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Welcome Esteban Gazel

  • New Faculty (2017)

Esteban Gazel has joined the faculty of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) at Cornell. Gazel started as an associate professor in August of 2017.

Gazel grew up in the suburbs of San Jose, Costa Rica, surrounded by volcanoes. He experienced eruptions and earthquakes frequently. “Growing up where I did,” says Gazel, “it is only natural that the curiosity to understand how the Earth works started very early in my life. It has become how I see the world. Even here in Ithaca, when I look at the hills and lakes and gorges, I can see the glaciers that formed this beautiful landscape.”

Gazel, who earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Costa Rica in 2005, started doing research when he was a fifteen-year old high school student. He published his first academic paper in 2003, during his early college years. “I have always loved science and want to do what I can to help people understand the secrets of our planet.”

Gazel’s wish to understand what is happening inside the Earth was strengthened during his years at the University of Costa Rica. “My undergraduate department took part in a lot of research,” says Gazel. “I met many visiting professors, including Professor Michael Carr from Rutgers. He was the expert on the very volcanoes I wanted to study.”

It was clear to Gazel that he needed to continue his studies once he had his Bachelor’s degree, so he applied to Rutgers and found a spot in Carr’s lab as a Ph.D. student. At that point, he was planning to complete his Ph.D. and then go back to Costa Rica. “But, during my Ph.D. I met Peter Kelemen and Terry Plank from the  Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and they encouraged me to stay and apply for a post-doc.” Gazel was awarded the post-doctoral research position and dove into researching volatiles and their role in the production of magmas and volcanoes at Columbia University.

Gazel left Lamont in 2011 to join the faculty of Virginia Tech in the Department of Geosciences. In his six years at Virginia Tech, Gazel published more than 25 academic papers and won the prestigious Hisashi Kuno Award from the American Geophysical Union’s Volcanology Geochemistry Petrology section. His group researched the processes that produce magmas and volcanoes and contribute to the evolution of the planet. They looked at lava production by mantle melting, the origin of continents, and the deep carbon and water cycles.

Now that he is at Cornell, Gazel will continue work in these areas of study and also launch new threads of research. “There is a longstanding tradition of excellence in Earth Sciences at Cornell,” says Gazel. “It is a progressive institution that sees the Earth and atmosphere as a connected system. There are many people here that will make excellent collaborators for me and my students.”

“Volcanoes recycle water,” says Gazel. “There are probably six oceans-worth of water in the Earth’s mantle. Therefore, to understand what happens at the surface, we need to understand what is happening below the surface.”

To help build a clearer understanding of what is happening below the surface, Gazel and his students are looking at several important questions:

  • What is responsible for the formation of intraplate volcanoes (like Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands)?
  • How are the different types of magma reservoirs formed, and how do magmas record the compositions of these sources?
  • Can we characterize volcanic ash at the nanoscale to learn about its composition and also its connection to respiratory disease?
  • What can we learn from data collected on Mars about its early geology and planetary evolution?

Underlying all of these areas of study are Gazel’s two primary goals. “I work on fundamental processes,” says Gazel, “and in that way I can help fill in the big picture of how the Earth works. Just as importantly, I am helping to put skilled students with critical minds out in the world. I really want to inspire the next generation of geoscientists.”


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