Around the Pier: Pioneering Scripps Oceanography Geochemist to Receive Top Field Honor


The Geochemical Society has announced that it will present Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, Distinguished Professor Miriam Kastner with the V.M. Goldschmidt Award, the highest honor in the field of geochemistry.

Kastner, who joined Scripps in 1972 as only the second female professor in the institution’s history, significantly advanced the understanding of the function of fluids in Earth’s crust and their influence on motions at continental margins. She took advantage of advances in deep-ocean drilling technology to understand tectonic activity and the origin of crustal materials.

“It is largely thanks to her efforts in utilizing the opportunities arising from drilling for capturing such fluids and subjecting them to appropriate analysis that we owe this new understanding,” wrote Scripps oceanographer Wolf Berger in a letter nominating Kastner for the award.

Additionally, Kastner pioneered the study of methane hydrates, water-based solids resembling ice in which methane gas is trapped that are sequestered as seafloor deposits under moderate pressure and cold temperatures.  Hydrates are of interest to society because of their potential value as an energy resource but also as potential agents of climate change given the large greenhouse warming effect methane has as it is released into the atmosphere.

In his lead nomination, U.S. Geological Survey researcher James Bischoff described Kastner as “one of the heroes of modern geochemistry.”

“Dr. Kastner is recognized for her fundamental contributions to our understanding of crust-fluid interactions, particularly in subduction zones and ridge flanks; for the breadth of her research achievements, spanning a wide range of geochemical processes occurring at the sediment-water interface and within marine sediments; and as a rigorous and innovative geochemist who has always set extremely high standards,” said the society in a statement.

The award is named for Victor Moritz Goldschmidt (1888-1947), a chemist considered to be the founder of modern geochemistry and crystal chemistry and was developer of the Goldschmidt Classification of elements.

Kastner joins other scientists at Scripps and UC San Diego as recipients of the award, which was established in 1972.  Other Goldschmidt Award awardees include Mark Thiemens, dean of the Division of Physical Sciences at UC San Diego, who received the award in 2009, Guenter Lugmair (2007), and late researchers Devendra Lal (1997), Harmon Craig (1979), Harold Urey (1975), and Hans Suess (1974).

“She gave the intellectual drive to large scale experiments within the [International Ocean Discovery Program],” said Harry Elderfield, director of research at the Cambridge University Department of Earth Sciences, who supported Kastner’s nomination. “Long-term sampling and in-situ fluid sampling moved the ‘geochemical tool box’ away from extracting pore waters squeezed from sediments in depth profiles to a dynamic approach to the processes occurring in subduction zones and ridge flanks. I would rate this methodology and its applications as a major contribution to geochemistry.”

“Miriam is one of only two female scientists to have ever received this medal and as such, in addition to her scientific achievements, she continues to be a great role model for women in science,” said Adina Paytan, a former student of Kastner who is now a research professor at the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. 

Kastner will receive the award, consisting of a medal and honorarium, in August at the society’s Goldschmidt 2015 Conference in Prague, Czech Republic.



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