2021 Laurence L. Sloss Award

Presented to Sidney Hemming

Sidney Hemming

Sidney Hemming
Columbia University


Citation by Suzanne O'Connell

If there is anyone I have met in my 40+-year geoscience career who lives and breathes geoscience, especially the amazing history provided by sedimentary geology, it is Sidney Hemming. No wonder she was the first woman chair of Columbia’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Department. The Sloss award is for lifetime achievement, but I hope this as a mid-career achievement award. Sid has given so much to sedimentology and, hopefully has a few more decades to contribute. I know I, and many students, are counting on it. She is captivated by Earth’s history. She uses modern isotopic tools to date geological events and discern detrital provenance. She goes out of her way to bring others into the fold. This award for Sid is based on three criteria; 1) contributions to sedimentary geology, 2) inspiration for the next generation, and 3) contributions to the Geological Society of America.

1) Anyone who is interested in ice sheet dynamics, especially in the North Atlantic, is familiar with the many Hemming papers about Heinrich events. As we watch the rapid melting on Greenland, this is not an esoteric study. Now she has turned her attention to the Southern Ocean (especially IODP Expeditions 361 and 382). Each day we learn more about the dire situation of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Through her isotope provenance research, she is addressing the timing and extent of past Antarctic ice retreats, under analogous atmospheric CO2 conditions to today.

2) I don’t know how often someone who is a Fellow of both GSA and AGU has numerus awards for teaching and mentoring. Sid does. She was honored as a graduate student at SUNY Stony Brook, by undergraduates at Columbia University and graduate students at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Lamont runs a summer research program for undergraduates, and she has hosted about thirty summer students, an equal number of undergraduate students and served on many of their thesis committees. I can attest that she is not a set-it-and-leave research supervisor. During the 2020 summer of Covid, she organized a weekly seminar, open to all, to provide her undergraduate student with a broad introduction to the field. She truly cares about the next generation of geoscientists.

3) Her service and commitment to GSA:

Co-Founder: GSA Geochronology Division

Co-Editor: GSA Special Paper 487 “Mineralogical and Geochemical Approaches to Provenance” with Troy Rasbury and Nancy Riggs.

Chaired and organized numerous sessions at annual GSA meetings.

Thank you, Sid! Congratulations on being named the 2021 recipient of the Laurence L. Sloss Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the interdisciplinary field of sedimentary geology.


Response by Sidney Hemming

Thanks to the committee for selecting me for the Sloss Award. And thanks Suzanne for nominating me, and also thank you for the incredibly kind words in your citation. I really do love sedimentary geology and so I am especially flattered and humbled to have been selected for the Sloss Award (I also hope I have a bunch more time). Provenance of the unconformity-bounded “Sloss sequences” is one of the topics my Ph.D. advisor Scott McLennan dangled when I was thinking about research projects for my thesis, and although I went a different direction, I still think that would have been a really fun choice. I grew up in rural Texas with parents Ed and Ann Rasbury who were incredibly enthusiastic about geology, so my sister Troy, brother Zander and I inherited that enthusiasm and loved collecting fossils near our home. I am now a geochronologist, and my Ph.D. centered on using radiogenic isotope geochemistry for provenance analysis. But throughout my studies and career I have never lost the excitement of the challenge of “decoding” Earth’s history recorded in sedimentary strata.

When presented with the need to respond to such a nice honor, it makes one think of the things in your life that led to where you are now. I’m lucky to have a faculty position in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia, and especially to be a member of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. I’m there because of Wally Broecker, who recruited me as a post doc, and put considerable energy into providing me the opportunity to join the faculty. I’m also lucky to have been a graduate student at Stony Brook, in a wonderful Geology Department with really outstanding and collegial faculty and students. In addition to my exceptional Ph.D. advisor Scott McLennan, I was fortunate to work in Gil Hanson’s lab and he and Scott were great advising partners. I’m also lucky to have had the opportunity to spend three years at Tulane for a masters supervised by George Flowers, and where I met my husband Gary. As a graduate of a small state school- Midwestern State University, I had learned a lot about the facts in geology but had not had access to research and would almost certainly have failed had I gone right into a Ph.D. program. And finally, I’m really lucky to have attended Midwestern State University which was a terrific fit for me and Troy who played tennis on the varsity team, and who benefitted greatly from the camaraderie and care that Jackie Watkins and John Kocurco brought to their teaching and mentoring.

I have had a lot of lucky breaks, and I’ve also been turned down for a lot of things. Looking back, I think both the successes and failures have been important in my development, and I would say to the young people coming up, just hang in there. Somehow it always works out for the best. Thanks again GSA Sedimentary Geology Division for giving me this award.