estimating topsoil loss in the Piedmont region of the eastern U.S.

2018 Charles Abolt, University of Texas at Austin, Quantifying the influence of ice wedge polygon geomorphology on landscape-scale hydrology and carbon cycling

2017 Catherine Opalka, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Soils and stratigraphy of tributary alluvial fans in the Uwharrie National Forest, NC, USA.