In Memorium: Walter (Walt) E. Dean

It is with deep sadness that we report Walter E. Dean, long-time United States Geological Survey (USGS) research geologist and emeritus and well-known sediment geochemist, paleolimnologist, and paleoceanographer died at his home in Evergreen Colorado on June 1, 2021.


Photo credit: Antje Schwalb

Walt’s prolific scientific contributions in the realm of lacustrine and marine sediment geochemistry, evaporites, carbonates, and paleoenvironment, paleoceanography and paleoclimate span an impressive range of space and time. A sampling includes studies of the Green River Formation of Wyoming and the Cretaceous Interior Seaway; the Permian Castile Formation of Texas; the Supai Group of Colorado and Arizona; Deep Sea Drilling Projects (DSDP) from Cretaceous to Neogene age in diverse settings including the continental margins of Africa, the Bering Sea, the Mid-Pacific Mountains, and the Sierra Leone Rise; Cape Verde Basin; Southern Angola Basin; Walvis Ridge and the California margin (among many others). Walt also developed an extensive array of research using late Pleistocene and Holocene sediments from the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and throughout Minnesota; Bear Lake (ID-UT); the Black Sea; the Gulf of California; and the Gulf of Alaska. Walt was the recipient of the Department of Interior Meritorious Service Award (2006) and the International Paleolimnological Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2009).


Walt joined the USGS in 1975 after a post-doc at the University of Minnesota and professorship at Syracuse University. Hired to work on the Green River Formation, he soon expanded his studies to include ‘spectacular’ varved evaporite sequences that sparked his lifelong interest in rhythmic sedimentation. This was clearly illustrated by his personalized Colorado license plate “Cycles” on his bright red Saab convertible! Over the years Walt worked on organics and ore deposits within various USGS programs along with a DSDP cruise about every other year, which all contributed to his sustained interests in the development of anoxia in open and closed marine basins, records of marine paleoproductivity, and the carbon cycle in lakes. The astonishing scope and breadth of his ~235 publications are evidence for Walt’s drive, dedication, and skill-he loved to publish. From his oft-cited Loss on Ignition method (Dean, 1974) to the seminal Elk Lake volume (Geological Society of America Special Paper 276), his work set higher standards of rigor and innovation and a lasting legacy in the fields of multiple proxy high-resolution lake and marine sediment studies of paleoclimate.


Walt enjoyed long and fruitful collaborations with his colleagues Mike Arthur, Jim Gardner, Ted Fouch, Roger Anderson, John Barron, and his dear friend Platt Bradbury. During his career Walt was an important and supportive mentor to students and young scientists including Lisa Doner, Antje Schwalb, Lora Stevens, Lesleigh Anderson, Jason Addison and Chat Wittkop. Best known around the office or on deck for his humor and straight-ahead no-nonsense approach, Walt was a fun loving, true and loyal friend, a dedicated mentor, and admired scientist who is deeply missed, and will always be remembered for his unceasing scientific curiosity and excellent collaboration.