James Syvitski was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) for "bringing new insights to the disciplines of oceanography, river and fjord processes, and sediment transport". Fellowship is bestowed on less than 0.1% of the total AGU membership of about 58,000 in any given year and recognizes scientists who have attained acknowledged eminence in the Earth and space sciences. Syvitski was honored at the AGU Fall meeting in San Francisco on December 16th, 2010.
Professor Syvitski's approach has centered on building new quantitative connections; from glacier to fjord, and especially river fluxes into the world oceans. He has combined an experimentalist approach with development of numerical models. His approach has lead to the first estimate of climate change on river fluxes, to new insights on continental shelf drainage networks, and to original ideas about how humans affect sinking deltas.
AGU describes their scientists and fellows as “people who explore the surface, interior, oceans and atmosphere of Earth” and who have "made exceptional contributions to Earth and space sciences as valued by their peers". Syvitski fits the profile: he has jumped on tidewater glacier snouts, blasted deltas to investigate turbidity currents, collected invaluable oceanographic measurements while his iceberg crippled vessel was leaking, chased away polar bears from interesting fjord sediments, and viewed the ocean floor up close in a deepwater submersible. More recently he broadened his perspective and explores the Earth via satellite imagery. But even at the peak of his field activities, he started using numerical models to further investigate his new questions. Syvitski is the current director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS), a community resource for hosting, coupling, and running earth surface process models. His current efforts with CSDMS are a natural progression from the creative models of river and delta processes that he built much earlier.