University of Rochester

Geophysicist Named Fellow of Geological Society

September 15, 1998

A University of Rochester expert on the inner workings of our planet has been elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA).

John Tarduno, associate professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, was recently honored by his peers for his contributions to our knowledge of earth science. Only about 50 of GSA's 16,000 members become fellows each year.

Tarduno is well-known for his studies of the history of Earth's magnetic field and what it reveals about our planet. When rocks are born, they lock in a record of Earth's magnetic field, giving scientists a window into ancient climate and events like volcanic activity or mountain building. By analyzing the magnetic records of rocks from around the world, scientists try to piece together Earth's dynamic history of shifting continents, climate change, and other phenomena. The records also help scientists try to figure out why Earth's magnetic field has reversed throughout history, with the North Pole becoming the South Pole and vice versa periodically.

A geophysicist, Tarduno is best known for his work using ancient magnetic signatures to understand Earth's "hot spots," giant plumes of molten rock that well up from deep within the Earth. The plumes can act like blowtorches that burn through the crust, creating chains of volcanoes or islands such as the Hawaiian Islands. Tarduno has argued that hot spots are actually on the move, migrating hundreds of miles, and he has shown how these mobile plumes play a central role in our planet's complex convection system, where heat is continually carried away from the Earth's core and toward the surface.

To ferret out very old rocks with just the right information for these studies, Tarduno has literally traveled to the ends of the Earth. Twice he has been part of marine expeditions to the South Pacific, where he and other scientists drilled for large cores of rock from beneath the ocean floor.

More recently he has led expeditions of students from the University to the Canadian High Arctic region, camping out for weeks in tents on remote islands northeast of the magnetic North Pole to collect well-preserved rocks with tales to tell from 90 million years ago. Such trips give students a chance to learn field techniques like identifying the most likely rocks to hold secrets to our planet's past and how to endure the harsh conditions geologists often face.

Tarduno graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Lehigh University before earning master's and doctoral degrees in geophysics from Stanford University. He was a research geophysicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego before joining the University in 1993. Currently he heads a scientific panel that is responsible for planning how to best learn about the dynamics of the Earth's interior through oceanic drilling."