Wolman, Reds

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Reds Wolman


M. Gordon (Reds) Wolman: 1924 (Baltimore, USA) - 2010 (Baltimore, USA)


Markley Gordon Wolman was born Aug. 16, 1924, in Baltimore, the only child of another well-known Johns Hopkins professor, Abel Wolman, a sanitary engineer who pioneered the chlorination of drinking water. The two would work alongside each other as professors for more than 30 years until Abel Wolman died in 1989. "There's no question that my father's influence helped stimulate my interest in the sciences and engineering," Dr. Wolman told the Johns Hopkins Gazette in 1995. "We began a conversation in those fields when I was 4 that continued until Pop died."

He went to Haverford College in Pennsylvania before being drafted into the Navy during World War II. After the war, he returned to Baltimore and graduated from Hopkins with a geology degree in 1949. As a student, he and a friend took a trip to Alaska, stopping at Montana's Glacier National Park on the way. A store clerk invited them to a popcorn-popping party, where Dr. Wolman met Elaine Mielke, whom he married in 1951.

He continued his studies at Harvard, earning a doctorate in geology in 1953. His dissertation on Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania became a well-known case study and led to his development of the "Wolman pebble count," a way to document the size and distribution of riverbed rocks. He worked as a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey from 1951 to 1958. It was at Harvard that Dr. Wolman met Luna Leopold, who also was the son of a famous scientist, the biologist Aldo Leopold, who wrote the classic conservation book "A Sand County Almanac." The two sons worked together as hydrologists at the U.S. Geological Survey, spending summers studying and measuring the rivers of the West until 1958, when Dr. Wolman accepted a faculty position as Chair of Geography at Hopkins. Their 1964 textbook, "Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology," co-written with John Miller, is considered a seminal work.

He eventually played a key role in combining that department with the Department of Sanitary and Water Resources to create the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering within the Whiting School. He chaired DOGEE from 1970 through 1990 and held the B. Howell Griswold Jr. Professorship in Geography and International Affairs from 1975 until his death.

He was known as a tireless teacher who led weekly field trips to suburban creeks, employing a stream-side Socratic method while invariably wearing a bowtie and smoking a cigar. An early proponent of interdisciplinary education, he helped combine the departments of geography and sanitary and water resources to create the department of geography and environmental engineering, which he chaired for 20 years until 1990.

For all his work on water, Dr. Wolman was a self-proclaimed "cow nut" who dreamed of becoming a dairy farmer after his mother sent him at age 12 to spend summer on a Connecticut farm. He returned many summers thereafter and reportedly fell so in love with cattle that he kept a photo of a Guernsey cow in his wallet. Even then, he showed signs of a future in geomorphology. "I think the 4-H Club should do more in soil erosion," he wrote to the sponsor of the Connecticut club after returning to Baltimore one fall. The sponsor demurred. "Erosion control," Dr. Wolman later said, "wasn't easy to do when you were 13."

Johns Hopkins colleagues and students remember Wolman for his wit, charm, modesty and renowned teaching skills-and for his signature bow ties and the red hair that gave him his nickname. He contributed to the academic growth of the university through service as a department chair and interim provost and through strong advocacy of interdisciplinary studies.

Wolman applied his expertise to local problems beginning in the 1960s, when his report on how runoff from construction projects was choking Maryland's streams with sediment helped lead to new state regulations. He later headed the Oyster Roundtable, a coalition of environmentalists, watermen and scientists that designed a plan to reverse the Chesapeake Bay's catastrophic oyster decline during the 1990s.

After a 2002 drought left Maryland's reservoirs depleted, Dr. Wolman headed a state water-advisory committee and championed measures to require that communities plan for water supplies before approving new development.

In a 2009 Johns Hopkins Engineering magazine feature on Wolman, Erica Schoenberger, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, which Wolman helped establish, said, “I don’t think it’s possible to imagine Hopkins without Reds. He’s worked in every corner of the university, from Engineering to Public Health to Central Administration. Everyone knows him. He knows everybody. If you did a poll to determine the person who most represents the Hopkins ideal, everybody would say Reds. It would be a landslide."

Edward Bouwer, chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, said, “There are few parts of the university that have not experienced his blend of wisdom, humor and warmth. Reds was not only one of the university’s most renowned intellectual leaders but a favorite and cherished member of the community. His cheerful service, combined with his good-natured wisdom, has influenced decisions and decision-makers around the world.”

In an interview with Geotimes in 2004, after he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science and the Environment, Wolman said of his research interests, “I went from behavior of natural rivers and how they formed to how they behaved in the environment, which led to water quality and then to a variety of resource policy issues.” In 1988, when Wolman was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, its citation said, “An innovator in hydrology, geomorphology and geography, Wolman changed thinking about natural landscapes, their human modification and their interactions with societies in several ways. In relating catastrophic with moderate natural events, his ‘magnitude-frequency’ theory is widely accepted among scientists and engineers dealing with rivers, floods and erosion.”

The recipient of numerous awards and a member of many scientific groups, Dr. Wolman was elected in 1988 to the National Academy of Sciences and In 2002 to the National Academy of Engineering, which lauded him for “outstanding contributions to fluvial processes, water resources management and environmental education.”. In 2006, he was awarded, along with Leopold, the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science. He served frequently on National Research Council panels and was a past president of the Geological Society of America. He also served on many state, national and international panels devoted to environmental and health issues. In recent years, despite health problems that required him to use a walker, he continued to teach and to participate in field excursions.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Reds Wolman made major contributions to fluvial hydrology and geomorphology. In particularly he studied the role of flood frequency on whether a river is shaped more by rare, catastrophic floods or everyday currents, eventually concluding that intermediate flows -- regular, once-a-year floods -- do most of the work in sculpting a channel. That magnitude-frequency theory, as well as later studies on the effects of human activity on rivers and the downstream impacts of dams, made Dr. Wolman's work a foundation for water-resource management and river restoration and engineering. The book by Leopold, Wolman and Miller on Fluvial Processes in Geomorpohology influenced several generations of students and researchers.

Reference Material[edit]

Source: Johns Hopkins Gazette obituary

Source: Washingtomn Post Obituary

Costa JE, Miller AJ, Potter KW, and Wilcock PR (eds) (1995) Natural and Anthropogenic Influences in Fluvial Geomorphology. The Wolman Volume. Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union Monograph 89.

Gregory, K, 2011, Commentary on Wolman MG (1967) A cycle of sedimentation and erosion in urban river channels. Geografiska Annaler 49A: 385–395. Progress in Physical Geography December 2011 vol. 35 no. 6 831-841

Major Publications[edit]


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)


Wolman, M.G., 1954. A method of sampling coarse river‐bed material. EOS, Transactions American Geophysical Union, 35(6), pp.951-956.

Wolman, M.G., 1955. The natural channel of Brandywine creek, Pennsylvania, US Geological Survey Report No. 271, Washington, DC.

Wolman, M.G. and Leopold, L.B., 1957. River flood plains; some observations on their formation (No. 282-C).

Wolman, M.G., 1959. Factors influencing erosion of a cohesive river bank. American Journal of Science, 257(3), pp.204-216.

Wolman, M.G. and Miller, J.P., 1960. Magnitude and frequency of forces in geomorphic processes. The Journal of Geology, pp.54-74.

Wolman M. G., 1967, A cycle of sedimentation and erosion in urban river channels. Geografiska Annaler 49A: 385–395. Progress in Physical Geography December 2011 vol. 35 no. 6 831-841

Wolman, M.G. and Schick, A.P., 1967. Effects of construction on fluvial sediment, urban and suburban areas of Mary¬ land. Water Resources Research3 (Second Quarter 1967), pp.451-64.

Wolman, M.G. and Gerson, R., 1978. Relative scales of time and effectiveness of climate in watershed geomorphology. Earth surface processes, 3(2), pp.189-208.

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

Smith, R.A., Alexander, R.B. and Wolman, M.G., 1987. Water-quality trends in the nation's rivers. Science, 235(4796), pp.1607-1615.

Grant, G.E., Swanson, F.J. and Wolman, M.G., 1990. Pattern and origin of stepped-bed morphology in high-gradient streams, Western Cascades, Oregon. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 102(3), pp.340-352.

Emmett, W.W. and Wolman, M.G., 2001. Effective discharge and gravel‐bed rivers. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 26(13), pp.1369-1380.