Jacqueline Austermann

Jacqueline Austermann is a leading figure in efforts to bring insights from solid Earth geophysics and tectonophysics to bear on important, outstanding problems in paleoclimate research.

Her work as an M.Sc. student at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München identified the tectonic driving forces behind both the enigmatic change in Pacific plate motion at 6 Ma and the slowdown in Arabia–Eurasia plate convergence since 5 Ma. With this “solid” training in hand, her initial Ph.D. research at Harvard University addressed a long-standing debate within the ice age climate literature by demonstrating that estimates of the total excess ice volume at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) based on the Barbados coral record were biased low by neglecting the impact on crustal dynamics of the high-viscosity upper mantle slab below the site associated with convergence of the South American and Caribbean plates. Moreover, her revised estimate (~130 meters in units of equivalent global mean sea level rise) has defined an important “missing ice mass” problem because reconstructions of LGM ice volume based on near-field geological records suggest a value of approximately 100 meters. Her next two studies involved modeling of vertical deflections of the crust associated with mantle convection (dynamic topography). First, she demonstrated that bedrock topography in the Wilkes Basin sector of the East Antarctic was approximately 100–200 meters lower during the mid-Pliocene Warm Period (MPWP; ~3 Ma) than at present day due to dynamic uplift, and that ice sheet modeling based on this reconstructed topography was capable of reconciling a local geological record suggestive of instability in the ice sector during the MPWP. Next, she turned to the Last Interglacial (LIG; ~120 ka), the last time the Earth experienced a protracted warming. Jacky showed that a dynamic topography signal was detectable at a statistically significant level in the coral elevation record and that uncertainties in our current estimates of LIG sea level, and associated ice sheet stability, were being significantly underestimated.

Jacky’s contributions have continued unabated through her postdoctoral years at Cambridge University and in her current faculty position at Columbia University. As a notable example, her most recent publication has argued—on the basis of a speleothem record from the Mediterranean corrected for glacial isostatic adjustment and dynamic topography—that global mean sea level during the MPWP peaked approximately 17 meters above present day, implying major instability of polar ice sheets.

Jacky Austermann is a remarkably creative young scientist whose scholarly work provides an outstanding example of the power of interdisciplinary paleoclimate research when practiced through the prism of solid Earth geophysics. She is, in addition, a talented educator and unselfish collaborator who has served as an important mentor to graduate students and PDFs at Harvard, Cambridge, and Columbia. The Jason Morgan Early Career Award of the Tectonophysics section aptly recognizes all of these impressive contributions.

—Jerry X. Mitrovica, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


It is an incredible honor to receive the 2019 Jason Morgan Early Career Award. First and foremost, I would like to thank those who nominated me for their ongoing encouragement and support: Jerry Mitrovica, Maureen Raymo, Giampiero Iaffaldano, and David Rowley. I am humbled by their recognition.

I would also like to thank the AGU Tectonophysics section. While my academic work started with projects in tectonophysics, I have since broadened my scope and often find myself between sections. I therefore feel thankful that my interdisciplinary work is recognized and valued by this community.

Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to receive excellent mentorship and work with brilliant colleagues and collaborators. I would like to thank Jerry Schubert, Hans-Peter Bunge, and Giampiero Iaffaldano, who taught me about Earth’s interior and its manifestations on its surface. I would like to thank Jerry Mitrovica and my committee, who advised me on my graduate work. Jerry guided and inspired me to build bridges between geodynamics and the paleoclimate record. He was always generous with his research ideas and time and fostered a group of collaboration and mutual support. I will be forever thankful for his mentorship and friendship. A special thank-you also goes to David Al-Attar and Nicky White and their groups at Cambridge, who took me in for a postdoc and enforced my geodynamic roots.

Last, I want to thank my group and collaborators at Lamont-Doherty, who have made this place my scientific home and are a constant source of inspiration. I’m excited to embark on research projects with them that span Earth’s deep interior and its surface expression, the sedimentary record, the cycling of ice ages, and the societal impact of sea level change while fostering a community of diversity and inclusion. My friends and collaborators here show me how much I—and we all—still have to learn about the Earth and its climate system, and our place within it.

—Jacqueline Austermann, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, N.Y.


(2020), Austermann receives 2019 Jason Morgan Early Career Award, Eos, 101, Published on 17 September 2020.

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