News Release

Geological Society of America honors Excellence in Geoscience for 2017

Grant and Award Announcement

Geological Society of America

Boulder, CO, USA: The Geological Society of America (GSA) recognizes outstanding scientific achievement and distinguished service to the profession each year at its Annual Meeting & Exposition, held this year in Seattle, Washington, USA.

Highest honors will be presented to Penrose Medalist George Plafker, Geologist emeritus, U.S. Geological Survey at the University of Washington; Arthur L. Day Medalist, Neal R. Iverson, Iowa State University; and Donath Medalist (Young Scientist Award) Sterling James Nesbitt, Virginia Tech.

Incoming GSA President Isabel Montañez cordially invites members of the media to attend the awards ceremony and other Annual Meeting events, and meet these luminaries in the geosciences.

  • Award Presentations: Sunday, 22 October, noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Washington State Convention Center.

  • GSA's Penrose Medalist will present a reflective lecture during a complementary topical session during the meeting, 22-25 October.


Penrose Medalist George Plafker recognized vast underthrusting of continental margins before the process became known as subduction. He established this element of plate tectonics by mapping, interpreting, and documenting the regional uplift and subsidence that accompanied the giant 1964 Alaska and 1960 Chile earthquakes. With these findings Plafker laid geological foundations for assessing earthquake and tsunami hazards at subduction zones worldwide. Plafker's geologic mapping and syntheses pervade Earth science in Alaska on topics ranging across bedrock geology, tectonic history, and surficial processes.

Neal R. Iverson, is named the Arthur L. Day Medalist in recognition of his transformative application of physics to glacial geology, glaciology and geomorphology. Much of his work focuses on the physical interactions between glaciers and their substrates, often with the dual objectives of better understanding the behavior of modern glaciers and the deposits and landforms ancient glaciers have left behind. Iverson's approach has included insightful theory and ambitious field measurements, but he is distinguished by his extensive use of experimentation to discover the governing physics.

Sterling James Nesbitt, earned the Young Scientist Award (Donath Medal) and a cash prize of US$10,000 for outstanding achievement as an early career professional. Nesbitt's extraordinary contributions in vertebrate paleontology have revolutionized the way geoscientists view the beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs and Earth history in general. His impactful contributions have reshaped our knowledge about macro-evolutionary patterns of diversification, biogeography, disparity, morphology, and convergent evolution.


President's Medal of The Geological Society of America

Thure Cerling, University of Utah, is a distinguished professor of both geology and biology. His research has had enormous impact at the intersection of these disciplines, and in 2001 he was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences. His research has developed our understanding of stable isotopes in paleosols, soil carbon and fossil teeth and bones as indicators of an integrated paleo-world: including paleoecology, paleoclimate, and paleo-atmospheric levels of atmospheric CO2.

Doris M. Curtis Outstanding Woman in Science Award

Sonia M. Tikoo, Rutgers University, is recognized for the impact of her Ph.D. research in planetary geology. Tikoo has provided fundamental contributions to the understanding of the paleomagnetism of lunar rocks and impact craters and her studies have extended the known lifetime of the lunar dynamo by at least 1 billion years.

GSA Public Service Award

Alexander E. Gates, Rutgers University, was named in recognition for his untiring effort and enthusiasm to spread appreciation of Earth and Environmental issues to the public and especially to underrepresented urban minority youth. These efforts have impacted millions of people through museum displays, a research center, mass media appearances, and publications.

Randolph W. "Bill" and Cecile T. Bromery Award for the Minorities

Aradhna Tripati, University of California, Los Angeles, receives recognition for her active involvement of students of all backgrounds and levels in the research endeavor that makes a real difference in the science and in the engagement of nontraditional and underrepresented students. In addition to being an outstanding role model for women and underrepresented minorities in science, Tripati has constructed a deep, valuable progression of important contributions to paleoclimatology that speak to her vision and perseverance.

Geologic Mapping Award in Honor of Florence Bascom

Ray E. Wells, U.S. Geological Survey, Portland, is internationally recognized as the foremost expert in the geologic and tectonic framework of the Pacific Northwest. Throughout his career, Wells has served as chief of a number of large USGS geologic mapping projects which have produced over 150 geologic quadrangle maps, numerous geophysical surveys, and articles in scientific journals that relate major scientific findings discovered through the geologic mapping.

Distinguished Service Award

Jean M. Bahr, University of Wisconsin-Madison, is honored for her long and stellar service to GSA and the geoscience community. A Fellow since 1996, Bahr served as a Councilor beginning in 2004, climaxing with her term as GSA President in 2009-2010. She is a former chair of the GSA Hydrogeology Division and has served on numerous committees. Bahr has taken an active role in public policy, providing leadership and guidance as GSA crafted its Climate Change Position Paper. She exemplifies the best qualities that support and serve our society and community.

Photos of the GSA award recipients are online. Citations and responses from the 2017 GSA medal and award winners will be posted on this site after the 2017 GSA Annual Meeting & Exposition.

Lists of GSA's Division awardees and newly elected Fellows are also online.

Read more about GSA's medals and awards at

The Geological Society of America, founded in 1888, is a scientific society with more than 25,000 members from academia, government, and industry in more than 100 countries. Through its meetings, publications, and programs, GSA enhances the professional growth of its members and promotes the geosciences in the service of humankind. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, USA, GSA encourages cooperative research among earth, life, planetary, and social scientists, fosters public dialogue on geoscience issues, and supports all levels of earth science education.


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