Alan R. Carroll

Alan R. Carroll
University of Wisconsin–Madison

2016 Israel C. Russell Award

Presented to Alan R. Carroll

Citation by Michael Elliot Smith

I’m honored to nominate professor and GSA Fellow Alan Carroll of the University of Wisconsin–Madison for the Israel C. Russell Award. Alan Carroll’s exploration of Earth’s ancient lakes has resulted in fundamental advances in the study of lacustrine systems and terrestrial stratigraphy. His publications span four decades. Alan’s approach to sedimentary basins integrates detailed compositional and stratigraphic analysis, bed- to tectonic-scale problem solving, and a spirit of exploration. His deep-time paleolimnologic focus has inspired a generation of students to venture forth into the unknown in search of stratigraphic truths. Alan is well deserving of the honor.

Alan attended Carleton College prior to graduate research with Bruce Wilkinson at the University of Michigan with studying the petrology of marine and lacustrine ooids. After receiving his master’s degree, Alan worked as an exploration geologist at Sohio studying the synorogenic late Paleozoic Anadarko Basin, which would prove foundational for his later studies of the connections between tectonics and lacustrine basins. Alan subsequently joined Steve Graham’s research group at Stanford to conduct intensive field investigations of the sedimentation and tectonics of western China. His pioneering work suggested strong connections between continental drainage basins, collisional tectonics and the lacustrine world. After receiving his PhD, Alan joined Exxon as a Senior Research Geologist, where he developed the lake-type concept by synthesizing data from Exxon’s vast stratigraphic and geochemical database. The lake-type model differentiates lacustrine strata into three fundamental facies associations which reflect the long-term hydrology and tectonic accommodation of their basins and catchments, and has been widely applied across industry and academia.

Since joining the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the late 1990s, Alan’s application of cutting edge geochemical and geochronologic techniques to paleolimnology have revolutionized our understanding of ancient lakes and illuminated the profound influence of landscape processes on lake systems. He has worked extensively in the Green River Formation lake system of the western United States to test and expand the lake type hypothesis. In over 30 publications, Alan and his research group have employed detailed facies analysis, basin-scale stratigraphic correlations, radioisotopic geochronology and isotope geochemistry to produce a far more resolved understanding of why lakes formed in the Laramide foreland, quantify lake responses to climate and tectonic forcing, and document the influences of upstream geomorphology on lake evolution.

Alan is far more than an expert of lacustrine basins, however. He is also a generous and supportive advisor to 26 graduate students, a witty and innovative educator, and a model community member. He has taught numerous field courses, given over 30 invited talks, edited or coedited six scientific volumes, written a book on energy and the Earth, chaired 12 technical sessions, reviewed hundreds of manuscripts, and served on numerous department, university and society committees.

In summary, Alan Carroll’s outstanding record of leadership, exploration and service in paleolimnology make him an ideal recipient for the 2016 Israel C. Russell Award.

top2016 Israel C. Russell Award — Response by Alan R. Carroll

I would first like to express my thanks to the Board of Directors of the Limnogeology Division of GSA, and also Mike Smith for his citation. I am deeply honored to be receiving this award.

My lifelong interest in lakes began while I was growing up in the Great Lakes region, and was nurtured by two exemplary graduate mentors. The first was Bruce Wilkinson at the University of Michigan, where I completed an M.S. degree on Holocene “marl” lake sediments. Bruce’s passion for science was both unmistakable and contagious, and his influence set me on the path I have followed ever since. The second was Steve Graham at Stanford, where I completed my Ph.D. on Paleozoic marine and lacustrine deposits in western China. Steve introduced me to the multidisciplinary, “big picture” thinking required to comprehend the evolution of sedimentary basins, and also helped me to see lake basins as fundamental tectonic features of the continental crust.

In the early 1990s I was fortunate to begin a fruitful collaboration with my long-term friend and colleague Kevin Bohacs that focused initially on improved models for lacustrine petroleum source rocks. Up until that point climate was commonly viewed as the dominant control on lake deposits, and source rock prediction was based largely on parameters such as water balance and annual temperature variation. Climate alone fails to adequately predict source rock depositional conditions even in modern lakes however, and we proposed instead that lacustrine facies associations, or lake types, are governed by the balance between tectonic basin accommodation versus water plus sediment fill.

My students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and I have greatly expanded on this understanding since, in large part through studies of the world-famous Green River Formation. It has become increasingly clear that this Eocene lake system preserves a record not only of events in the immediate vicinity of the lakes themselves, but also within their much larger catchment areas. In contrast to early interpretations that drainage to Green River Formation lakes was mostly local, we have now shown that they drained much of the western United States. These findings point toward an exciting new approach to using lake deposits, as archives of tectonic, magmatic, climatic, geomorphic, and biologic processes acting across broad areas of the continents.

I’ve been privileged to work with many gifted collaborators, including Marc Hendrix, Brad Singer, Clark Johnson, Brian Beard, Steve Meyers, Shanan Peters, Tim Lowenstein, and Page Chamberlain, to name a few. I also thank the many Wisconsin students who have made contributions to our understanding of lakes, including Wasinee Aswasereelert, M’Bark Baddouh, Lauren Chetel, Amalia Doebbert, Kuwanna Dyer, Justin Gosses, Jen Graf, Alex Hammond, Brooke Norsted, Jeff Pietras, Meredith Rhodes Carson, Eric Skarman, Ashley Throckmorton, Marshal Tofte, Jana Van Alstine, Andrew Walters, Marwan Wartes, and Eric Williams. I’d also like to acknowledge Beth Gierlowski-Kordesch for her vital role in creating the vibrant limnogeology community that exists today. Finally I’d like to thank my wife Wendy and my son Liam for their tireless support.