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The Accelerating Earth: Yale’s Korenaga Receives Macelwane Medal


New Haven Conn. — The prestigious James B. Macelwane Medal was awarded to Jun Korenaga, assistant professor of geology and geophysics at Yale, for his studies on how the history of the Earth is controlled by its deep interior.

The Macelwane Medal is presented annually by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in recognition of significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding scientist, less than 36 years of age.

Korenaga focuses on the history of the Earth’s mantle and processes controlling the surface motion, as seen in the formation and breakup of supercontinents. Although the Earth has been cooling for the past 4 billion years, the mantle appears to be moving more rapidly today than the past. Korenaga has demonstrated a rationale for this paradox.

“You might expect that in the past when the Earth was hotter, the Earth’s crust would have been moving more rapidly, so forming a supercontinent would have been easier. Instead,” Korenaga asserts, “when the Earth’s mantle was hotter, it melted more easily, so this melting must have made the mantle stiffer than today.”

“The mantle is known to become very stiff when it is free of impurities, and melting is a natural way of removing impurities from the mantle,” said Korenaga. His theory incorporates this aspect of mineral physics into the dynamics of the Earth’s interior and lays a foundation for deciphering the history of supercontinent assembly and breakup as recorded in mountain belts around the world.

“The conclusions Jun has drawn about Earth’s thermal history are as controversial as they are profound, and it may take a while to know whether he has cut the Gordian knot. But the span of his research and the keenness of his insights illustrate what strong inference is all about,” said Thomas H. Jordan of the University of Southern California in presenting the Medal this past December.

This award is among the highest honors presented by the AGU, and carries with it appointment as a Fellow of the AGU. David Bercovici, Professor and Chair of Geology and Geophysics at Yale, was a previous recipient of the award in 1996.

Korenaga joined the Yale Faculty in 2003. Prior to completing postdoctoral work at MIT and the University of California at Berkeley, he earned his doctorate at MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and did his undergraduate and masters work at the University of Tokyo. He considers himself a “freestyle” geophysicist, whose current research spans mantle and core dynamics, theoretical geochemistry, and marine geophysics.

Established in 1961, the award was renamed in 1986 in honor of the thirteenth president of AGU, James B. Macelwane, who was renowned for his contributions to geophysics and his deep interest in teaching and encouragement of young scientists. Macelwane was a leader in establishing seismology on a firm theoretical basis. He published the textbook Introduction to Theoretical Seismology in 1936 and a popular book, When the Earth Quakes, in 1947 that brought a scientific understanding of earthquakes to the lay public.


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