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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 1, 2005

Geoscience Emeritus Professor Baker Receives Career Award

Richard Baker, professor emeritus in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Geoscience, has received The American Quaternary Association (AMQUA) 2005 Distinguished Career Award in recognition of his lifelong work in palynology and paleoecology -- the study of ecology over long periods of time. The award will be formally presented at the organization's biennial meeting Aug. 17-20, 2006 in Bozeman, Mont.

Baker, who received his doctorate in geology from the University of Colorado in 1969, joined the UI faculty in 1970. During his career, he earned joint appointments in botany and biology and chaired the Department of Geology from 1992-1995. His honors include: 2001 Iowa Academy of Science Distinguished Scientist; Fellow, Geological Society of America; Fellow, Iowa Academy of Science; and University of Iowa Faculty Scholar Award, 1994-1998. He became professor emeritus in 2000.

Baker's research interests in paleoecology and paleoclimatology address the age of modern communities, the conditions present at the time of the last ice age and how they have changed over time. He also studies how such manmade phenomena as cultivation, deforestation and urbanization have affected the natural environment and what past periods of warmer climate can tell us about the future environment.

"We add the time element to the study of modern ecology," Baker says. "My students and I have addressed these questions by analyzing fossil pollen and plant macrofossils (seeds, fruits, leaves, etc.) of late Quaternary deposits in the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains.

"Our work has been fundamental in understanding the changes in vegetation and climate in the Midwest over the part 35,000 years, and in revising climatic models for this period. We have concentrated on several critical times of climatic extremes and rapid change. For example, we have shown that the period from about 21,000 to 16,000 years ago was the coldest in the last 100 millennia, and tundra vegetation was present in Iowa 1,000 km south of its previously understood limit," he adds.

Currently Baker is studying Midwestern vegetation and climate over the past 10,000 years. Early results show that the expansion of prairies in eastern Iowa was delayed for 3,000 years, invalidating some 1980s and early 1990s computer models. His work on the effects of EuroAmerican settlement in the Midwest indicates that plowing and deforestation caused changes in the environment as profound as those following the last glacial period.

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