Professor Marcus Bursik officially retired at the end of the fall 2019 semester, after 27 years of outstanding contributions to the department. He taught many courses and positively influenced numerous undergraduate students, but most of our alumni from the recent three decades will remember him for his leadership of Geologic Field Training, aka Field Camp. This is a capstone course that brings together all of a student’s undergraduate classroom training during a month of fieldwork in stunning settings of the American Southwest. As importantly as the academic component, Field Camp is a formative event in our students’ personal and professional growth. Bursik loved teaching and leading Field Camp. He imparted that love of field geology to hundreds of students over the years. Long before the currently in-vogue term “experiential learning” came into use, Bursik was putting it into action – including supervising at least 50 undergraduate research projects!
In addition to his tremendous contributions to our undergraduate program, Bursik supervised approximately 56 postdoctoral fellows, PhD dissertations and masters projects. The range of topics covered by these young researchers under his tutelage reflects his wide-ranging, multidisciplinary interests, including but not limited to: probabilistic hazards assessment, volcanic plumes, pyroclastic flows, landslides and debris flows, river flows, turbidity currents, erosion processes, structural geology, and tephra deposits, with a mix of field, experimental, and theoretical approaches.
Most students and alumni probably did not realize that Bursik is widely viewed as one of the top theoretical volcanologists in the world. He contributed fundamental advances in our understanding and predictive capabilities for explosive volcanic plumes, forensic techniques to invert tephra fall deposit data to obtain eruption conditions, long-range atmospheric transport of ash, and hazards forecasting. His work is cited nearly 6,000 times in the scientific literature. He earned his BS at California State University Fresno, and his MS and PhD degrees at CalTech, under the tutelage of one of the foremost developers of paleoseismology (Kerry Sieh). During his PhD work he developed a strong attachment to the volcanic area around Mammoth Lakes, California, home to one of the USA’s three “young” supervolcanoes and numerous rhyolitic to basaltic volcanoes that have erupted explosively many times in the last tens of thousands of years. Skiing opportunities at Mammoth aided in his connection to the area! Bursik’s work there continues and forms the basis for recent hazard assessments by the U.S. Geological Survey. After his PhD, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University (UK), and worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for nearly three years before joining our department, gaining expertise in remote sensing techniques. Bursik was a core member of UB’s Geophysical Mass Flow Group, along with Abani Patra, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Bruce Pitman, Mathematics and Michael Sheridan, Geology. This group developed the most widely-used numerical model for pyroclastic flows, TITAN2D, which is applied around the world to volcanic hazards assessments. This group also established UB’s reputation for interdisciplinary approaches to geological problems, a reputation that resonates today and has played a key role in attracting a new generation of faculty members.
Best wishes to him in his retirement, and we look forward to him continuing to play an important role in the department’s research!
-Greg Valentine, Professor
Charles E. Mitchell, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, is retiring. He received his PhD from Harvard in 1983 and came to UB that same year. Mitchell was able to transform an early and continuing love of graptolites into a career in which he became the world’s expert in ordovician graptolite evolution. This expertise, combined with his inquisitive nature, led to travels for research around the world, from China to Argentina to Czech Republic and everywhere in between. He was particularly capable of imparting insights he had developed from his research and travels to students and colleagues in classes, in his office, lab, and in the field. Classes he taught included stratigraphy, sedimentology, evolution, and evolution of North America. His many graduate students have embarked upon important careers in their own right in geology.
Mitchell was the chair of the department from 2002 to 2008 and was a CAS associate dean for research and sponsored programs from 2012 through 2017. In 1994 he won the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and 1997-1998 he won the Faculty of Natural Science and Mathematics Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. He was a co-author on a paper that won Best Paper of the Year in 2006 in the Journal of Paleontology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America. Mitchell has co-authored about 275 journal articles, book chapters, abstracts of conference proceedings, and field guides.
We will miss his thoughtful discussions and his friendship with all the members of the department. The department will seem a quieter place without him and his guiding thoughts. We wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life and career.
-Robert Jacobi, Professor Emeritus