2019 Randolph W. “Bill” and Cecile T. Bromery Award

Presented to Asmeret Asefaw Berhe

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
University of California, Merced


Citation by Erika Marin-Spiotta

Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe leads a highly successful, internationally recognized research program in soil biogeochemistry at University of California, Merced. Dr. Berhe is a recipient of a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award and was selected into the inaugural class of the National Academies of Sciences’ New Voices in Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Dr. Berhe has an exceptional record of extramural funding from the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, industry and state agencies, highlighting the intellectual merit and broader impacts of her research program. Dr. Berhe has an impressive publication record with >70 peer-reviewed articles that have garnered >3200 citations in the top earth science journals, including Nature Geoscience, Nature Climate Change, Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary SciencesChemical GeologySoil Biology and Biochemistry, and Biogeochemistry as well as other high-impact journals with broader readership such as Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Four of her papers have >200 citations, and her co-authored high-impact article "Soil and Human Security in the 21st Century" has been cited >300 times since it was published in 2015.

Dr. Berhe's research is advancing our understanding of the mechanisms influencing organic matter accumulation and loss in soil environments and how they control soil carbon response to erosion, fire and changes in climate. This research is critical because soils contain one of the largest terrestrial reservoirs of carbon and can exert control on atmospheric composition and climate as sinks or sources of carbon. Despite the importance of soils for climate, estimates of the response of belowground carbon to environmental change are riddled with uncertainties due to historical biases and methodological challenges. These uncertainties hinder climate model predictions of the future strength and direction of land-climate feedbacks. Dr. Berhe's work has provided novel insights into the fate of organic matter after fires, in particular how different environments lead to the selective transport of different forms of material, which can affect whether C is released to the atmosphere or sequestered in depositional settings. Her research has transformed understanding of terrestrial carbon cycling by incorporating a landscape perspective, specifically, geomorphology and hillslope processes, into biogeochemical studies. Dr. Berhe led a synthesis of the role of erosion on biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus published in Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences and is highly regarded as a world-wide expert on erosion and carbon. Dr. Berhe is also leading cutting-edge research on climate change effects on soil carbon, integrating experimental and modeling approaches in the field and lab. Dr. Berhe has developed very successful research collaborations with hydrologists and geochemists.

Dr. Berhe has an illustrious record of leadership and service to the soils and broader geoscience community in the U.S., most notably as Chair of the U.S. National Committee for Soil Science at the National Academies. Dr. Berhe chaired the U.S.delegation to the International Union of Soil Sciences' General Assembly at the World Congress of Soil Sciences. Dr. Berhe's intellectual contributions to the field also have been recognized via > 60 invited research presentations in the U.S., Europe and Australia, and editorial service for two journals. Dr. Berhe's expertise has further been recognized by invitations to serve as proposal review panelist for multiple U.S. funding agencies and the German Research Foundation.

Dr. Berhe's research is having broader impacts on the field through mentorship and training. In addition to directly supervising an impressive number of very productive postdocs, graduate students and undergraduate researchers, Dr. Berhe regularly hosts visiting scientists from abroad. These visits provide collaborative research opportunities for educational exchange, specialized training provided by Dr. Berhe and her team in a number of analytical techniques, exposure to novel ways of thinking about soil erosion and carbon, and access to new field sites for exciting comparative research questions. These research visits result in peer-reviewed publications, advancing both the science and the professional career of the many graduate students and post-docs who visit her lab. Through her leadership at the National Academies, Dr. Berhe raised funds to support participation of 18 students and early career scientists in the soils world congress in Brazil.

Finally, Dr. Berhe is making significant contributions to broadening the participation of underserved and marginalized groups through leadership with the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN), as a mentor for Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success (MSPHD’s); and as co-Principal Investigator of the NSF-funded ADVANCEGeo, which seeks to transform workplace climate and increase diversity, equity and inclusion in the geosciences. At UC Merced, she is Vice Chair of the Academic Senate’s Diversity and Equity committee and has contributed to increasing the diversity of its faculty to better reflect student diversity. 


Response by Asmeret Asefaw Berhe

I am thrilled and honored to accept the Bromery Award. Dr. Bill Bromery’s long-term dedication to increasing representation and success of scholars from underrepresented communities has been impactful far beyond the field of geosciences. I thank the Bromery family for their forethought and generosity in establishing this award. My thanks also to GSA for recognizing the value of the work done by underrepresented minority scholars to diversify the geoscience workforce. I am very pleased to join many previous recipients that I have long admired.

My contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion work in higher education are rooted in my own personal values, experiences, and desire for my profession (i.e. our community in public institutions of higher learning) to resemble and represent the public that: a) pays taxes to allow us to pursue the science and education work we love, and b) we are entrusted to serve. It is disheartening that our field of geosciences remains one of the least diverse fields even within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). It is also heartbreaking to see that four decades of efforts to address lack of diversity across the fields of earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences has had very little effect in diversity of doctoral recipients and beyond. We all have a lot of work to do to close the diversity gap, and address issues of bias, hostility, and discrimination in academic institutions and scientific workplaces that continue to contribute to lack of diversity in the geosciences.

I wouldn’t be here today without the support of my family, mentors, and friends who have been there for me through the years. First, I would like to thank Erika Marín-Spiotta for nominating me, and I thank Margaret S. Torn, Carrie Masiello, Ester Sztein, and Aradhna Tripati for their support. During my academic journey I have been fortunate to have had supportive mentors and a vibrant academic community at UC Merced and beyond, including the incredible junior scholars that I have been able to mentor in my research group.

I am fortunate to have parents who instilled in me the love of education and respect for knowledge, and have always been excellent role models for academic excellence, equity, and  inclusion. I have also been incredibly fortunate to have a partner in my husband who supports me through the ups and downs, and is always there to cheer me on to the finish line. And I am very grateful for my two amazing children, who have given my life so much purpose.

Thank you all for setting powerful examples of brilliance combined with kindness, passion, and care.