Leopold, Luna

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Luna Leopold


Luna Begere Leopold 1915 (Alberquerque, New Mexico, USA) - 2006 (Berkeley, California, USA)


Dr. Leopold, who was born in Albuquerque, was the son of Aldo Leopold, one of the leading names in American conservation, and Estella Bergere, who was part of a prominent and colorful New Mexican family, the Lunas. Throughout his life, Dr. Leopold maintained an interest in the Southwest, Navajo silver and Spanish guitar. His four siblings were equally accomplished; a sister, Estella Leopold of Seattle, is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a brother, A. Starker Leopold, who died in 1983, had been as well.

He received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1936; an M.S. in Physics-Meteorology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1944; and a Ph.D. in Geology from Harvard University in 1950. He joined the former U.S. Soil Conservation Service, working in the emerging field of hydrology. During World War II, he served in the Army Corps of Engineers weather service and received a master's degree from UCLA in 1944 in physics and meteorology.

After the war, he became chief meteorologist at the Pineapple Research Institute of Hawaii. In 1948, when his father died just after finding a publisher for what would be "A Sand County Almanac," Dr. Leopold edited the book and shepherded it into print the next year. In the 1960s, when it came out in paperback, it became a bestseller and a classic work of land ethics. He received a doctoral degree in geology from Harvard University in 1950 and then combined his interests in hydrology, geology and engineering into a position with USGS in Washington.

"You could be educated in so many different disciplines in those days, and the confluence of all those fields is what really interested my father," said Madelyn Leopold of Madison, Wis. "He really had this tremendous drive toward learning and thinking."

While in Washington from 1950 until 1972, Dr. Leopold often took his family for picnics along the Watts Branch tributary of the Anacostia River and afterward, "he'd check the stream gauges he had set up there," his daughter said.

After retiring from the government, in 1972 he began teaching in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he worked until 1987, when he took an emeritus professor position. At 85, he led a scientific review panel on the restoration of the San Francisco Bay wetlands and was working until the time of his death.

Well known for his scientific fieldwork, he also made bows and arrows, hunted and fished, rode horses, composed piano and guitar music, danced, flew planes, painted landscapes, wrote poetry, bound books, acted on stage, built furniture, claimed to cook strawberry shortcake in a camp Dutch oven and told campfire stories. He floated on a raft through the Grand Canyon to measure the depth of the Colorado River.

He was a scientist and a conservationist and served on the boards of the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law Institute. He was a persistent critic of timber clear-cuts, cattle grazing in wilderness areas and mining in the national parks. He had a home near Pinedale, Wyo., where he banded birds for 30 years and studied which butterflies came back most quickly after a thunderstorm.

He published about 200 books and articles. Much honored for his accomplishments, he received the first Kirk Bryan Award of the Geological Society of America (with Thomas J. Maddock, Jr.) in 1958; the Cullum Geographical Medal of the American Geographical Society in 1968; the G. K. Warren Prize from the National Academy of Sciences in 1973; the National Medal of Science in 1991; the AGU Horton Medal in 1992; the Penrose Medal in 1994; and the Joan Hodges Queneau Palladium Medal in 1994. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was posthumously awarded the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science. He was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Wisconsin (1980) and the university of St. Andrews in Scotland (1981).

Hydrological Achievements

Luna Leopold revolutionized the study of fluvial geomorphology by introducing quantitative methods into a discipline that had been purely descriptive. His book with Reds Wolman and John Miller, Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology, influenced generations of students and researchers. He provided some of the first relationships between river characteristics and catchment scale that have been incorporated into many hydrological analyses and models, including versions of the geomorphological unit hydrograph. He was also one of the first hydrologists to postulate maximum energy efficiency principles as a constraint on river forms.

Leopold suggested that a new philosophy of water management is needed, one based on geologic, geographic, and climatic factors as well as traditional economic, social, and political factors. He argued that the management of water resources cannot be successful as long as it is naïvely perceived from an economic and political standpoint.


A summary of the career of Luna Leopold including some personal anecdotes by Karen Prestegaard, prepared as part of the AGU Centennial Celebrations can be found here

Reference Material

Source: Washington Post Obituary

Luna Leopold Wikipedia page

Major Publications


Leopold, L B, Wolman, M G and Miller, J.P., 1964, Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology, W. H. Freeman & Company, San Francisco, California (reprinted Courier Corporation, 2012)

Leopold, Luna B. (1966). Water, Life Science Library, Time Life Education. (reprinted 1981, ISBN 0-8094-4075-X).

Leopold, Aldo and Leopold, Luna B. (editor) (1972, reprint). Round River. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-501563-0.

Leopold, Luna B. (1966). Water (Series: LIFE Science Library), Time Incorp, ISBN B000GQO9SM.

Leopold, Luna B. (1974). Water: A Primer. W H Freeman & Co. ISBN 0-7167-0263-0.

Dunne, Thomas and Luna B. Leopold (1978). Water in Environmental Planning. W. H. Freeman & Co. ISBN 0-7167-0079-4.

Leopold, Luna B. (1997). Water, Rivers and Creeks. University Science Books. ISBN 0-935702-98-9.

Leopold, Luna B. (2006, reprint). A View of the River. Harvard University Press; New Ed edition. ISBN 0-674-01845-1.


Leopold, L.B. and Maddock Jr, T., 1953. The hydraulic geometry of stream channels and some physiographic implications US Geological Survey Report No. 252, Washington DC.

Leopold, L.B., 1953. Downstream change of velocity in rivers. American Journal of Science, 251(8), pp.606-624.

Leopold, L.B. and Miller, J.P., 1956. Ephemeral streams; hydraulic factors and their relation to the drainage net (US Geological Survey Report No. 282-A, Washington DC

Wolman, M.G. and Leopold, L.B., 1957. River flood plains; some observations on their formation, US Geological Survey Report No. 282-C, Washington DC.

Leopold, L.B. and Wolman, M.G., 1960. River meanders. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 71(6), pp.769-793.

Myrick, R.M. and Leopold, L.B., 1963. Hydraulic geometry of a small tidal estuary (No. 422-B). US Govt. Print. Off.,.

Langbein, W.B. and Leopold, L.B., 1964. Quasi-equilibrium states in channel morphology. American Journal of Science, 262(6), pp.782-794.

Leopold, L.B., Emmett, W.W. and Myrick, R.M., 1966. Channel and hillslope processes in a semiarid area, New Mexico ,US Geological Survey Report No. 352-G, Washington DC.

Langbein, W.B. and Leopold, L.B., 1970. River meanders and the theory of minimum variance (pp. 238-263). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Leopold, L.B., 1970. An improved method for size distribution of stream bed gravel. Water Resources Research, 6(5), pp.1357-1366.

Leopold, L.B., 1971. Trees and streams: the efficiency of branching patterns. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 31(2), pp.339-354.

Leopold, L.B., 1973. River channel change with time: an example address as Retiring President of The Geological Society of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 1972. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 84(6), pp.1845-1860.

Leopold, L.B. and Emmett, W.W., 1976. Bedload measurements, East Fork River, Wyoming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 73(4), pp.1000-1004.

Leopold, L.B. and Bull, W.B., 1979. Base level, aggradation, and grade. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 123(3), pp.168-202.

Drake, T.G., Shreve, R.L., Dietrich, W.E., Whiting, P.J. and Leopold, L.B., 1988. Bedload transport of fine gravel observed by motion-picture photography. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 192, pp.193-217.

Whiting, P.J., Dietrich, W.E., Leopold, L.B., Drake, T.G. and Shreve, R.L., 1988. Bedload sheets in heterogeneous sediment. Geology, 16(2), pp.105-108.

Leopold, L.B., 1992. Sediment size that determines channel morphology. in Dynamics of Gravel-Bed Rivers, pp.297-311.


The Virtual Luna Leopold project