Frederick N. Scatena III, 58, hydrology expert at Penn

Frederick N. Scatena III
Frederick N. Scatena III
Posted: January 12, 2013

Frederick N. Scatena III, 58, of Philadelphia, an expert on hydrology and land forms whose studies took him across the globe, died Wednesday, Jan. 2, of cancer at his home.

For the last 10 years, Dr. Scatena was a professor in the University of Pennsylvania Department of Earth and Environmental Science. He rose to department chair in 2003.

At various times and in disparate countries, he worked as a consultant hydrologist and geomorphologist - studying the distribution and movement of water over landforms. But his work went far beyond that, a colleague said.

In one project begun in 1987, he was the principal investigator trying to understand how changing climate and land use were affecting the environment of northeastern Puerto Rico.

The study was under the aegis of the federal Forest Service's International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico. He wrote widely about its conclusions.

"He studied many aspects of tropical-forest ecosystems to learn about how forests should be managed to keep them intact and to maintain the goods and services that the Puerto Rican people obtain from their tropical forests," said Arthur H. Johnson, the interim chair who replaced Dr. Scatena at Penn.

"One of the things they need is water, and the mountains in the east are the water supply," Johnson said. Dr. Scatena's work, he said, centered on one of the few American tropical areas under study, and the loss of his leadership in that effort will leave a void.

"He cannot be replaced one for one," Johnson said. "We've lost a companion, a scientist, and a very good person."

He also served in the Peace Corps in Malawi in 1982 and in the Dominican Republic from 1977 to 1979, helping with the development and management of water resources.

He was born in Kentfield, Calif., and earned a bachelor's degree in geology in 1977 from San Francisco State University. His senior thesis was about a computer program for studying minerals.

He earned a master's degree in 1982 from Wesleyan University. His thesis there tracked patterns of particle movement in the Connecticut River estuary.

In 1987, he earned a doctorate from the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. His doctoral thesis was on sediment delivery in suburban watersheds.

Over the last 20 years, Dr. Scatena was adviser or coadviser to several dozen students as they pursued master's degrees and doctorates in universities across the country and in Europe. The grants for these projects united many universities and investigators, and that is how Dr. Scatena became involved at Penn.

He wrote or cowrote 82 peer-reviewed articles and edited or contributed to many other books, book chapters, and articles.

"He used all his smarts with a great deal of energy," Johnson said, "which he brought to everything."

Dr. Scatena was given the Penn dean's award for mentorship of undergraduate research in 2007; was cited in 2002 by the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Puerto Rico; and received six certificate of merit awards from the Forest Service for superior work in the 1990s on overseas projects.

Dr. Scatena and his wife of 23 years, Madelain Romero-Fresneda, met through work. "He was a loving, caring man and father," she said.

Surviving, in addition to his wife, are a son, Sebastian; a daughter, Laura; and a grandson.

Dr. Scatena donated his body to science. A memorial service is being planned for the spring.

Donations may be made to the Santa Ana Environmental Education Center, Natural History Society of Puerto Rico, Box 361036, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00936. Memo line of checks should read "CASA fund in memory of Frederick N. Scatena III."

Contact Bonnie L. Cook

at 215-854-2611 or

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