Dr. Frederick (Fritz) E. Nelson

Frederick (Fritz) E. Nelson
  • Adjunct Professor
  • Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences


Permafrost, periglacial and climatic geomorphology, history of cold-regions research.


Frederick “Fritz” Nelson earned B.S. and M.S. degrees from Northern Michigan University and Michigan State University, respectively, and holds one of the last doctorates in geography granted by the University of Michigan. He has held teaching positions at the rank of full Professor at Rutgers University, Cornell University, SUNY-Albany, and the University of Delaware. He has conducted field research in Alaska almost continuously since the late 1970s and has field experience in Siberia, Mongolia, Tibet, and subarctic Canada.

Nelson has served as President of the U.S. Permafrost Association, as a member of the Board of Governors of the Arctic Institute of North America, as Councilor and Vice-President of the American Geographical Society, and as a Councilor of the International Permafrost Association. He has lectured extensively in North America, Europe, and Asia, including invited plenary presentations and public lectures at conferences in China, the United Kingdom, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and the United States. He was Lead or Contributing Author on several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports, including the 2007 report, the authorship of which collectively shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.


Nelson’s research group focuses on several themes: (1) the evolution of cold, nonglacial (periglacial) landscapes; (2) the impacts of climatic change in permafrost environments; (3) terrain-climate interactions (topoclimate); (4) the distribution and mapping of permafrost and periglacial features; and (5) the history of American geography and cold-regions science. He has supervised M.S. and Ph.D. research in each of these areas. He is currently a co-PI on the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) program, an international global-change monitoring effort involving investigators from 15 countries and more than 200 permafrost observatories operating in Antarctica, the Arctic, the Tibetan Plateau, and several high-elevation regions in the mid-latitudes. Nelson also co-manages an extensive field-based climatology program in the Upper Peninsula’s Huron Mountain Club, one of the largest areas of old-growth forest in the eastern United States. He is author or co-author of eight monographs and edited volumes and has published more than 140 scientific papers in peer-reviewed outlets, including Nature, Science, Geophysical Research Letters, Journal of Geophysical Research, Geographical Review, and Annals of the Association of American Geographers.