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Pomona College Professor Named Fulbright Scholar to New Zealand

Eric Grosfils, a professor of geology at Pomona College, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to the University of Auckland, New Zealand for spring 2009, by the U.S. State Department and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

With the $21,000 award, Grosfils will perform quantitative research on the mechanics of magma reservoir inflation and failure, and the formation of large caldera systems in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone, one of the most volcanically active zones in the world. “Large calderas don’t form that often,” explains Grosfils, “but we know from the geological record that their birth is often very violent, with devastating regional or even global consequences. The problem is, we don’t really understand what triggers their formation.”

In his research, Grosfils uses numerical models to explore the conditions under which magma reservoir inflation will trigger failure of the walls and magma release. Recently, he identified an error in how the elastic half-space simulations used for decades to study magma reservoirs are formulated. Correcting this error sharply alters the understanding of what occurs when a magma reservoir is pressurized to the point of failure, making it far more likely that magma will ascend toward the surface and erupt. Grosfils notes that, “Every so often, the interplay between inflation, failure, and the escape of volcanic material leads to catastrophic collapse and caldera formation. The challenge is to sort out why. Studying the Taupo Volcanic Zone, collaborating with the New Zealand geologists who are using field observations to unravel these events, and integrating their data with numerical investigations, will add to our understanding.”

Grosfils most recent scholarly articles have appeared in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, The Journal of Structural Geology, Journal of Geophysical Research - Planets, Icarus, Earth Science Reviews, and Geophysical Research Letters, among others. In 2001, he was awarded the Geological Society of America Biggs Award for Excellence in Earth Science Teaching. In 2006, he commenced a three-year appointment as a Distinguished Lecturer for the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. The Fulbright award will also allow him to extend this service into an international setting, the first time this has been done. Grosfils earned his B.S. from the College of William and Mary and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Brown University.

Recipients of the Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and/or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership in their fields. Approximately 800 U.S. faculty and professionals were selected to travel abroad through the Fulbright Scholars Program for 2008-2009.