ROE R. Cross Distinguished Professor
1994 - James Aber
“At one time, northeast Kansas was one giant ice cube.”
That is how Dr. James Aber described the region near the Emporia State University campus in a school news release.
Aber said the area reaching from Minnesota south to Topeka was covered with a glacier about 500,00 years ago. According to his research, based on his finding of considerable glacier deposits, show that the area of northeast Kansas was at one time covered by ice.
“We look for things that resemble features found around modern glaciers,” explained Aber. “We found large boulders of pink quartzite around Topeka and Manhattan. These came from South Dakota and Minnesota. They transferred to Kansas by a glacier.
“Ice was moving from two directions. The first direction was from the northeast where the ice flowed through Minnesota on its way to Kansas. The second direction was from northwest where the ice was flowing through the Dakotas. We have to remember this glacier was not just a block of ice. It was a dynamic mass with internal flows and movement.”
Aber joined the faculty of Emporia State in 1980 as professor of physical sciences. He began his teaching career as assistant professor at Chadron State College in Nebraska. Dr. Aber became a full professor at ESU in 1990.
Born in Kansas City, Mo., he received a bachelor of science in geology from the State University of New York at Binghamton, NY, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in geology at the University of Kansas.
Aber is an internationally known expert in the study of glacial features and landforms, and glaciotectonic theory. He was North American coordinator and overall director of a major glaciotectonic mapping project involving many contributing scientists from North America and Europe. Dr. Aber co-authored the first academic handbook on glaciotectonic landforms and structures, and a research project concerned with geological interpretations of satellite images.
Along with his outstanding research, Aber, has always been a quality professor at Emporia State.
“Teaching represents a lifelong commitment to learning new information, techniques, subjects, methods, and principles,” said Aber. “Much of what I teach today did not exist a decade ago, and the same will be true a decade hence. Good instruction requires constant renewal of the teacher. I hope to instill in students the values of communication skills, adaptability, and a global outlook as lifetime benefits of a college education.”
Besides helping his students gain the ability to think independently and evaluate evidence objectively, Aber involves them in his research, too.
“Students are involved at many levels,” he said, “from basic collection of data and observations in the field to laboratory analysis of satellite imagery, aerial photographs, maps, and other data. “
ESU colleague Dr. DeWayne Backhus said, “Aber is a superb teacher and scholar who has achieved international acclaim for his research concerning the study of glacial features and landforms, and glaciotectonic theory.”
Much of his renown came from a faculty exchange program with Regina, Canada, and sabbatical leaves in both Norway, and Poland.
Another colleague, Paul Johnston, credited Aber with being instrumental in saving ESU’s earth science degree following the decline of the oil economy.
“Through his insistence that our curriculum be shifted in the direction of environmental issues, our program is sound and our recent graduates are employed by environmental consulting companies or government agencies t that deal with the environment,” Johnston said. ”It is because of Jim’s foresight that our majors have a reputation of being up to date in understanding modern techniques and highly employable.”
Aber was involved when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) designated ESU as one of 8 added to its University Joint Venture Initiative (JOVE) program in 1991. The program association came with a grant of more than $100,000 for ESU.
Though he continues to work with glacial and tectonic geology, Aber has become quite active with kite aerial photography for scientific applications, and has published books on small-format aerial photography, wetland environments, and is currently finishing a book on wind energy.
He has taken sabbaticals and participated in faculty exchanges in Poland, Estonia, and Slovakia.
Along with his program in geospatial analysis, Aber has made distance learning a mainstay of his teaching efforts.