Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 1:55 PM


PHILLIPS, Michael A., Natural Sciences, Illinois Valley Community College, 815 N. Orlando Smith Ave, Oglesby, IL 61348-9692,

In my final semester as an undergraduate in geology at SIU-Carbondale, I took Geomorphology with Dr. Dale F. “Dusty” Ritter. It was a transforming high point of my undergraduate experience. At the time, it was my intent to enter law school, but through Dr. Ritter’s instruction, geomorphology captured my interest. I withdrew my law school applications and entered a masters program in geomorphology. Why was this class, this professor, so impactful? The most concise explanation can be found in the concluding Epilogue of Ritter’s Process Geomorphology.

The Epilogue begins: “We have now examined a wide variety of geomorphic topics…I believe it is now fair for you to ask why you have been subjected to this abundance of facts, and what significance they have to you as a scientist and a human being.” This passage illustrates the respect Dusty had for his students. He was not content with explaining how to study the Earth; he wanted us to know why we should take up this science and what we could, and should, do with it.

The Epilogue follows, in narrative form, with two case studies of how geomorphic systems responded to human activity in complex and unpredictable ways. Hydraulic Mining in California and Pyramid Lake, Nevada, provided clear examples of complex responses that had significant impacts on downstream humans and ecosystems, will last for generations, and will be very costly to remediate. These concrete examples align with what Dusty did in the classroom and the field, by providing tangible examples that were complex but comprehensible and usually involved humans as both agents and subjects.

The Epilogue concludes: “…we should admit to the inherent dangers that exist when we tamper with processes that we do not understand. The trick, then, is to do what we can in such a way that nature will extract from us the minimum cost in return. If we as scientists refuse to provide the guidelines as to how this can be done, then who will?” I subsequently followed Dusty’s call by working as a consulting environmental geologist and subsequently teaching undergraduate courses designed to inspire critical thinking and providing political decision-makers with a geoscientist’s viewpoint on a wide range of policy issues. Dusty’s influence continues to inspire and inform my work and I have never forgotten the inspiration of his class, his text, and his Epilogue.