The 2012 Division Outstanding Young Scientists Award is awarded to Veerle Vanacker for her novel approach to distinguish between natural benchmark and accelerated erosion rates in mountain environments under pressure of land use change.
Veerle Vanacker’s research focuses on the impact of natural and anthropogenic disturbances on erosion and sediment transfer in mountain regions. Her research is characterized by an integrated approach that combines spatial information from remote sensing with sediment flux data and geomorphic modeling to quantify changes in erosion rates due to human disturbances. Most impressively, she very convincingly succeeded in quantifying the human impact on geomorphic processes – a long-standing problem that has produced much controversy in the past. Working in the Ecuadorian Andes, she has demonstrated that contemporary sediment flux is largely controlled by vegetation, and long-term erosion rates are up to two orders of magnitude lower than current rates, and are not at all related to present day vegetation density. In addition, Vanacker has significantly contributed in highlighting how land use affects landscape susceptibility to land sliding and river sediment yields. All these achievements would not have been possible without Vanacker’s ground-breaking contributions to further methodology that range from accurate calculation of shielding effects on 10Be inventories to developing novel techniques for deriving land cover information from remote sensing data.