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Professor K. Douglas Nelson remembered
K. Douglas Nelson, the Jessie Page Heroy Professor and chair of the Department of Earth Sciences in The College of Arts and Sciences, died Aug. 17. He was 49.
A graduate of Cornell University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and of the State University of New York at Albany, where he earned a Ph.D. in geology, Nelson began his career as an associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences in 1992. He was appointed chair of the department last year after serving as interim chair since 2000. Prior to his appointment at SU, he was a senior research associate and graduate faculty member at Cornell University. During the course of his career, Nelson was the principal or co-principal investigator on more than $13 million in research grants.
“Doug Nelson was one of the foremost scientific scholars in The College of Arts and Sciences, and he was a sterling colleague in every possible way,” says Dean Cathryn Newton. “He was a consummately diplomatic, talented and caring chair of the Department of Earth Sciences who will be deeply missed.”
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 19 in Hendricks Chapel. The service will be followed by a reception in the lobby of the Heroy Geology Laboratory. Contributions in Nelson’s memory should be directed to the K. Douglas Nelson Memorial Fund, Office of the Dean, The College of Arts and Sciences, 300 Hall of Languages, Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y. 13244-1170.
Nelson was the principal investigator on Project INDEPTH (International Deep Profiling of Tibet and the Himalayas), a U.S.-China collaborative, multidisciplinary investigation of the Himalaya/Tibet Plateau collision zone supported by the National Science Foundation. Nelson’s research group was the first to discover, almost 10 years ago, a molten layer of the Earth’s crust underneath the Tibetan Plateau at the point where the Indian continent is colliding with and plunging under the Asian continent. That discovery, first published in Science in 1996, and subsequent findings, the latest of which was published a little more than a year ago in Science, have led scientists to question previously held theories of how the Earth’s crust is modified and formed when continents collide.
Nelson and his multinational research team were noted for using some of the latest technologies to probe depths up to 70 to 80 kilometers below the earth’s surface, including seismic reflection (a procedure that involves detonating explosions on the earth’s surface and recording the waves reflected back), seismic refraction (measuring return waves that have refracted rather than reflected), broadband earthquake (in which stations measure waves generated by worldwide earthquake activity) and magnetotelluric surveying (a technique that uses naturally occurring electromagnetic waves to measure the electrical conductivity of the Earth’s crust).
In addition to his research, which led him on field trips to some of the most remote places on Earth, Nelson was a thesis advisor and/or committee member for doctoral and master’s candidates at both SU and Cornell University. He taught seminars and courses in tectonics, global geophysics, structural geology and environmental geophysics. He served as a faculty advisor to junior Earth science majors, chaired the department’s curriculum revision and computing committees and coordinated the department’s Web site.
Nelson was a fellow of the Geological Society of America, a member of the National Science Foundation Continental Dynamics Panel and served on the editorial board of Geology.