BOZEMAN — A Montana State University professor of Earth sciences whose work over the past four decades has greatly impacted the fields of geology, geography and ecology has been elected by her peer scholars to be a member of a distinguished national organization committed to the advancement of science.
Cathy Whitlock is among the newest members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. According to the academy's announcement, published May 1, members are elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, and membership is widely accepted as a mark of excellence in science.
MSU President Waded Cruzado lauded Whitlock's achievement and the impact of her research career on the state and beyond.
"Montana State is immensely honored to have a scientist of Cathy's caliber among our outstanding faculty," Cruzado said. "The National Academy of Sciences has recognized her career of truly distinguished science, teaching and leadership that will benefit Montana and the world for years to come."
Whitlock is the first scientist from a Montana institution to earn the distinction. She will be formally inducted at the 2019 NAS annual meeting next spring in Washington, D.C.
"I am thrilled and honored by my election to the NAS and for the opportunity to represent my discipline at a national level," said Whitlock, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences in MSU's College of Letters and Science and a fellow of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems.
Nicol Rae, dean of the College of Letters and Science, said he "could not be prouder" of Whitlock taking her place among the now 2,382 distinguished U.S. members of the organization.
"Cathy's election to the National Academy of Sciences is a great honor for the College of Letters and Science, and well-deserved recognition for an outstanding scientist whose leadership in research, teaching and mentorship will have a major impact on the future of Montana and the American West," Rae said.
Over the course of her nearly 40-year career, Whitlock has produced a broad body of groundbreaking research that has led her to national and international recognition for her scholarship and leadership in the field of past climate and environmental change.
She was lead author of the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment, a report released by the Institute on Ecosystems that focuses on climate trends and their consequences for Montana's water, forests and agriculture. The first in a planned series, the assessment is the result of two years of research conducted in collaboration with the Montana Climate Office, Montana Water Center and Montana State University Extension.
Whitlock has published more than 190 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on the topics of vegetation, fire and climate history in leading scientific journals such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature, Science, Ecology, PLOS ONE, and BioScience, among others.
Additionally, she has been recognized for her outstanding contributions with numerous awards and appointments, including her selection as a fellow of the Geological Society of America and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2014, she received the international E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award, which honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the preservation of biodiversity.
Upon joining the MSU faculty in 2004, Whitlock established the MSU Paleoecology Lab. The lab supports post-doctorate, graduate and undergraduate students and visiting scientists from around the world. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Joint Fire Sciences Program, National Park Service, Department of Energy, USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Her current research extends from Yellowstone and the western U.S. to New Zealand, Tasmania and Patagonia.
At MSU, she served as founding director of the Institute on Ecosystems from 2011 to 2017. She is currently the lead investigator on the National Science Foundation Wildfire Partnership in Research and Education (WildFIRE PIRE) project and is the MSU co-investigator for Montana's NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR RII Track 1) project.
Prior to coming to MSU, Whitlock earned her doctorate in geological sciences from the University of Washington in 1983 and her bachelor's degree from Colorado College in 1975.
MSU Vice President of Research Renee Reijo Pera said of Whitlock's election that she is "most deserving of this honor and we are proud to call her our colleague."
"Cathy is an outstanding scientist who has dedicated her professional career to research that greatly impacts our future," Reijo Pera said. "Her work on climate change, fire, decision-making and the environmental history of the Northern Rockies and Yellowstone forms a foundation for the research of future generations."
Whitlock said she is grateful for the support she has received at the state's flagship research university, and for the "endless opportunities for research and learning that come with being in Yellowstone's backyard."
"MSU is an exceptionally collaborative home for researchers and I'm grateful for the support that I've received from this university through the years.
"Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to have had inspiring and supportive mentors who encouraged me along the way, dynamic and engaging colleagues who have kept the science interesting and fun, and some of brightest graduate students anywhere," Whitlock said. "Together, we've shared amazing moments of discovery, lots of challenging but unforgettable field experiences, and many moments of laughter."