September 27, 2022

Dear Members of Our Campus Community,

It is with deep sadness that I write to share with you the news that Professor Edward Keller passed away peacefully on September 9, with his family by his side. A foremost expert in geomorphology (surficial processes) and natural hazards, a respected colleague, and an inspiration to all who knew him, Ed served our campus with distinction for 46 years.

Professor Keller joined our faculty in 1976, with a joint appointment in our Environmental Studies Program and our Department of Earth Science. He was also an affiliated faculty member in our Department of Geography. He served several times as Chair of both the Environmental Studies and the Hydrologic Science programs. A beloved mentor and advisor, he guided more than two dozen Ph.D. and M.S. students, and influenced and impacted the lives of countless others.

Before joining UC Santa Barbara, Professor Keller was on faculty at the University of North Carolina from 1973 to 1976. He completed his undergraduate studies in geology and mathematics at Cal State Fresno, earned a master’s degree at UC Davis, and received a Ph.D. in geology from Purdue University.  

Professor Keller’s research resulted in a much improved understanding of changes in surface sedimentary processes, and their history in the local ranges of Southern California. This included the role of wildfires in stimulating debris flow deposits, and the evaluation of landslides resulting from flood hazards, like that which occurred at La Conchita. His studies of the role of active tectonics on sediment deposition included estimates of rates and magnitude to better understand the earthquake hazard for the Santa Barbara region.

For many decades, Professor Keller contributed his expertise to public service and consulting in a variety of environmental issues and cases, including flood hazard, erosion, coastal processes, landslides, and landscape history. He also served for several years on the National Marine Fisheries Service Southern California Steelhead Recovery Program. One of his more recent projects was studying the deadly 2018 Montecito debris flow that followed soon after the Thomas Fire. His extensive research and expert analysis have provided important contributions not just to science, but also to our own community, insights that will help guide future decision-making on natural disaster preparedness and potentially save lives.

Professor Keller had an uncanny ability for scientific synthesis that was reflected by his co-authorship of six textbooks, broadly in the area of environmental earth sciences. He authored the most successful, widely used textbooks on Environmental Geology and about Natural Hazards. He also wrote the definitive textbook on tectonic geomorphology, Active Tectonics. He contributed invited book chapters on a wide variety of topics, and authored more than 100 articles in international journals, governmental reports, and professional volumes, in a remarkable array of seminal works on fluvial processes, tectonic geomorphology, and more. His knowledge of local and regional surficial geology of Santa Barbara County was also shared with the general public through the publication, with his wife, Valery, of an instructive and beautiful book with photographs: Santa Barbara, Land of Dynamic Beauty: a Natural History.

Professor Keller received numerous honors, awards, and recognitions for his contributions to the profession. A fellow of the Geological Society of America, he was awarded the 2004 Don J. Easterbrook Distinguished Scientist Award from the Geological Society of America. He was also a member of the American Geophysical Union (Hydrogeology Section). He was the Hartley Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton, England, in 1982-83, and was awarded a Quatercentenary Fellowship in 2000 from Emmanuel College at Cambridge University. His stature was also amply recognized by his alma maters, receiving Distinguished Alumni awards from Cal State Fresno (1998) and Purdue University (1996). I was personally honored to first meet Professor Keller in 1994 when he visited Purdue to receive the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

The lasting impact of Professor Keller’s research, teaching, and mentorship, and his contributions to our campus, to the profession, to our local community, and to our global society, will never be forgotten, and will continue through his research and writings, as well as through those he mentored in our campus community and beyond. Our hearts go out to his wife, Valery, and their family, as well as to his many colleagues, former students, and friends. Our campus flag will be lowered in honor and memory of Professor Keller on Tuesday, October 4.


Henry T. Yang