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R. S. Tarr (1864–1912), a native of Massachusetts and graduate of Harvard University, devoted his very short life to physical geography and glacial geology. Although his first professional work was in the arid regions of the Southwest, he soon returned to the East and began field studies in the Cape Ann area. In 1892 Tarr received an apppointment to Cornell University, where he stayed until his untimely death in March 1912. Once at Cornell, he began investigating the Finger Lake region of central New York. He was especially interested in the origin of the large valleys of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. Twenty years later Tarr said with conviction that the cause was glacial erosion. He was aided on this quest for the causes of the large Finger Lakes by several journeys to active glacial regions. The first was to Greenland in 1896, and starting in 1905, Tarr made several trips to the Yakutat Bay region of Alaska. His ideas and interpretations were not without controversy, and often he would find himself on opposite sides of an argument from T. C. Chamberlin and W. M. Davis.

In addition to his work as a scientist, Tarr was a master educator and writer. He touched the lives of countless students in his own classes, and, especially, through the numerous textbooks he produced. Tarr was able to write for many audiences: his peers in geology with his many scientific publications, students at all levels of education with his popular textbooks, and an audience beyond the academic world through the more popular science magazines of his day.

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