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Department Head’s Letter, Fall 2003

It’s hard to believe but here it is, Fall again, and time for another edition of the Department Head’s Letter, summarizing our activities of the year just passed. As always, it was a busy year so I have lots of exciting news to share with you.

Comings and Goings


Many of you will remember from last year’s letter that we were eagerly looking forward to a faculty search in geochemistry and hoped to have a new hire on board by now. Regrettably though, despite interviewing several very talented individuals representing a broad spectrum of research specialties, no one seemed to us to be the perfect match to our needs and goals. Accordingly, the faculty decided last spring to cancel the search and to take it up again this year after further discussion. You may also recall from last year’s letter that we hired Dr. David Schmidt during 2001-02 and that he took his first year as leave so he could pursue a postdoctoral research opportunity at Stanford University. David completed that tour of duty this past summer and in early September, 2003 he relocated to Eugene and has now taken up his duties as our newest faculty member. David received his Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley and his research specialty is in fault mechanics and continental deformation as revealed by satellite-based remote sensing techniques such as INSAR and GPS arrays. David has occupied the second floor “tower complex” in Cascade Hall, vacated this summer by Jack Rice upon his retirement. We welcome David to the department and look forward to helping him find his way as a new faculty member.


……… We had two retirements last year, Harve Waff at the end of the calendar year and Jack Rice at the end of the academic year. Harve will participate in the phased retirement program and will teach one-third time for us for the next four years. Jack and his wife Deb relocated to the “other side of the hill” where they enjoy a beautiful view of the Cascades unobstructed by the rain we see so often on our side of the mountains. Jack has been working in the Provost’s Office three-quarter time for the past ten years or so and will continue these duties two days a week for the coming year. He will also continue teaching part time, but these efforts will contribute to the UO effort on the campus in Bend, OR rather than in Eugene.

With Jack’s and Harve’s retirements, we were shocked to realize that Mark Reed is now our senior faculty member with Gene Humphreys and Greg Retallack not far behind. But realizing that these individuals are just in their early fifties, it is clear that we are now a very young department with a mean age of only about forty.

Hiring Plans

……… The mean age of our faculty will likely drop further still with the two faculty searches we have planned for the present year. As mentioned above, one of these will be a second effort at the search in geochemistry that we ran last year. Our ad, which is posted elsewhere on this web page, emphasizes geochemistry in the crustal or surficial environments and our hope is that we will identify a good match to those we already have on the faculty and a person who will construct an analytical lab appropriate for his or her specialty. We will also be searching to replace Harve Waff and this ad, also posted elsewhere on this web page, emphasizes continuum mechanics and fluid dynamics. As of this writing (10/03) both ads have appeared several times and the applications are coming in. We anticipate that we will begin reviewing completed applications by mid-October and hope to have interview lists finalized by the end of Fall term. Mark Reed will run the geochemistry search committee together with Dana Johnston and Paul Wallace and Gene Humphreys will run the geophysics search, together with Kathy Cashman and Josh Roering.

Faculty Activities

Kathy Cashman continues to guide one of the larger research groups in the department, with well-funded projects seemingly going on in every part of the world where there are (or were) volcanoes. Her term as president of the VGP section of the American Geophysical Union will draw to a close this year, just in time for a sabbatical leave next year that she has been eagerly planning for over a year now. Her plans, as usual, call for a good deal of travel, with extended stays in Italy and Australia (at least) planned.

Kathy also received the great news last May that she had been selected as one of the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professors in recognition of her incredible creativity and productivity in research. In addition to the well-deserved title, this distinction also carries a financial award that Kathy will find to be of great utility in her travels while on sabbatical. Kathy was also notified by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names that a two rock summits on Mt. Erebus (77o32’S 166o51’E, in case you’re interested) have been named Cashman Grags in her honor.

Becky Dorsey has begun a full year’s sabbatical leave so we haven’t seen as much of her lately as we are used to. Her plan is to spend the early part of her leave in Eugene attending to some writing before heading south for some field research in the Salton Trough region of southern California. Then, right about when the winter rains close in on Eugene, she’ll hop a plane for summertime in Christchurch New Zealand where she has been invited to fill a distinguished visiting professorship at the University of Canterbury. In her absence, Sam Boggs Jr. has agreed to take over her Sedimentology & Stratigraphy class, a course Sam taught himself for decades prior to his retirement about ten years ago.

Gene Humphrey’s big, and well-deserved news last year was his notification in January that he had been elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. This distinction, limited to no more than 0.1% of the AGU membership is about as good as you can do in the Earth Sciences and we couldn’t be prouder to count Gene among us. The award reflects both Gene’s many original contributions to our understanding of the tectonics of the western U.S., and his years-long efforts to help define and sell to the NSF the recently launched ten year research initiative at NSF known as Earthscope.

Dana Johnston is beginning his ninth year as our department head and is giving serious thought to moving in new directions at the end of the present year. Together with Anita Grunder at Oregon State University (that school to the north that some of you may have heard of!) he was recently funded by the NSF to begin a new study of North Sister Volcano, right in our own backyard. The OSU contingent will do the field mapping and whole rock and mineral chemistry while Dana and new student Celeste Mercer focus on high pressure phase equilibrium experiments and ion probe work with melt inclusions.

Marli Miller has a big year ahead of her as her case for promotion to senior instructor and research associate professor, with indefinite tenure, is considered by the University’s various personnel committees. Marli has assembled an impressive record in both teaching and research thus far so all looks good for her promotion—but the final word won’t be known until some time in spring term. Marli has taken over for Harve Waff in teaching GEOL 101 this year, a very large class that will surely benefit from Marli’s special knack for teaching at the introductory level.

Mark Reed has spent the past several years on an NSF-supported study of hydrothermal alteration and fluid inclusions in the Butte, Montana porphyry copper system. As that study winds down, he is modeling hydrothermal reactions at 500 degrees in an Icelandic geothermal system in support of planning a scientific drill hole to explore very high temperature geothermal energy potential in Iceland. In his spare time, Mark fended off an effort by the State Board of Geologist Examiners to prevent non-registered geologists from testifying about geology in public meetings, then, over the course of last year, he and others drafted new legislation to protect that right to testify, lined up backers in Salem, and saw the bill through passage by the legislature and signing by the Governor.

Greg Retallack is on leave this term while he takes care of the significant logistical challenge of returning to Antarctica in November to begin a new research project that was funded last year by the Polar Studies Program of the National Science Foundation. He’ll be taking with him recent Ph.D. graduate Nate Sheldon and new graduate student Christine Metzger.

Josh Roering had a great year last year with a lot of success in teaching, participation in a Penrose Conference on tectonic geomorphology in Taiwan, and the award of substantial research grant from the National Science Foundation. His research group is growing by leaps and bounds with two new students admitted this year to join the two he already had working with him. Josh’s new grant will bring him and students back to New Zealand for field work, to some of the areas he investigated while a post-doc at University of Canterbury. They are also actively working in the Oregon coast range.

Ryosuke Motani’s big news last year was the five year CAREER grant that he was awarded by the National Science Foundation to study the physiology and biomechanics of marine reptiles. Three new graduate students were admitted this year to work with Ryosuke on this project and he and they are busy purchasing, setting up, and learning how to use some sophisticated imaging equipment that is integral to the project. Ryosuke and his family are also enjoying settling into the new home that they purchased last spring. Norman Savage continues teaching one-third time for the department and is otherwise fully engaged in research and travel with his wife Barbara. He has a new project underway in Thailand where he is also helping local geologists set up a laboratory for processing and analyzing conodonts. His travel focus seems to have shifted from the Mediterranean region to southeast Asia.

David Schmidt, our newest hire and a specialist in fault mechanics and continental deformation, just arrived in September and has begun the challenging process of getting his research program set up. David’s work is quite computer-intensive so I expect we’ll be seeing the UPS truck pull up with large boxes full of computers for some time to come. David has occupied the tower complex on the second floor of Cascade Hall.

Doug Toomey is winding down the three year seismic experiment he and graduate student Darwin Villagomez have been running in the Galapagos aimed at imaging the mantle plume responsible for these hotspot volcanoes. They recovered the seismometers last spring and are now fully engaged in analyzing the data. Doug is also working up a spectacular data set from the East pacific Rise and he and new graduate student Troy Durant participated in a cruise last summer to gather yet another data set from a segment of the Juan De Fuca ridge.

Paul Wallace has now got his Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer and associated equipment fully set-up and he and his growing group of students are busily analyzing volcanic glasses from diverse locations for their volatile contents. Paul has three graduate students working with him presently on projects in Iceland, Long Valley caldera, the Snake River Plain and Hawaii. New graduate student Emily Johnson will soon start work on a new project Paul had funded last spring in the TransMexican Volcanic Belt., and Mexico. Ray Weldon continues work in central Asia, southern California and along the western margin of Oregon. In central Asia Ray has been teaching an international field camp for several years with participants from the U.S., Europe, and Asia. His work in southern California continues to focus on the periodicity of motions on the San Andreas fault and in Oregon, his focus is on using geodetics to monitor uplift along the coast in response to the locked subduction zone beneath us.

And finally, Harve Waff retired at the end of the calendar year and has begun the phased retirement program that will have him teaching on-third time for th next four years. Graduate student Trevor Contreras is working with Harve on a project using electromagnetic methods to locate groundwater resources.

Staff Activities

I am pleased to report that our office staff, the people who really keep us pulled together, have remained stable over the past year, a testament, I hope, to the fact that they find the Department a fun place to work. Office manager Wanda Weber remains at the helm for now but plans to retire in about a year’s time. Pat Kallunki continues to do a great job in the front office representing us very professionally to the public, serving as graduate secretary for the complex graduate admissions process, and generally keeping the office well-tuned. Accountant Dave Stemple has grown somewhat used to our many idiosyncrasies but I think we still have some surprises for him. He does a great job keeping track of our many accounts and keeps the faculty in line on financial matters. And, he keeps us current with activities in the sports world, particularly those concerning the UO Ducks.

Closing Statement

We have another busy year ahead of us with two important new hires and I expect that I’ll have lots of good news to share with you again next fall. With luck we’ll have just returned from Iceland where we hope to run a Staples Field Excursion in fall, 2004. If we manage to get the trip pulled together, we’ll be sure to return with a digital photo library of spectacular geological scenery to share with you. Best wishes–Dana Johnston

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