These are some of the amazing scientists that I have met—and who have helped me—during my adventures following in the geologic footsteps of Darwin and FitzRoy.

Brian Atwater

Brian is a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the father of tsunami geology and the person most responsible for proving that giant earthquakes occur off the coast of the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.. He now works all over the world, but has a special place in his heart for Chile. Brian was included in Time Magazines 100 Most Influential People in 2005, and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science. I am especially grateful to Brian because he let me tag along with him to Chile in 2008, enabling me to escape my computer desk and to realize my fantasy of getting back to fieldwork. Brian’s entry on Wikipedia.

Marco is a a physical geographer and professor at the Escuela de Ciencias del Mar, Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaiso in Chile. He is interested in developing a chronology of giant earthquakes and tsunamis along the coast of Chile to help his country prepare for the future. As a student, he worked as a field assistant for Brian when Brian first went to Chile in 1989. I’ve now worked with Marco for more than ten years along the coast of Chile from La Serena in the north to Guafo Island in the south. Marco’s Website.

Marco Cisternas

Lisa Ely

Lisa is a professor of geology at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. She is a fluvial geomorphologist, which means that she studies rivers and floods. But she, too, fell under Brian’s spell and became interested in tsunamis in Chile.



Lisa received a grant from the National Geographic Society to study “Darwin’s tsunami” from the Concepción earthquake of 1835. We joined forces and have been cooperating to study earthquakes, tsunamis, and crustal movements in Chile ever since. Lisa’s Website.

Daniel is a Chilean geologist trained at the Universidad de Concepción. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Potsdam, in Germany, where when I met him he was a research fellow in the Institute of Earth and Environmental Science. Now Daniel is an assistant professor at the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia. He is especially interested in the active tectonics of Chile, Turkey and elsewhere.

Daniel was gracious enough to allow me to join him on an expedition to Guafo Island. We have been pursuing interesting, if a little out of the ordinary, ideas ever since. We jokingly call it ”extreme geoscience.” Daniel’s Website.

Daniel Melnick

Marcelo Lagos

Marcelo is a a physical geographer at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago. He is interested in natural hazards, especially tsunamis, and their impacts on humankind.

Marcelo is also a TV star! He appears regularly on Chilean national TV to explain earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural phenomena.

I worked with Marcelo along the coast of Central Chile in 2008, 2009 and 2011, and at Isla Guafo in 2009.

Daniel is a paleontologist and professor at the Universidad de la Republica de Uruguay in Montevideo. He wrote the book on the fossils of Uruguay, Fósiles de Uruguay. Daniel formerly worked on ground sloths and their contemporaries. But currently he is working on older creatures. He and his students found the first dinosaur footprints in Uruguay.

Daniel showed me the trail that Darwin followed when he found some amazing fossils in Uruguay. At one estancia we ran into some of the same fossils.

Daniel Perea

Teresa Manera de Bianco

Teresa is a geologist and paleontologist at the Universidad Nacional del Sur, Bahía Blanca, Argentina. A woman of enormous energy, she and her husband found tracks of a Megatherium (an extinct ground sloth about the size of a elephant) along the beach near her family’s summer home. Since then she has founded the Museo de Ciencias Naturales Carlos Darwin in Punta Alta nearby and persuaded the provincial government to establish a preserve for the footprints. And that was all before lunch! She received a Rolex Award for Enterprise. Now she is at work on a proposal for a World Heritage Site.

In this photo Teresa is pointing out the site where Darwin found fossils of the extinct giant ground sloth that would become known as Mylodon Darwinii. Link to Teresa’s Rolex Award

Juan Carlos is a paleontologist at the División Paleontología Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” in Buenos Aires. He studies the group of mammals called xenarthra that includes the extinct ground sloths and glyptodonts, and the modern tree sloths, armadillos, and anteathers.

In this photo of Juan Carlos in his office, just below his left elbow, you can see a couple of thigh bones of glyptodonts. They were armored creatures about the shape, and almost the size, of a VW bug, but with a long tail.

The ground sloths and the glyptodonts, together with most of the really large mammals in the Americas, vanished between about 9,000 and 13,000 years ago. Just when Homo sapiens showed up. A coincidence? 

Juan Carlos Fernicola

Jasper Moernaut

Jasper is a Belgian geologist. When I met him he was doing a post-doc at ETH in Zurich, while continuing a position at the Renard Centre of Marine Geology at the University of Ghent. (For those not in the know, many Swiss consider MIT to be the ETH of the United States, but as an MIT grad myself, I’ll argue that ETH is the MIT of Europe.) Now he is an assistant professor at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

Jasper has developed a chronology of large earthquakes in southern Chile by studying cores taken from a raft floating in lakes.

He is also a very serious team handball player when he is not too busy.

Ed finished his Ph.D. at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom and is now a researcher there. Tina was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and is now an assistant professor at Virginia Tech. They both investigate changes in sea level by studying the traces (microfossils) of tiny creatures call diatoms. Different species of diatoms have different preference for fresh, salt, and brackish water, so their relative abundances in samples of soil from a salt marsh can be used to determine sea level at the time the soil formed.

Ed’s Website.
Tina’s Website.

Ed Garrett & Tina Dura