Carmala Garzione, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester, has won the 2009 New York Academy of Sciences Blavatnik Award for her research that has helped redefine geologists' understanding of the rate at which mountain ranges form. Garzione is one of 8 winners chosen from the more than 150 nominees this year.
Garzione received $25,000 and a medal with the announcement of her winning at the New York Academy of Sciences' annual Science & the City Gala on Nov. 16.
"Professor Garzione has made significant contributions in the field of mountain chain tectonics and the establishment of large-scale plateaus such as Tibet and the Altiplano of the Andes by combining detailed observations in the field with innovative approaches in the laboratory," says Udo Fehn, chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. "Her novel approach to these complex problems has been recognized widely in the research community and has influenced the thinking about the formation of mountain chains and their influence on global climate development."
Garzione is an expert in paleoaltimetry, the science of measuring the uplift history of mountain belts. She pioneered a new approach to the field by analyzing the chemical signatures of sediment eroded from a mountain to determine the rate of a mountain range's growth. Her work recently showed that the central Andes mountain range rose two kilometers or more in as little as 2 million years—several times faster than geologists had previously thought.
Garzione focuses on the sediments that millions of years of weather erode from rising mountains. The sediment is carried down the slope in streams and collects in sedimentary basins within the growing mountain range, she says. As a mountain range rises, it experiences different atmospheric conditions simply due to its change in height. Those atmospheric changes, such as temperature and the amount and composition of rainfall, are recorded in minerals that grow near the surface at different altitudes on the mountainside. Garzione used the age of the sediments and the altitude at which they likely formed to paint a picture of the Andes Mountains rising so quickly that most geological processes could not explain the speed.
Garzione earned her bachelor's degree in geology from the University of Maryland and her master's and doctoral degrees in geoscience from the University of Arizona. She was recognized in 2007 by the Geological Society with an America's Young Scientist Award.