St. Lawrence Geology Alumni

Peter deMenocal '82 to recieve honorary degree on May 17, 2009 from St. Lawrence University
Peter deMenocal '82
PETER B. deMENOCAL is a Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.  At Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University he uses stable isotopic and other geochemical analyses of marine sediments to understand how and why past climates have changed, with a specific interest in placing historic climate change trends within the context of climate changes over past millennia. Current areas of research include: stability of warm climate periods, African monsoonal climate, ancient cultural responses to rapid climate change, and the role of climate change in evolution of early human ancestors. He was awarded the Lenfest Columbia Distinguished Faculty award in 2008 and is Editor in Chief of the scientific journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. He has a B.S. in Geology from St. Lawrence University (cum laude), an M.S. in Oceanography from the University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography, and a Ph.D. in Geology from Columbia University. 

B.Sc. Geology, St. Lawrence University, cum laude with Honors in Geology (1982).
M.Sc. Oceanography, Graduate School of Oceanography University of Rhode Island (1986).
Ph.D., M. Phil Geology. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. Thesis title: "Pliocene- Pleistocene Evolution of Tropical Aridity". Dr. William F. Ruddiman, advisor. (1991).

Some Awards and recognitions
Professional Experience:
2007- present Professor, Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University
2003-2007 Associate Professor, Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University
2004 Visiting Professor, Université Aix-Marseilles 3. CEREGE (invitation Edouard Bard)
1999-2003 Assistant Professor, Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University
1991-1998 Associate Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10964.
1991 Post-Doctoral Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.
1986-1991 Graduate Research Assistant, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.
1982-1986 Graduate Research Assistant, Graduate School of Oceanography, Univ. of Rhode Island.
1981 GECO Geophysical Company of Norway (US), Inc., Houston, Texas.

Published Papers in Refereed Journals and Books since 2003:
deMenocal, P.B.. Africa on the Edge. Nature Geoscience, 1, pp. 650-651.
Greaves, M. et al. Interlaboratory comparison study of calibration standards for foraminiferal Mg/Ca thermometry. Geochem., Geophys., and Geosystems, 9(8), Q08010, doi:10.1029/2008GC001974.
Yashuhara, M., Cronin, T. M., deMenocal, P. B., Okahashi, H., and Linsley, B. K. (2008). Abrupt climate change and collapse of deepsea ecosystems. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sciences105, 1556-1560.

Feakins, S., Eglinton, T., deMenocal, P.B. A comparison of biomarker records of northeast African vegeation from lacustrine and marine sediments. Organic Geochemistry, 38, pp. 1607-1624, 2007.
Hendy, E.J., Gagan, M.K., Lough, J.M., McCoulloch, M., deMenocal, P.B. The impact of skeletal dissolution and secondary aragonite on trace element and isotopic proxies in Porites corals. Paleoceanography, 22, PA4101, doi:10.1029/2007PA001462, 2007.
Feakins, S., Brown, F.H., and deMenocal, P.B. Plio-Pleistocene Microtephra in DSDP Site 231, Gulf of Aden. J. African Earth Sciences, 48, pp. 341-352.
Liu, Z., Yi Wang, Robert Gallimore, Francoise Gasse, Thomas Johnson, Peter deMenocal, Jess Adkins, Michael Notaro, I. Colin Prentice, John Kutzbach, Robert Jacob, Pat Behling, Lihua Wang, Everest Ong.
Simulating the Transient Evolution and Abrupt Change of Northern Africa Atmosphere-Ocean-Terrestrial Ecosystem in the Holocene. Quat. Sci. Rev, 26 (13-14), pp. 1818-1837.  doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2007.03.002.
Farmer, E. C., A. Kaplan, P. B. de Menocal, and J. Lynch-Stieglitz (2007), Corroborating ecological depth preferences of planktonic foraminifera in the tropical Atlantic with the stable oxygen isotope ratios of core top specimens, Paleoceanography, 22, PA3205, doi:10.1029/2006PA001361.
Feakins, S. and deMenocal, P.B. Global and African regional climate during the Cenozoic. In, Cenozoic Mammals of Africa, William Sanders and Lars Werdelin, eds. (in press)
Feakins, S., Eglinton, T., deMenocal, P.B. A comparison of biomarker records of Northeast African vegetation from lacustrine and marine sediments ca. 3.4 Ma. Organic Geochemistry 38 (2007) 1607–1624.

Koutavas, A., deMenocal, P.B., Olive, G.C., Lynch-Steiglitz, J. Mid-Holocene ENSO attenuation and background La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Geology, 34 (12), pp. 993-996.
Fedorov, A, Dekens, P., McCarthy, M, Ravelo, A., deMenocal, P., Barreiro, M., Pacanowski, R., Philander, G. The Pliocene Paradox: Mechanisms for a permanent El Nino. Science, 312, pp. 1485-1489. 2006.
Linsley, B.K., Kaplan, A., Gouriou, Y., Salinger, J., deMenocal, P.B., Wellington, G.M., Howe, S.S. Tracking the extent of the South Pacific Convergence Zone since 1619 AD. Geochem., Geophys., and Geosystems, 7(4). Q05003, doi:10.1029/2005GC001115. 2006.
Adkins, J.F. deMenocal, P.B., Eschel, G. The “African Humid Period” and the record of marine upwelling from excess 230 Th in ODP Hole 658C. Paleoceanography, 21, pp. 1-14. 10.1029/2005PA001200.

Feakins, S.J., deMenocal, P.B., Eglinton, T.I., 2005. Biomarker records of Late Neogene changes in northeast African vegetation. Geology, v. 33; no. 12; p. 977–980; doi:10.1130/G21814.1!. 2005.
deMenocal, P.B. and Cook, E.P. Agents of Collapse: Megadroughts in the American West (Book review: Collapse, by Jared Diamond). Current Anthropology, v46, S5, pp. S91-100. 2005.
Farmer, E.C., deMenocal, P.B., Marchitto, T.M. Holocene and deglacial ocean temperature variability in the Benguela upwelling region: Implications for lowlatitude atmospheric circulation.
Paleoceanography, 20, doi:10.1029/2004PA001049. 2005.

Jansen, E., deMenocal, P., Grousset, F. Holocene climate variability – a marine perspective. Quat. Sci. Rev, 23, pp.2061-2061. 2004.
deMenocal, P.B. African climate change and faunal evolution during the Pliocene-Pleistocene. Earth and Planetary Science Letters (Frontiers). 220, 1/2, 3-24. 2004.
Rosenthal, Y. et al. Interlaboratory comparison study of Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca measurements in planktonic foraminifera for paleoceanographic research. Geochem., Geophys., and Geosystems, 5 (4).
doi:10.1029/2003GC000650. 2004.

Marchitto, T. M. and P. B. deMenocal. Late Holocene variability of upper North Atlantic Deep Water temperature and salinity.Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 4(12): 1100, doi 10.1029/2003GC000598. 2003.
Zabel, M., Wagner, T., deMenocal, P. Terrigenous signals in sediments from Terrigenous Signals in Sediments of the Low-Latitude Atlantic – Indications to Environmental Variations during the Late
Quaternary, Part II: Lithogenic Matter. In "The South Atlantic in the Late Quaternary: Reconstruction of Mass Budget and Current Systems",Wefer, G., Mulitza, S. & Ratmeyer, V. (eds), Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York. 2003.

We asked Peter to answer some questions about SLU and his career, here are his answers peter

 What have you enjoyed most about your career so far?

It's great having a job that encourages you to follow your curiosity, and with this often comes some wonderful travel and exploration opportunities. These two parts of the job make this a really rewarding and fun career.

     What do you feel has been your most meaningful contribution to your profession thus far?

My students. I've been fortunate to have have some really superb graduate (and undergraduate) students who have not only become distinguished scientists and professors, but they have produced some truly spectacular results along the way. I've been very fortunate to have had hard-working and creative students, and I'm happy to know they're leading the next generation of paleoclimate scientists.

    peter What have been your most important contributions to our understanding of paleoclimate or climate change to this point in your careers?

The ocean sediment record of past climate changes has been a very productive research area lately. Some of the more interesting work has been developing quantitative estimates of past ocean temperature and salinity changes over recent millennia so that we can place current and future climate changes within the context on natural climate variability. Another area that's been very rewarding has been developing records of African climate change to investigate whether climate change influenced the evolution of early human ancestors in East Africa.

     What will be the future directions and discoveries for climate change research as you see them?

Some of the biggest questions posed decades ago are still not solved, including how the ocean was involved in past global climate change cycles. We've learned that ocean circulation can  respond very rapidly to even modest forcing, but precisely how and why the ocean temperatures and chemistry change is still not known. The real frontier in my opinion is using the past as a guide for the future: What was climate like in the geologic past when CO2 levels were as high as they are projected to be at the end of this century?

     What, if anything, did you do or discover at St. Lawrence that was "life changing" or "life directing" for you?

A friend of mine, Brad Linsley ('82, Geology), lent me his Geology textbook to read one night. Although I had taken a number of math and chemistry courses, I knew nothing about geology and I was fascinated how it integrated all the sciences. I stayed up all night reading this textbook, captured by the notion that one could make a career in Earth Sciences. Within a month I became a Geology major. So, the "life changing" moment was quite serendipitous but I remember it well.

     What is your most fond memory of your time as a student at St. Lawrence?

I made some life-long friendships at St. Lawrence. The combination of such a great group of people and the beautiful natural setting of the North Country meant that we had some really unique, fun times. As a student, the Geology majors were a large and close-knit group. We would often sit around on bean bag chairs and discuss things geological.

     What one piece of advice do wish someone had given you before you graduated SLU? or What one piece of advice do you have for the current undergraduates?

There is real joy and satisfaction in finding something that you like to do, and this gets better over time. We spend most of our time in life working, so be patient and choose wisely. Use your college years to find something that you're passionate about, and that passion will make work feel like play.

Last Updated: 
March 31, 2009

Sarah McElfresh