Walter B. Langbein
October 17, 1907 - December 10, 1982
Election Year: 1970
Scientific Discipline: Geology
Membership Type: Member
Known primarily for his contributions to hydrology and geomorphology, Walter B. Langbein made notable contributions to the geological sciences and to public policy. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Cooper Union College in 1931, Langbein worked in a number of different fields including: flooding, soil temperatures, lake and river sedimentation buildup and composition, and reservoir storage. His research on flooding laid the foundation for the development of the national flood insurance program. He was among the first to account for land use as a factor affecting water runoff and soil erosion. He was able to derive equations from hydraulic data demonstrating the complex relationships between river channel factors such as width, depth, velocity, slope, and bed material size. This breakthrough was crucial because it showed that the balance of the natural hydraulic factors for rivers favored minimum physical exertion. Langbein also determined a solution to the issue of the rate of filling reservoirs by using probability theories.
In 1935, Langbein joined the U.S. Geological Survey as a senior research hydrologist and maintained the position for thirty-three years until his retirement in 1968. He was also a member of the American Geophysical Union, as well as the American Society of Civil Engineers. He served as the founder and editor of one of the first influential hydrological periodicals, The Journal of Water Resources Research. Langbein received several awards for his influence in the scientific community. For his promotion of the International Hydrologic Decade in the mid-1960s, he was awarded the International Prize in Hydrology by the International Association of Hydrological Sciences. Langbein also received the William Bowie Medal from the American Geophysical Union in 1969 due to his dual research of hydrology and geophysics.