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Randall Kerhin, 52, expert on geology of bay, coastline


Randall Kerhin's life's work centered on the geological history of the Chesapeake Bay. As a geologist with the Maryland Geological Survey, he conducted the most thorough examination of the bottom sediments of the bay and also studied the impact of sea level rise on the coastline of Maryland.

Mr. Kerhin, who began with the Maryland Geological Survey in 1971 and was named deputy director last year, died Friday from complications of surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The Baltimore resident was 52.

Mr. Kerhin's enthusiasm for coastal processes led to the growth of the Coastal and Estuarine Geology Program in the late 1970s in conjunction with the federal Chesapeake Bay Program. Those programs examined the bottom sediments of the bay in the most comprehensive examination of any estuary in the world.

Sailing aboard the Discovery, the 46-foot research ship of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Mr. Kerhin studied mud core samples that were dredged from the bay bottom.

"It was a five-year study that went into the early 1980s," said Darlene V. Wells, a geologist who worked with Mr. Kerhin at the Maryland Geological Survey for 23 years. "He planned adventures for us and took us into every nook and cranny of the bay, and we gathered over 4,000 samples of mud and sand from the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake, some dating back 10,000 years."

A tall, dark-haired man of medium build who preferred to dress in jeans, sweat shirts and baseball caps, Mr. Kerhin was fascinated by the effects of the rise of the Atlantic Ocean on the state's coastline and sought to understand its implications.

He guided the mapping of erosion of the state's coastal shoreline, initiated studies of beach loss at Ocean City and Assateague Island and located offshore sand sources used to replenish beaches.

"He walked the beaches of Ocean City and Assateague observing a wild undeveloped beach on one hand and a developed beachfront on the other. It was his laboratory," said Richard Ortt, a water resources engineer with the Maryland Geological Survey.

One of his more unusual discoveries occurred in 1997 when excavations for the Ravens Stadium in Baltimore revealed the remains of an ancient cypress grove that was estimated to be 34,000 years old. His study of pollen found in the gray clay samples taken from the site revealed that the former forest also once contained hemlock in addition to cypress trees.

He was known as a patient teacher who enjoyed explaining to laymen the importance of his work.

Said Emery Cleaves, director of the Maryland Geological Survey: "We'd be on the research vessel with visitors and he could explain in simple and understandable terms what we'd found in a very infectious manner. He could talk so nongeologists could understand. His death is a terrible loss."

Mr. Kerhin's team approach led him to apply the results of his research to real-world resource management issues facing Maryland. At the same time, he forged relationships with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

He was a prolific author of articles on coastal geology and a member of the Society for Sedimentary Geology. He also helped coordinate conferences for the Northeast Section of the Geological Society of America and for the Assateague Shelf and Shore Conference.

Mr. Kerhin was born and raised in Gary, Ind. He earned his bachelor's degree in geology from St. Joseph's College in Collegeville, Ind., and a master's degree from Western Michigan University in 1971.

In his spare time, he enjoyed woodworking and coaching girl's soccer at the Bryn Mawr and Park schools.

He was a communicant of St. Thomas More Roman Catholic church, 6804 McClean Blvd., Parkville, where a Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9: 30 a.m. today

He is survived by his wife of 30 years, the former Karen Modrowski; a son, Christopher Kerhin of Fells Point; two daughters, Jennifer Kerhin of Fells Point and Leslie Kerhin of Columbia, Mo.; his mother, Melena Kerhin of Hobart, Ind.; two brothers, Thomas Kerhin of Milwaukee and Michael Kerhin of San Francisco; and a sister, Penny Livingstone of Palo Alto, Calif.

Pub Date: 1/06/99

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