Dorothy Merritts is a geomorphologist recognized for her work on the history of landscapes and processes that shape them. She is known particularly for her research on landscapes perturbed by geologic events and climate change during the past ~130,000 years, and by human activities during the past ~400 years. Merritts was born in Altoona, PA, and grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in central Pennsylvania. She graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in geology, from Stanford University with a M. S. in Engineering Geology, and from University of Arizona with a Ph. D. in geosciences in 1987. At University of Arizona, she focused on active tectonics, soil formation on tectonically uplifted landforms, and the response of streams and coastlines to rapid uplift along the northernmost tip of the San Andreas fault, which she and collaborators located from geomorphic evidence. She joined the faculty at Franklin and Marshall College Department of Earth and Environment (formerly Geosciences) in 1987. She was president of the American Geophysical Union Earth and Planetary Surface Processes Section, is a fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA), was a co-recipient of the GSA Kirk Bryan award for outstanding scholarship, and received the Distinguished Career award from the GSA Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division in 2022.

Research Interests

Dorothy Merritts explores landscapes responding to geologic and human events and studies the Quaternary record of recurrent coseismic uplift along active faults, the evidence for late Pleistocene permafrost and its thaw south of the North American ice sheet in the eastern US, and the response of valley-bottom landscapes to widespread mill damming for water power during the past few centuries. She has used high-resolution topographic data, particularly from airborne lidar, to identify ubiquitous relict landforms?including lobes of frost-shattered rubble--indicative of downslope mass movement during permafrost thaw at the end of the last full glacial episode, circa 16,000 years ago. This work has significance for understanding landscape response to modern permafrost thaw. Her work with collaborators on more recent geomorphic processes has determined that fine-grained sediment stored throughout thousands of km of valley bottoms in the eastern US was trapped for centuries upstream of now obsolete mill dams, many of which have breached or are slated for removal. This work has transformed understanding of the history of streams in the region and led to new stream restoration and dam removal practices.

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Primary Section

Section 15: Geology

Secondary Section

Section 63: Environmental Sciences and Ecology