2023 Laurence L. Sloss Award

Presented to Nicholas Christie-Blick

Nicholas Christie-Blick

Nicholas Christie-Blick
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory


Citation by Ganqing Jiang

Nick Christie-Blick is a phenomenal geologist who integrates bed- to basin-scale sedimentary records to address fundamental questions in sedimentary geology and tectonics. His meticulous field studies in strike-slip basins provide a lasting guidance for deciphering deformation, basin formation, and differential offsets along strike-slip faults. Using elegantly documented stratigraphic data and backstripping, Nick made impactful contributions on the Neoproterozoic-early Paleozoic rift-drift history of continental margins of western North America, Australia, South China, and northern India. Nick is among the first few who recognized and documented the mismatch between depositional sequences and sea-level cycles—his findings helped to partition the roles of eustasy and tectonics played on sequence development and contributed to the reconstruction of Cenozoic sea-level changes. His work in the Wonoka canyons of Australia provided a classic example of outcrop sequence stratigraphy with unprecedented stratigraphic and sedimentological details, which has been followed for decades by many researchers internationally. Nick played leading roles on many Neoproterozoic studies including the documentation and correlation of Cryogenian glaciogenic units in northwestern Utah, the paleomagnetic study confirming long-lasting low-latitude glaciation in Australia, the methane hypothesis and postglacial cap carbonate formation, and Ediacaran sequence and chemostratigraphy. He also made outstanding contributions casting doubt on the role of low-angle normal faults in crustal extension, which is not normally within the purview of a sedimentary geologist. Nick is an extremely broad geological thinker who dares to explore new frontiers across disciplines and this brief survey is certainly inadequate to cover the breadth and depth of his accomplishments.

Nick is a dedicated educator and visionary mentor. He was among the leaders and instructors of an interdisciplinary undergraduate course—Frontiers of Science—within Columbia University's famed Core Curriculum. He has led numerous field trips and field seminars to the Death Valley region and other parts of the western U.S. and Canada, involving hundreds of students/professionals, and inspired many new research projects. He is highly appreciated by his post-doctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate students for his tireless efforts to help their professional development. Nick has contributed exemplary service to GSA. He served as an associate editor for Geology and GSA Bulletin, organized several GSA field excursions and theme/topic sections, and was selected as an Exceptional Reviewer for both GSA Bulletin and Geology. In summary, Nick’s lifetime achievements in sedimentary geology emulate those of Larry Sloss and he is most deserving of the Laurence L. Sloss Award.


Response by Nicholas Christie-Blick

I am indebted to the GSA Sedimentary Geology Division for this award, and to Ganqing Jiang for the nomination. I know or knew most of the past recipients, all the way back to Bill Dickinson in 1999. It's an illustrious club to have joined.

None of it would have been possible without wonderful students, postdocs and colleagues (too many to mention them all): Martin Kennedy and Ganqing Jiang for our papers on post-glacial cap carbonates and Ediacaran Earth history. Linda Sohl for ignoring my advice, and taking on the challenge of low-latitude glaciation. Greg Mountain, Ken Miller, and Steve Pekar for collaboration on how sedimentation relates to sea-level change at the New Jersey continental margin. Neal Driscoll, Garry Karner, and Andrew Madof on the roles (plural) of crustal deformation in controlling sedimentary cyclicity. Sidney Hemming for 40Ar/39Ar geochronology in the Basin and Range Province, in support of tectonic studies, and most recently with Mike DeLuca, in the Scottish Caledonides. Mark Anders for research over many years on the paradox of low-angle normal faulting. Sedimentary and volcanic rocks figure prominently in brittle deformation. Chris von der Borch sparked my interest in the mid-Ediacaran Wonoka canyons, and tolerated revisionist thinking in South Australian geology with remarkably good humor. Thanks to Sarah Giles for the opportunity to revisit early work on the Wonoka as my final PhD student.

John Crowell proved to be a hands-off PhD advisor who in 1974 set me loose on the Neoproterozoic glacials of northern Utah when their glacial origin was still an open question, and their age poorly constrained. Paul Link and Julia Miller arrived shortly thereafter to round out a group that came to be known as Crowell's trolls. It was at Santa Barbara that I was introduced to Cordilleran and plate boundary geology more generally. John inspired my interest in strike-slip tectonics, and in due course, work with Byrdie Renik on the Fish Lake Valley–northern Death Valley–Furnace Creek and Sheephead fault zones. Both are right-lateral, by the way.

Publish or perish is an aphorism that has become a seemingly endless quest for published titles and citations. Peter Higgs provides an instructive counterexample. Higgs, who shared the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for his theory of mass in subatomic particles, achieved that status with an h-index of 12. Doing one thing exceptionally well matters. Prioritize quality publications that say something new or interesting. Forswear shingling (undue publication overlap).

My own guiding principle has been to focus on unresolved debates and ideas that, while popular, seem ripe for re-evaluation. I try not to offend, but some prickliness is inevitable when preferred hypotheses are challenged. I am referred to in Gabrielle Walker's 2009 book, Snowball Earth, as 'a pain in the ass.'

Larry Sloss is noteworthy not only for documenting the existence of interregional unconformities, but for appreciating the role of deformation in the development of such discontinuities – long a minority view among sedimentary geologists. I last talked with Larry at the 1989 AGU Chapman Conference on the Causes and Consequences of Long-Term Sea Level Change, where he inadvisedly told me that he had written a letter supporting my promotion to tenure. He was aware of my paper on the seismic stratigraphic record of sea-level change, eventually published in the 1990 National Academies volume on Sea-Level Change, but initially drafted in 1985. The gist of that paper was to show why seismic stratigraphic data cannot be used to infer sea-level change in the way some have suggested. Larry was a good guy.

Thanks again for the honor.