2022 Israel C. Russell Award

Presented to Christopher A. Scholz

Christopher A. Scholz

Christopher A. Scholz
College of Arts & Sciences, Syracuse University


Citation by Thomas C. Johnson

Professor Christopher Scholz of Syracuse University is a world leader in the application of seismic stratigraphic techniques to the study of lake basin history. Through a combination of deep understanding of lake systems and judicious choice of important scientific questions he has led the charge in some of the most ground-breaking studies, integrating seismic and sediment core data from lakes around the world to answer fundamental questions about lake system evolution, often linked to important broader issues in paleoclimate and regional tectonics. His most seminal contributions have centered around his work on the Great Lakes of East Africa. In the 30+ years since his widely cited study in Science with his then PhD advisor at Duke University, Bruce Rosendahl, using seismic stratigraphy to delineate climatically-driven low stands in the large African rift lakes, he has become one of the most innovative and meticulous users of seismic reflection data to document lake histories. His insights about lake history have allowed him to take leadership roles in a number of high-profile scientific drilling projects. Chris was the lead PI of an extraordinarily complex drilling project on Lake Malawi in 2005, the first ICDP project to use a large, modified-vessel platform with dynamic positioning. The technical challenges our team faced during that expedition were extraordinary, and Chris’s skill in addressing them was evident for everyone to see. The 378 m long Malawi drill core, extending back 1.3 million years, remains to this day the highest resolution, continuous record of past climate change from the African continent. Chris remains a major player as plans move forward to drill Lakes Turkana, Victoria and Tanganyika.

To quote from Prof. Scholz’s Syracuse University website, “The world's large rift valley lakes are outstanding laboratories for understanding the interaction of tectonic, climatic, and depositional processes. These large, deep lakes contain thick accumulations of sediment dating back millions of years and are among the best places on the continents for reconstructing past climates.” Chris is one of the world leaders in generating these climate reconstructions in Africa, a continent that is extremely vulnerable to the whims of future climate change.

It is with great pleasure and admiration that I introduce Professor Christopher Scholz of Syracuse University as the 2022 recipient of the Israel C. Russell Award of the Limnogeology Division of the Geological Society of America.


Response by Christopher A. Scholz

A sincere thank you to the Limnogeology division, to Tom Johnson for his flattering citation and to others who wrote letters of support. I am truly honored to receive this award, and to join the luminaries of this Division, friends and colleagues who have taught me so much about the workings of lakes and their evolution. My first exposure to the science of lake deposits was on Lake Champlain aboard the (original) R/V Melosira, working with Alan Hunt at the University of Vermont. Those strange subsurface images and samples extracted from those early piston cores – in some cases glacial-lacustrine, marine and Holocene lake deposits from a single site – revealed the quality of the narratives that motivate us in this Division.

An introduction to (very) large lake science on Lake Superior with Tom Johnson eventually led to Ph.D. work with the late Bruce Rosendahl and Project PROBE at Duke University, a breakneck ride on a pioneering program, and a thorough saturation into the wonders of the Great Lakes of Africa and the Rift Valley. Along the way at Duke I benefited from many outstanding teachers and mentors (Ron Perkins, Jeff Karson, Orrin Pilkey and Paul Baker among others), and learned how the central efforts of a few people (Jim McGill and other Project PROBE peers…too many to list here!) could yield a completely new geophysical perspective of the breakup of the continents. These new (at the time) geophysical records also showed the potential for long lake records to serve as paleoclimate reference sites, in places where people actually live and where our ancestors evolved. Using proven marine methods for lake-based data collection has enabled scientific drilling on many of the worlds’ most ancient and fascinating lakes, and has demonstrated the importance of stratigraphic framework studies for understanding the evolution of lakes and terrestrial climate systems. I am forever indebted to those colleagues who helped me think about new ways to reconstruct lake basin histories using geophysical data.

As an early career scientist at the beginning of the era of lake drilling I was the beneficiary of strong interactions with outstanding mentors. Andy Cohen and Tom Johnson have long been marvelous collaborators. John King, Jonathan Overpeck, John Peck, Tim Shanahan, Jim Russell, Erik Brown, Flavio Anselmetti, Kevin Bohacs and Marty Perlmutter all taught me important aspects of our science. I thank colleagues James Muirhead, Donna Shillington, Rob Moucha, Liang Xue and James Gaherty, who in recent years have helped me revisit the rift valley with new perspectives. And many former post-docs and students (several of whom are now key collaborators!) deserve important mention, as our lab group has always required intensive team efforts, often working long days (& nights) under challenging operational conditions (those include Mike McGlue, Mike Soreghan, Tobi Karp, Kiram Lezzar, Melissa Hicks, Jennifer Hargrave, Bob Lyons, Tonny Sseruberi, Curtis Bixler, Mattie Friday, Matt Martin, Matt Buoniconti, Stoney Gan, Amy Morrissey, Doug Wood, Xuewei Zhang, Nick Zaremba, Lachlan Wright, Laura DeMott, Keely Brooks, as well as a wonderful group of current students!). And special shout-outs go to Peter Cattaneo, Jacqueline Corbett, and Jack Greenberg, whose steady help in the field and lab have ensured safe and high-quality outcomes, their efforts often times making the impossible possible.

I thank Syracuse University for support and allowing me to develop a vibrant research program, and my faculty colleagues in Earth & Environmental Sciences for an enriching work setting. Finally I would like to thank my daughter Chelsea and my wife Carrie for their tolerating so much time away, and especially to Carrie for her steadfast support.