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With no warning, and far too early, we have lost our friend, mentor, and colleague Paul Heller. Paul was part of the New York Jewish diaspora of the 1950s and ’60s, working his way west via Western Washington University (M.S., 1978). He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona (1983) with Bill Dickinson, and ultimately landed at the University of Wyoming, where he was a member of the faculty from 1983–2016.
Having caught the bug for sedimentation and tectonics, Paul emerged as one of the leaders of the next wave of tectonic sedimentologists, who focused on how new insights on basin mechanics could be used to understand stratigraphic patterns. Some of his earliest work involved deep-marine sedimentation, springing from fieldwork in the Pacific Northwest, and culminating in an important paper proposing the submarine-ramp model for sandy turbidites. Paul also was a pioneer of the idea of isotopic provenance, using isotopes as fingerprints of the origin of sediments.
But perhaps Paul's most influential early work was that on the interplay of lithospheric flexure and sedimentation. He proposed the idea, widely accepted now but controversial at the time, that mountain building in foreland basins might be marked distally not by gravels but rather by fine-grained sediments, if the increasing load creates accommodation faster than it can be filled with deposits. Paul and colleagues synthesized much of this new quantitative approach in a basin analysis short course offered through the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. It found another expression through Paul's central and inspirational involvement in the development of experimental stratigraphy. The interplay of tectonic and surface processes remained central to Paul's work, up through his most recent publication on the dynamic topography of the North American Western Interior. But of course basins record more than tectonics, and …