2023 GSA International Distinguished Career Award

Presented to Cecilia M. McHugh

Cecilia M. McHugh

Cecilia M. McHugh
Queens College, CUNY


Citation by Beth A. Christensen

Cecilia Maria Gonzalez-McHugh has explored the world’s oceans in search of scientific answers to questions relating to earthquakes and tsunamis; global sea-level change; paleoclimate; and environmental impact to coastal zones due to anthropogenic activities. A refugee from the political turmoil in Argentina, she learned English at Duchess Community College, ultimately earning a PhD in marine geology and geophysics from Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Now as Distinguished Professor at Queens College, one of the most diverse universities in the U.S., she provides an outstanding role model for students in the classroom and the laboratory.

McHugh and collaborators forged the field of submarine earthquake geology, developing methods to study paleoearthquakes and tsunami in the submarine environment with field work and research in Turkey to develop techniques to determine earthquake history. This was followed by rapid-response missions to map submarine faults and earthquake-related sediment plumes in Haiti (2010; 2021) and Japan (2011). She spearheaded international paleoseismology workshops focused on the Marmara Sea, Turkey, and the Japan Trench. In Bangladesh, McHugh and Ph.D. student Dhiman Mondal documented evidence for the 1762 earthquake and tsunami associated with the 500-km rupture of the Arakan segment of the Sunda Subduction Zone. While conducting field work in Bangladesh, they experienced the March 2017 earthquake and documented evidence of extensive liquefaction and fracturing of buildings 50 km away from the epicenter.

McHugh routinely involves scientists and students from the areas she is studying. Her commitment to the international community is further exemplified by her participation in the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and participation on many other international research experiences. She encourages international collegiality and collaboration among the many participating nations through service on IODP panels and scientific participation on four expeditions. She has also been invited to sail on research vessels from many nations, including German, Japan, Turkey to implement her pioneering research.

Cecilia Maria Gonzalez-McHugh embodies the tenets of this award with an outstanding, international reputation as a leader in her field, advancing our understanding of marine geoscience in a deeply collaborative fashion.


Response by Cecilia M. McHugh

I am thankful to Beth Christensen and the Geological Society of America for receiving this award that recognizes the value of international scientific exploration of the seafloor acrossoceans. We live in an interconnected world where scientific research brings nations together to address common hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Natural hazards on Earthhave no boundaries and advancing our understanding of when and where they could occur through international collaborations is necessary and has been very rewarding.

I am grateful to my students, national and international colleagues for sharing their knowledge of tectonics and geohazards that has permitted to advance the field of submarinepaleoseismology.