Sunday, October 07, 2012

In Memoriam: Dr. James Knox

The world seems a little darker now. One of the giants in the world of fluvial geomorphology passed away this weekend. This evening I learned that Dr. James (Jim) Knox, professor emeritus of geography at UW-Madison died yesterday after a heart attack. I had hoped to share many exciting things when I had the chance to get back to blogging, but I really want to put these thoughts out there in memory of a wonderful teacher.

I first met Jim when I was a new PhD student on a field trip through southwestern Wisconsin on a cold, early spring weekend. I was just beginning to realize that my project involving fossil snails was going to need a good chunk devoted to rivers and how they were depositing fossil rich sediment during the last ice age and then eroding down to leave these fossils behind for me to uncover. During that field trip he had so much to share he would talk to both vans via the walkie-talkie. He spent so much time talking about the rivers and fluvial history of the area, he ended up draining the batteries in the walkie-talkie more than once.

Getting a PhD is a lot of work. Much of that work is done by the student, but - as they say - it takes a village to raise a dissertation. The advisor and committee get most of that work, but there are many more scientists involved. Jim wasn't on my committee, but he may as well have been. I wasn't a fluvial geomorphologist, but I had to become one in short order to do the work needed for my research. And so it was to Jim's office that I would go to share data and ideas related to rivers and the changes they went through. Without his generous help, my ideas about stream behavior would not have gotten me through the dissertation.

Last year, Jim retired and there was an entire session at the Geological Society of America meeting in Minneapolis dedicated to honoring his work and that of his students and colleagues. The photo below shows Jim as I will always remember him. Enthusiastic and a reservoir of immense knowledge. Someone who was always willing to stand in a sand pit, discussing the finer points of base level and sediment supply. His work related to the late Pleistocene history of the Upper Mississipi Valley changed my entire way of thinking about rivers. His work on the impact of humans on river systems continues to shape the work that I do now.

There isn't much in the way of obituary information, but more will probably appear here. His knowledge and enthusiasm will be deeply missed.

1 comment:

  1. I too was very sorry to hear the news, Jim was a wonderful guy. Jim was going to be on my committee, until he retired, and I was still looking forward to sharing my research will him anyway. He'll be missed by many...