M. Gordon “Reds” Wolman was a towering figure in 20th century fluvial geomorphology and an internationally-respected expert in river science, water resources management, and environmental education. He died on February 24, 2010, at the age of 85, in Baltimore.
Wolman was a member of the Johns Hopkins University faculty for more than 50 years, where he helped to establish the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering. He received a bachelor’s degree in geology from Johns Hopkins in 1949. He later earned his doctorate at Harvard University, also in geology.
Wolman’s pioneering research fundamentally shaped our understanding of river forms and processes. In his PhD research at Harvard and subsequent work with Luna Leopold at the U.S. Geological Survey, Wolman played a central role in defining rivers in a modern, quantitative framework that still provides the standard against which new models and concepts are evaluated.
Wolman educated scores of students who continue to advance our scientific understanding of landscape morphology and hydrologic processes. He co-authored the classic Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology, a pioneering work in the study of landform development, with Luna Leopold and John Miller, a book that has been a standard in the field for 40 years and continues to be used widely.
Wolman’s career was defined by an extraordinary commitment to the application of research to river management and policy. Wolman demonstrated that relatively common floods do the most work in shaping river channels and, further, that there is remarkable consistency in the frequency of these “effective” floods. This result has guided interpretation of rivers and challenged river theory for the past 50 years, while also providing important input into modern channel restoration and design.
Wolman’s scholarly honors included election to both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
Reds Wolman (Necrology). 2009. AAG Newsletter 45(5): 15.