Neil Salisbury

1929 - 2015

Neil Salisbury, physical geographer and emeritus professor at the University of Oklahoma, died on May 29, 2015, at the age of 86.

Neil Elliot Salisbury was born on October 27, 1928 in New Orleans but grew up in Minneapolis. He studied at the University of Minnesota, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1952 and doctorate in 1957. His thesis was entitled “A Generic Classification of Landforms in Minnesota.”

Under the tutelage of Herb Wright he had become particularly interested in Quaternary science. He went on to be a pioneer in the area of quantitative geomorphology, applying quantitative methods to an area of research that had previously been primarily descriptive.

Salisbury taught at the University of Iowa from 1955 to 1979. During this time he published papers on topics including valley width and stream discharge, flood plains, glacial landforms, and eolian landforms, largely based on fieldwork at various sites in Iowa.

Jim Knox, one of the doctoral students that Salisbury supervised reminisced that “The University of Iowa in the mid-1960s was a wonderful and exciting environment for combined graduate study of geomorphology and Quaternary geology because interaction among the Departments of Geography, Geology, and the Hydraulics Laboratory was strongly practiced… Neil Salisbury in Geography was one of the key leaders in the process geomorphology arena. Salisbury also encouraged my Quaternary interests because he maintained very strong interests in Quaternary stratigraphy and Quaternary paleoclimates.”

In the 1960s Salisbury also worked with colleagues on various studies of population change in the Midwest that charted the growth of small towns and villages which were finding a new function as dormitories for urban industrial zones. This work drew onhis interest in quantitative techniques, their papers combining statistical analysis with cartography to counter prevailing urban growth theories.

In 1979 Salisbury moved to the University of Oklahoma to take up a position as Professor of Geography, and stayed there until his retirement in 1996, serving as Chair of the Department of Geography between 1979 and 1984. His passion for fieldwork continued, his favorite site being the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado.

Salisbury became a member of the Association of American Geographers in 1960. During that decade he served on the Census Advisory Committee, including acting as its Chair, and represented the AAG on the National Research Council in the Division of Earth Sciences. In 1978 a group of geomorphologists decided to form a section within the AAG called ‘Geomorphology and Related Interest.’ Salisbury was on the six-man committee organizing this new venture that would go on to become the Geomorphology Specialty Group. The Group recognized him with the Melvin G. Marcus Distinguished Career Award in 1992. He was also a 50-Year Member of The Geological Society of America.

Over the years at the universities of Iowa and Oklahoma, Salisbury advised 22 doctoral students and mentored dozens of other graduate and undergraduate students. He will be remembered in particular for his important contributions to quantitative geomorphology.

Neil’s survivors include four sons, Beau, Lance, Kirby, and Kelly.