Whitney M. Behr

Whitney M. Behr
University of Texas at Austin

2016 Young Scientist Award (Donath Medal)

Presented to Whitney Maria Behr

Citation by Mark Cloos

Whitney Behr, the 2016 Donath Medalist, is a leader of the new generation of structural geodynamicists. Major publications of hers that led to the award concern:

1. Quaternary geochronology and quantitative measurement of geologic slip rates on active faults in southern California. She led an effort to make the first quantitative analysis of “'slip-rate discrepancies” between geologic and geodetic analyses. This is critical for seismic hazard analysis.

2. Observations from natural rocks to constrain stress magnitudes in the crust. She developed a new method for evaluating lithospheric strength profiles by using detailed microstructural analyses on exhumed mid-crustal rocks in the Whipple Mountains core complex. She demonstrated that several deformation stages are preserved as strain localizes as the footwall cools during exhumation.

3. Linkages between surface deformation and shear zones in the deep continental lithosphere. She sorted a suite of mantle xenoliths from recent volcanism in the Mojave Desert to find samples that record the still-active lithospheric-scale shear zone deformation. She constructed lithospheric strength and viscosity profiles and compared the results with measurements of post-seismic relaxation, regional heat flow, seismic anisotropy, and attenuation studies.

The 2016 Donath Medal signifies that Whitney Behr is a young scientist who has made significant field-based observations and lab measurements that provide excellent test of geodynamic theories about Earth behavior. Her advances in understanding the linkages of slow ductile flow with rapid brittle seismogenic movements address questions of fundamental academic importance that help improve our understanding of seismic hazard potential.

2016 Donath Medal — Response by Whitney M. Behr

Sincerest thanks to Mark Cloos for nominating me for this year’s Donath Medal, and to my additional letter writers: John Platt, Thorsten Becker, Greg Hirth, Ken Hudnut, and Roland Burgmann. I am incredibly honored to be receiving this recognition from GSA.

I’ve been very fortunate to have had many mentors, colleagues, and role models over the past decade who have so far made my career as a geoscientist more than just a profession—but a privilege, an inspiration, and a lifestyle.

Reflecting on my early geoscience education, I owe the fact that I ever finished college to several amazing teachers and wonderful people at Pasadena City College and Cal State Northridge. Jerry Lewis, Dave Douglass, and Janet Gordon (at PCC) inspired me to change my major from music to geology. Doug Yule, George Dunne, Vicki Pedone, and Kathy Marsaglia provided me with an awe-inspiring education and many fantastic research opportunities during my time as an undergraduate at CSUN. I am especially grateful to Doug Yule for inspiring me to develop interests in both “hard-rock” geology as well as neotectonics and paleoseismology.

The strong undergraduate foundation I received at PCC and CSUN was complemented by my time as a Ph.D. student at the University of Southern California. I am especially appreciative of the mentorship and collaboration I received from my Ph.D. advisor, John Platt. From very early on, I was inspired by the breadth of John’s interests and his knack for pursuing important problems independent of the tools needed to solve them. Thanks to John, I became involved in a range of projects and techniques that were originally outside of my comfort zone. John gave me the freedom to pursue them all as a student, and has since supported me in every venture.

Greg Davis has also always been a source of encouragement and a vast compendium of knowledge on mapping techniques, western U.S. tectonics, and metamorphic core complexes, and he has never hesitated to share this knowledge with me. Greg’s involvement in my career profoundly influenced my development as a structural geologist, and fostered my interest in the general field of continental tectonics. I’ll never forget his grinning reflection: “Whitney, do you know what your problem is? You’re just interested in too many things. It’s a good problem to have.” I commemorate it nearly every time I write a new grant proposal.

Thorsten Becker is the person I credit with teaching me that math is not some terrifying, arcane set of symbols, but an elegant and simple representation of something real. His uncanny ability to translate an equation into physical meaning, and his patience with my constant “Okay, but what does that mean in terms of rocks?” lines of questioning have had a remarkable impact on my career over the years. I owe my post-Ph.D. endeavors to understand mantle rheology largely to Thorsten’s influence.

Ken Hudnut and Tom Hanks at the USGS were both outside members on my Ph.D. committee—I owe much of my interest in seismic hazard, LiDAR, and cosmogenic dating to the two of them. Relatedly, I am also very grateful to the broader Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) community for fostering an inclusive and stimulating culture for students and early career researchers—I feel very lucky to have matured from undergraduate to faculty in the SCEC environment.

After graduating from USC in 2011, I spent one of the most productive years of my career at Brown University. At Brown, I benefited immensely from learning about experimental rock mechanics and general geophysics through interaction with Greg Hirth, Terry Tullis, and Karen Fischer. Greg in particular has remained a spectacular mentor and colleague whom I continue to learn new things from on a regular basis.

Since arriving at UT Austin in 2012, I’ve been very fortunate to interact with several remarkable faculty, research scientists, post-docs, and students. I’d particularly like to thank: Mark Cloos for his generous mentorship and for sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of geoscience topics; Mark Helper for his collaborative spirit and for lending me and several of my students his exceptional skills in field geology; and Doug Smith for his petrological prowess and his shared interest in extrapolating microscale observations to the scale of continents. I’d also like to thank Jaime Barnes and Danny Stockli for sharing their thoughts on many of the geochemical/geochronological problems that tend to keep me up at night, particularly the intricacies of the Cycladic blueschist unit in Greece. I have also greatly appreciated my interactions with fellow UT researchers Sharon Mosher, Brian Horton, Rich Ketcham, Laura Wallace, Steve Grand, Rowan Martindale, and Liz Catlos, along with many graduate and undergraduate students (too numerous to name) who have worked with me and my group over the past several years.

Last but not least, I would have gotten nowhere without the support of my family, including my parents Aida and Anders Troedsson and Chris and Linda Behr, my grandparents Aida and Arsenio Nuñez, my siblings Anna and Mattison Behr, and my partner Melissa Boysun and our 2-year-old son Teddy. Thank you again to the Donath Family and to GSA for this honor.