Marine Geosciences Division – M.J. Keen Medal – Mike Lewis

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The Michael J. Keen Medal 2007 Recipient:  C.F.M. (Mike) Lewis

The Michael J. Keen medal was presented to Mike Lewis on February 2nd, 2008 during the Atlantic Geoscience Society (AGS) Colloquium Banquet.

The medal was presented along with AGS awards and so was a fitting occasion.  David Mosher made the presentation and Mike gave a few minutes long acceptance speech.

In addition to the medal, this year marked the unveiling of the Keen Medal plaque with names of all recipients engraved. The plaque will hang on a display wall at the Geological Survey of Canada – Atlantic, where Michael Keen was director.  Aside from those in the room, congratulations were sent by Mike’s close colleagues Jim Teller (University of Manitoba and former Keen Medal recipient) and Harvey Thorliefson (Univ. of Minnesota and former President of GAC). The evening was capped with a seminar from Godfrey Nowlan (former President of GAC) about the International Year of the Planet Earth and a traditional open mike music session where I understand a terrific Celtic flutist was present.


Nomination Letter of  Dr. Mike Lewis by James T. Teller

Dear Kim and Michael J. Keen Medal Selection Committee:

I would like to nominate Dr. C.F.M. Lewis for the Michael J. Keen Medal of the Marine Geosciences Division of G.A.C. Mike Lewis has made an enormous contribution to our understanding of lake and ocean processes and the late Quaternary history of North America. He is a highly respected researcher, whose love for scientific enquiry has inspired colleagues and helped advance the frontiers of geoscience.

After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1967 with a PhD in geology and geophysics, Dr. Lewis joined the Geological Survey of Canada at CCIW in Burlington, and then moved to Ottawa in 1972 to head the Marine and Coastal Section of the GSC. During the first decade of his career, he studied the sedimentary record of the eastern Great Lakes basins with fellow experts, including Peter Sly, Thane Anderson, Peter Fritz, K. M. Creer, and Richard Thomas, using seismostratigraphy, magnetostratigraphy, stable isotopes, paleontology, and sediment characteristics to help lay the foundation for our current understanding of these large bodies of water. Publications during this period span a wide range of topics including ice scouring, coastal evolution and isostatic rebound, various ship-board geophysical techniques, remnant magnetism, oil spill technology, and even submersible trials in Lake Ontario, in addition to more traditional sedimentological and geophysical analyses and interpretations. Even in this early stage of his career, Mike was displaying his talent for enquiry and analysis, for coordinating research teams, and for his depth as well as breadth of thinking.

In 1978, Mike moved to Dartmouth to head the Coastal Geodynamics Section of the Atlantic Geoscience Centre at Bedford Institute. At this point, Mike’s efforts turned mainly toward the marine environment, with a host of projects on the Grand Banks. Especially noteworthy was his insight into iceberg scouring, which continues to help provide the basis for our understanding and assessment of this process. Many aspects of this research were summarized in the 1990 special “Geology of North America” volume (jointly published by the Geological Survey of Canada and the Geological Society of America as one of their centennial volumes). As joint editor of another special volume, “Ice scour and seabed engineering”, Mike was able to contribute to and guide a major publication on this important topic.

A return to research on the Great Lakes in the late 80’s, in concert with his administrative duties at the GSC in Ottawa (and then back in Dartmouth), launched his classic efforts to decipher the late Quaternary history of the complex Great Lakes system. Collaboration, first with Thane Anderson, resulted in the ground-breaking publications in 1989 and 1992 that linked the record of the Great Lakes to climate and also to the inflow from glacial Lake Agassiz. Subsequent collaboration with Ted Moore, David Rea, David Dettman, Larry Mayer, Allison Smith, and others on Lakes Huron and Ontario, with Mike lending his geological expertise to this multi-faceted team, led to significant new insight into the late-glacial history of the Great Lakes and its link to western Canada through Lake Agassiz; definitive publications on this appeared in 1994 in Quaternary Science Reviews, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, and Geology. This leading-edge research sparked discussion, prompted other researchers to re-evaluate previously established conclusions, stimulated new thinking and research, and advanced science substantially. I would consider this research period a milestone in Mike’s career.

Mike’s research in the 90’s has led to still more insight into the Holocene history of the Great Lakes, and these efforts have continued into his retirement years. This phase of his collaborative research is showing that the Great Lakes’ basins may have been “closed” during part of the Holocene, because of postglacial warming and a negative hydrological budget, with water levels falling below overflow outlets for centuries. This remarkable conclusion has enormous importance for the future of the Great Lakes, as modern global warming occurs. As has been the case with other phases of Mike’s research, this will certainly inspire new thinking and foster important discussions in the geosciences and in related disciplines.

Prior to retirement from the GSC in 1997, Mike began a new project on another great lake, Lake Winnipeg, which continued until after his retirement. A joint effort that began with seismostratigraphic analysis, and then was followed by sediment coring from the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Namao, this project was supported by several organizations. This research has provided important insight into the history of the Lake Winnipeg basin, and into differential isostatic rebound and past climate in the region, starting with the Lake Agassiz phase of that lake and continuing through the Holocene. A significant revelation from this collaborative effort, published in 2001 in Geology with Mike as senior author, is that the world’s 12th largest lake (Lake Winnipeg) was nearly dry during the mid-Holocene. This conclusion is being used by others to evaluate paleoclimate in the Prairies and adjacent areas during this period and to evaluate its impact on other hydrological systems; the analogue for future hydrological changes in our warming world is obvious.

An outgrowth of the Lake Winnipeg project was an analysis of the history of flooding of the Red River, which flows into Lake Winnipeg, and was published with Greg Brooks, Harvey Thorleifson, and others. In addition, an isostatic rebound model for the Holocene in southern Manitoba was published in the 2003 Final Report of the Red River Flood Project, which provides new and significant insight into non-climatic hydrological change in the region that will be integral in all modeling of future shoreline and river changes in the region. This DEM approach is the one that Mike has used in his reconstructions of the past history of the Great Lakes’ basins.

As can be seen in his Curriculum Vitae, Dr. Mike Lewis has published >50 articles in refereed journals and books, 14 in refereed government publications, 67 government “open file” reports, >100 abstracts, and he has edited 4 special volumes of papers. In 1999-2002 Mike served on the NSERC Grants Selection Committee for Environmental Earth Sciences. Mike Lewis’ research just keeps getting better and better. He is a leader in our efforts to reconstruct the late-glacial and Holocene history of Canada, from the Prairies to the Great Lakes to the oceans. He currently is actively involved in several Great Lakes’ research projects, and is co-editor of special journal issues in Paleo3 (with Jim Teller) and Journal of Paleolimnology (with Paul Karrow). A new analysis and synthesis of the glacial runoff from North America and its impact on oceans has just been published with Jim Teller. His new research on the ocean record of the final drainage of Lake Agassiz, with Ann Miller and others, which shows (for the first time) evidence in the Labrador Sea for the outburst from this lake and its link to the 8.2 ka cooling, was presented at AGU last month, and is still another important chapter in his distinguished career. Few others have made such significant contributions in such a breadth of topics in both marine and lacustrine geoscience as has Mike Lewis.

It is both my pleasure and honour to nominate C. F. Michael Lewis for the Michael J. Keen Medal of the Marine Geosciences Division of the Geological Association of Canada.


James T. Teller
Professor of Geology
University of Manitoba

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