Ron Dorn
Professor of Geographical Science & Urban Planning
Co-Coordinator, Arizona Geographic Alliance

Link to my research resume ( CV)

Life is NOT a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well-preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, covered in sweat and dirt and blood, screaming "holy sh*t, what a ride!"
        My view of life, but the saying is adapted from Mavis Leyrer, Octogenarian, of Seattle

My responsibilities as an ASU Professor revolve around OVERVIEW of RESEARCH ACTIVITIES

For the last several years, I have developed an interest in whether the steep mountain slopes that abut metropolitan Phoenix pose hazards for people and infrastructure. Thus, I have been studying debris flows, rock falls, and rock slides that occur all around metroPhoenix.  Students are most welcome to participate in this hazards research.  There are a host of different opportunities for students to map out the dimensions and volume of these mass wasting events, and hopefully, publish your findings.

Also, for the past few years, I have been honored to be part of a team of researchers trying to unravel the story of how the Salt River came into existence. The Salt River's sudden arrival changed the landscape evolution of central Arizona, and its story can provide a general model drainage evolution in extensional terrains.

My primary research interests rest on the geography of rock and mineral decay (weathering).  In particular, we are losing our collective priceless global cultural heritage of rock art daily through human and natural weathering processes.  Thus, I feel an imperative to focus my expertise to help rock art researchers understand what geographical information can be extracted rock art before it is lost forever.  If you want to obtain an understanding for why the study of rock art is so important, please read Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit: The Origin of Creativity and Belief (Amazon link) and listen to this NPR interview with Dr. David Whitley.  This review of Dr. Whitley's book should convince you of its importance. However, if you want the cliff notes version, please watch this TED talk by Dr. Whitley.

I am also saddened by the loss of my partner in a lot of varnish research, Dr. David Krinsley. Dave hassled me constantly. In fast, at our first encounter, he told me that he thought much of my research was hogwash and challenged me to show him otherwise. I was delighted to find such a colleague who would never hesitate to point out flaws. But in the end, it was Dave who found the most wonderfully clear evidence for the power of budding bacteria in making rock varnish. To the end of my own days, I will always point to Dave as someone who constantly adopted new techniques to explore old and new questions in what he called diagenesis and what I call rock decay.

This graphic reflects what science is all about and what very few "scientists" admit.

And if you have ever read Dune by Frank Herbert, the planetologist Liet-Kynes has this dying thought that seems to ring true:

"Then, as his planet killed him, it occurred to Kynes that his father and all the other scientists were wrong, that the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error."
This is a great article about how science really works.

And yet, another expression of the idea:
"We are here for this — to make mistakes and to correct ourselves, to stand the blows and hand them out. We must never feel disarmed: nature is immense and complex, but it is not impermeable to the intelligence; we must circle around it, pierce and probe it, look for the opening or make it."
Primo Levi, The Periodic Table (1975)

If you want another take on this issue, watch Kathryn Schulz's TED talk on the importance of being wrong.


Teaching rests at the heart of my job and the reason why I chose to be a Professor instead of a Research Scientist at a laboratory.

Some professors desire to be a Sage on the Stage or a Professor on the Pulpit; I do not.  There are others who consider themselves the Gatekeeper of Grades, giving out only a few As and Bs; I eschew this perspective as unethical (Reading). All students should be guided to earn As.  Guy Kawasaki, author of Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions stated the reason for my view best: "There are two types of people in this world: bakers and eaters. Eaters think if they wind, you lose and if you win they lose. Bakers think that everyone can win with a bigger pie." I want students to go create bigger pies by taking your knowledge and spreading around by mentoring others.

I maintain a consumer-oriented approach, because college is enormously expensive in your money and time (click here to see research indicating that professors can save students lots of money by investigating the use of online readings, instead of outrageously expensive textbooks).  Through my hopefully entertaining and enthusiastic teaching, I want to help students achieve their goals.  Sometimes, this involves one-on-one discussions on how to succeed in college.  Other times, it involves helping students master course material.  Still other times, I simply help with minor corrections to a student's path and then act as cheerleader.

Basically, I am fascinated with case studies in the metamorphosis of students -- from people who have the goal of obtaining a college degree -- into someone who develops a passion. What I really enjoy is helping students develop that passion for research as a key to deep learning. That is why I hope that you will get engaged in research at ASU.  You might also enjoy reading this personal take by another person who has this same interest in student metamorphosis.

Another thing that fascinates me is student etiquette. How students interact with faculty seems to have changed a lot, and in particular the use of email. Student expectations for faculty response to their emails are completely different from faculty expectations for students.  This giant offset between student email etiquette and faculty reading of emails upsets both students and faculty.  A New York Times editorial by Molly Werthen (along with links to her and a colleague's etiquette pages, as well as comics) could help both understand each others' perspectives.

The bottom line is that I want each student to master my course objectives and receive top grades.  Since the current educational system does not address the need to find spatially gifted students, I love to identify these students -- who in many cases never found academic comfort until they discovered the spatial thinking of geography. 

A wonderful new piece of research can help students with test anxiety.  These researchers found that if students write about their thoughts of an upcoming big test -- even undergoing a brief expressive piece of writing would significantly improve student exam scores -- the most so for students "habitually anxious about test testing." The authors explain: "[s]imply writing about one's worries before a high-stakes exam can boost test scores."

Some students are a bit overwhelmed by my high level of enthusiasm -- for the subjects I teach and for teaching college students.  This can be intimidating, especially when many old "gray beards" are looking forward to retirement [I have no plans to retire] or slipping into administration [the dark side of college, in my view]. Please do not be intimidated.  I find it a giant challenge to figure out new ways to engage an ever-changing student body.  This challenge is exciting, which generates my enthusiasm. 

I also enjoy helping students find the best ways to learn, such as this concise compilation by some chemistry professors.  However, the job of mastering course objectives remains the responsibility of the student.  Ma ka hana ka 'ike says it all in Hawaiian: in the work is the knowledge. I cannot and should not do this work for you to learn. Ultimately, this old axiom remains true even of today's  texting-addicted students:

I hear for the first time, I forget.
I read for reinforcement, I try to remember.
I see, I question.
I do for myself, I learn.
I teach to others, I understand.
I reflect after teaching, I improve.

Spring 2025

GPH 111: Introduction to Physical Geography (Session A i/o)

GCU 113: U.S. and Arizona Social Studies Session B

GPH 444: Arizona Landscapes (Session B: i/o) - 1 credit class

PUP 200: Cities in Cinema (Session B i/o)
Fall 2024

GPH 111: Introduction to Physical Geography (Session A i/o)

GPH 211: Landform Processes (Session B i/o) -

GCU 113: U.S. and Arizona Social Studies Session B

GPH 444: Arizona Landscapes (Session B: i/o) - 1 credit class

PUP 200: Cities in Cinema (Session B i/o)

Graduate Students Completed Degrees

I am very proud of the success of our Geography Department's graduate students.   I have been privileged to advise fabulous minds and these persons contribute greatly to the development and dissemination of new geographic knowledge.  Within the last few years, these have been:
Student Title Year, Degree First Appointment After Degree
Ara Jeong
Anthropocene in the Geomorphology of the Sonoran Desert
2019, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Assistant Professor, Korea Military Academy
R. Evan Palmer
Analysis of the Spatial Thinking of College Students in Traditional and Web-facilitated Introductory Geography Courses using Aerial Photography and Geo-visualization Technology
2014, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Assistant Professor, Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs
Phil Larson
Conceptual field-based models to elucidate the distribution and nature of desert fluvial terraces: Case studies within the Sonoran Desert, Basin and Range, Arizona. 2013, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University
Assistant Professor, Minnesota State at Mankato
Emma Harrison Introducing a terrestrial carbon pool in desert mountains 2013, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University Visiting Instructor, University of Wyoming
Elyssa Gutbrod Implementing Rapid Assessment of the Trail Environments of Arid Regions: Indicator Development and Implementation Scenarios 2013, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University GIS Professional Employment (Titan Mapping Solutions), Calgary, Canada
Casey Allen
Using rock art as an alternative science pedagogy
2008, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University
Assistant Professor, University of Colorado-Denver
Douglas Frink
Explorations into a Dynamic Process-Oriented Soil Science
2007, Ph.D. Dissertation
Visiting Professor, Valdosta State University
Wendy Bigler
Historical biocomplexity in irrigation agriculture. The Akimel O'Odham (Pima) and the Gila River, Arizona
2007, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University
Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois University
Niccole Villa Cerveny A weathering-based perspective on rock art conservation (as well as other research projects) 2005, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Full-time Instructor, Mesa Community College
Susan Johnson Combining geography instruction with reading: Exploring the interplay in 3rd and 5th grade classrooms 2005, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University Elementary School Teacher, Virginia
John C. Douglass Criterion approach to transverse drainages (as well as other research projects) 2005, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Full-time instructor, Paradise Valley Community College
Kathleen Bergmann Urban impacts on Rillito Creek 2004, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University Army Corp of Engineers
Daniel A. Gilewitch Military Geography: The Interaction of Desert Geomorphology and Military Operations 2003, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Assistant Professor, United States Army Military Academy, West Point
Kevin A. Green Debris slope/pediment adjustment to hydraulic processes through analyses of particle size-slope relations in different lithologies 2003, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University Ph.D. Student, University of Oregon
Rebecca S. Beard Stream channel change in response to cattle exclosures in semi-arid riparian ecosystems 2003, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University Research Assistant, Ecuadorian Andes Land Use Change Project, University of Texas, Austin
Kathryn Anne Gross Analysis of  lateral channel stability for a portion  of New River, Arizona, Between 1964-2000 2002, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University Hydrologist, Maricopa County Flood Control District
Evan Palmer Feasibility  and implications of a rock coating catena: Analysis of a desert hillslope 2002, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University United States Air Force
Mike Applegarth Interpretation of pediment form using geographic information 
technology and field data
2001. Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Assistant Professor, Shippinsburg State University
Lorenzo Vazquez Selem Glacial Chronology of Iztaccihuatl Volcano, 

Central Mexico. A Record of Environmental Change on the Border of the Tropics

2000, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Research Professor, UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL AUTÓNOMA DE MÉXICO, Mexico City
Niccole Cerveny Relationships between internal fractures and surface microtopography of quartz grains 2000, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University Instructor, Mesa Community College (Red Mountain)
Brandon Vogt Weathering of a tombstone sphere, Tempe, Arizona 2000, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University Ph.D. Student Arizona State University
Michael Henze Sediment yield on Spook Hill Pediment, Arizona 2000, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University Consultant, J.E. Fuller
Steve Gordon  An analysis of volcanic glass weathering, El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico, USA 1999, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Assistant Professor, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs 

Honored by the only civilian to receive prestigious teaching award

Donald Friend Evolution of desert colluvial boulder fields, eastern California 1997, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Assistant Professor, Mankato State University (now Associate Professor, Minnesota State University)
Molly Pohl Radiocarbon dating in drylands 1995, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University NSF Graduate Fellow, Ph.D. Student at Arizona State University; now Assistant Professor, San Diego State University
Gregory Pope A weathering boundary layer model to interpret spatial variation in quartz weathering 1994, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Assistant (now Associate) Professor 
Montclair State University
Tanzhuo Liu Visual microlaminations in rock varnish: a new paleoenviron-mental and geomor-phic tool in drylands 1994, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University
Thomas R. Paradise Weathering-constrained erosion of sandstone at the Roman Theather, Petra Jordan 1993, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University Professor at University of Hawaii at Hilo; now Professor at University of Arkansas
Thad Wasklewicz Importance of environment on basalt weathering, Hawaii 1992, M.A. Thesis Arizona State University Ph.D. Student at Arizona State University; now Professor at University of Memphis


Because intelligence and hierarchy do not mix well, professors try to maintain a system of distributed responsibility to ensure that a department's mission is not only met, but exceeded. This "service" takes different forms, based on desires and abilities of different faculty members. In my case, most of my service activity rests in helping coordinate and assist K-12 geography education in Arizona as co-coordinator of the Arizona Geographic Alliance.


Officially, I advise those interested in receiving a B.A.E. degree in geographic education (please click here to see a PDF of the Geography BAE check sheet) and honors students in geography.  I am also very happy to discuss classes, careers and and other matters related to geography and education.  For advising, please stop by during office hours or, even better, e-mail me to make an appointment at

My FAVORITE Book: Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit: The Origin of Creativity and Belief (Amazon link)
    Listen to this NPR interview of Dr. David Whitley.

My FAVORITE DISCOVERY: Desert Pavement Formation from Accumulation of Aeolian Fines

Mabbutt, J.A. 1979. Pavements and Patterned Ground in the Australian Stony Deserts. Stuttgarter Geographische Studien, volume 93, p. 107-123
p. 112-3: "Very commonly an aeolian origin is postulated for the silty clays which commonly constitute the stone-free horizons beneath stone pavement sin the Australian deserts.  This is in accord with their size-grading, in which they resemble other deposits of acknowledged aeolian origin in arid south-eastern Australia (BUTLER 1956), and with their uniformity and great extent over the southern Australian arid zone.  A transportational origin is suggested by the way in which they uniformly blanket a wide range of country rocks, including many which could not have weathered into residual clays; on the other hand, they extend unbroken over tablelands and uplands in a way that excludes fluvial or lacustrine deposition.  On the ridges of the northern Barrier Range of western New South Wales for example, mantles of this type rest with abrupt unconcormity on little weathered sandstone, quartzite and dolomitic limestone alike (MABBUTT et al. 1973) ...  It is that windborne dust may have been trapped by the surface stone, which was then displaced upwards pari passu with accumulation, by relatively shallow wetting and drying as demonstrated experimentally.  Under this reasoning the existence of a rough stone pavement may have been a factor in the accumulation of the sediment now underlying it.


Other geomorphologists at ASU (who do far cooler research than I attempt):

Arrowsmith, Ramon
Heimsath, Arjun
Schmeeckle, Mark
Walker, Ian
Whipple, Kelin

VML (Varnish Microlaminations) Dating Lab, the best place to date your rock varnish:

Association of American Geographers  -
and Geomorphology Specialty Group Homepage  -

American Geophysical Union   -
British Geomorphological Research Group  -

And the BGRG Useful Websites and Links page in Geomorphology
Canadian Geomorphological Research Group  -
European Union of Geosciences  -
Geological Society of America  -
  and Quarternary Geology and Geomorphology Division ? GSA  -
International Association of Geomorphologists  -
International Association of Sedimentologists  -
International Union for Quaternary Research  -

A Favorite Thinker - Horace Walpole 

• Thought to have coined the term serendipity
• "I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel – a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept."
• “To act with common sense according to the moment, is the best wisdom I know; and the best philosophy is to do one's duties, take the world as it comes, submit respectfully to one's lot; bless the goodness that has given us so much happiness with it..."
• “The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.”
• “We learn the rope of life by untying its knots.”
• “Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.”
• “Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third”
• “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.”
• Enjoy this wonderfully entertaining book.

Other Favorites

• Favorite song: This land is your land.
• Fantastic site on gigapans of rock art.