Barry McNamara  |   Published February 08, 2022

Alumni Profile: David Long

1969 graduate cited by Geological Society of America for his many scientific contributions.

AT HOME ON THE WATER: David Long '69 is pictured preparing to take a sediment core sample. Th... AT HOME ON THE WATER: David Long '69 is pictured preparing to take a sediment core sample. The device pictured takes four samples at once.MONMOUTH, Ill. – The science studied by college freshmen has generally changed – often drastically – by the time they reach the end of their careers. David Long, a 1969 Monmouth College graduate, can relate.

Last year, Long received the Geological Society of America’s prestigious Israel C. Russell Award, given for major achievements in limnogeology, the study of the biological, chemical and physical features of lakes and other freshwater bodies. Lakes have been studied for centuries, but limnogeology is a relatively new development. The term did not become popular until the 1990s, when it became clear that lake deposits contain continental environmental and climate records. The GSA first named an annual award recipient in the field in 2010.


Mud stories and brass pins

During his acceptance speech, Long, who retired as a professor of aqueous and environmental geochemistry at Michigan State University in 2019, discussed the somewhat random way he got into the field.

DAVID LONG: Retired Michigan State University professor was recipient of the 2021 Israel C. Russe... DAVID LONG: Retired Michigan State University professor was recipient of the 2021 Israel C. Russell Award, presented by the Geological Society of America.“Lakes have stories in their mud,” he said. “My stories have focused on a time span recording the antics of humans. How I got involved in mud stories is like a pachinko machine in which a small steel ball falls through a maze of brass pins. Hitting a pin changes its direction.”

Some of those first pins were at Monmouth College, after the initial pins of Long’s upbringing. He said his roots in science go back to watching “B-type sci-fi movies” with his father.

“Lab coats and perplexing questions did it for me,” he said.

Long chose to attend Monmouth “because of its reputation in chemistry,” and also studied Russian. However, when his passion for chemistry waned, his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brother Chuck King suggested he switch to geology, providing a way for him to still be involved in science.

“My dad asked, ‘What do you do with geology?’ Funny thing was, at the time, I didn’t know. I just knew I’d found my passion.” David Long


“I took the introductory class in geology from John Palmquist,” said Long. “My first impression was, ‘Wow, do people really do this?’ and I changed my major to geology. My dad asked, ‘What do you do with geology?’ Funny thing was, at the time, I didn’t know. I just knew I’d found my passion.”

Glen Merrill replaced Palmquist and became Long’s adviser, involving him in his research, which included “collecting and processing samples, analyzing the samples and preparing the manuscript for publication – ’the big three,’ so to speak,” said Long. “Glen was a stratigrapher, paleontologist and carbonate petrologist. When I went for my master’s, I was planning on doing similar work and started a thesis in that area. But I started thinking about what really interests me, and the word ‘water’ kept coming up.”

So Long changed course, first to the physical flow aspects of groundwater and then to its geochemistry.

EXPLANATION REQUIRED: When we first stated we used an EPA boat before we built our own,&quo... EXPLANATION REQUIRED: "When we first stated we used an EPA boat before we built our own," said Long (on the right). "Their protocol was to dress in Tyvek suits. You can image being on an inland lake and fishermen pass by and see us. Lots of concerned looks until we explained."“My adviser’s specialty was the physical aspects of groundwater, not the chemical,” said Long. “This meant that I had to essentially teach myself. Monmouth gave me the tools and confidence to do this.”

Just before getting his master’s degree, a professor on his committee said, “Dave, you know there is more than just groundwater. It’s part of the water cycle. You need to consider the whole system.”

“That statement moved me to become an earth scientist, which for me was the interaction of the biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere,” said Long. “I went on for a Ph.D. in aqueous geochemistry. This allowed me to study the chemistry of all aspects of the water cycle.”


A fateful submarine ride

“Walking down the hallway (at Michigan State) one day, Bill Cooper from zoology yelled out, ‘Hey Dave, do you want to go for a ride in a submarine?’” said Long. “That started the Laurentian Great Lakes studies, from below and above,” which started his limnogeology studies and geochemical work to help solve societal problems.

“Example problems include contaminated sites, impact of land-use change on the environment, and the role of the chemistry of the environment in health and disease,” said Long, who has been to the bottom of all the Great Lakes except Erie, investigating contaminant cycling.

Although he regularly studies bodies of water close to his Michigan base, Long has also traveled far and wide as a limnogeologist. His International experiences include teaching and research activities in Australia, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Macedonia, Malawi, Mexico, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, South Korea and Turkey.

“His leadership and scientific contributions on Lake Tyrrell, a playa lake system in eastern Australia, led to some of the first publications describing in detail the geochemistry and the hydrogeology of a contemporary acid groundwater-lake environment,” said his nominator for the award, Berry Lyons, a past recipient of the Israel C. Russell Award. “His ability to integrate geochemical, hydrological and ecological principles into his research has been an important attribute of his work.”

“It was the training and education at Monmouth that was the underpinning for my master’s and Ph.D. work. In my research and working with undergraduate and graduate students, it was being able to do ‘the big three’ that made what we did so rewarding. Being able to do that as an undergraduate was invaluable.” David Long


While accepting the honor, Long thanked his colleagues, his graduate students, his many undergraduate students (including his son Jonathan), his wife, Jean Walter Long ’69, and “all the brass pins in my life.” Another pin is emeritus Monmouth professor Lee McGaan ’69, Long’s roommate.

“What’s great is that five of us – (1969 classmates) Lee, Lou Herrin, Chuck King and Mark Hughes – that hung together in SAE are still doing it now via Zoom,” said Long. “We reconnected when the pandemic hit, and it was like we never were apart.”

Those sessions bring back memories of his experiences at Monmouth, which launched his successful career.

“My full understanding of research came during my master’s work, but it was the training and education at Monmouth that was the underpinning for my master’s and Ph.D. work. In my research and working with undergraduate and graduate students, it was being able to do ‘the big three’ that made what we did so rewarding. Being able to do that as an undergraduate was invaluable. My only regret is that I didn’t go out for the baseball team.”

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