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WHOI Geochemist Awarded for Contributions to Studies of the Physics of the Earth

Stan Stan Hart relaxes for a moment before entering the Pisces IV sub to dive into the summit crater of Vailulu’u volcano in March 2005. (Courtesy of Hubert Staudigel, Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

January 23, 2008

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has selected Stanley Hart of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as the 13th recipient of the Arthur L. Day Prize and Lectureship. Hart, a scientist emeritus in the WHOI Department of Geology and Geophysics, was recognized for making lasting contributions to the study of the physics of the Earth. The $20,000 prize will be awarded on April 27, 2008, at the annual meeting of the Academy in Washington, D.C.

As an isotope geochemist, Hart studies the evolution and dynamics of Earth’s mantle using trace elements and isotopes found in rocks. He also examines the chemistry of seawater and ocean crust, and how both are changed by their interactions with the other.

Hart was cited by his peers in the Academy for “development of the new field of ‘chemical geodynamics’ through the use of the chemical and isotopic signature of mantle derived samples to map and constrain the dynamical evolution of the Earth’s interior.”

“Stan Hart has had an enormous impact on his field, and he continues to play an important role in Earth science,” said James Luyten, president and director of WHOI. “The Institution has been honored to have Stan as an active member of the scientific staff.”

Much of Hart’s work could be described as a quest to “understand the mantle zoo.” Hart and colleagues have identified many different reservoirs of mantle rock by studying volcanism at great depths below Earth’s surface. They have given names to those geochemical “species” and defined their heritage and pedigree among the rocks formed on the planet. By doing so, Hart has helped unravel some of the history of how the interior of the Earth has evolved over time.

“I keep thinking that we are going to solve the problem of how Earth’s mantle has evolved, and I once predicted that the scientific community might do it within five years. That was fifteen years ago,” Hart recalled with a mix of humility and humor. “The job may never be complete, but we have made some real progress. And I couldn’t have done any of this without my students and post-docs.”

Born in Lynn, Mass., Hart studied for his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), punctuated by a master’s degree at the California Institute of Technology.

He started his research career at the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1960 to 1975, with a brief visiting professorship at the University of California, San Diego. In 1975, he returned to MIT, where he became a professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. He came to Woods Hole in 1989, where he was a senior scientist in the WHOI Department of Geology and Geophysics from 1989 to 2007.

In nearly five decades of scientific work, Hart has authored or co-authored 225 papers. He is a fellow of the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, the Geochemical Society, and the European Association of Geochemistry, as well as an honorary fellow of the European Union of Geosciences. He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1983 and to fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005.

In 1992, Hart was awarded the Goldschmidt Medal of the Geochemical Society, of which he also served as president. In 1997, he was awarded the H. H. Hess Medal of the American Geophysical Union. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Paris in 2005. At WHOI, he held the Columbus O’Donnell Iselin Chair for Excellence in Oceanography from 1994 to 1999.

In his early years, Hart was an avid skier and rock climber; now he is a devoted runner. He has three children and two grandchildren, and he currently lives in Falmouth, Mass., with his wife Pam.

First awarded in 1972 through a bequest by geophysicist Arthur L. Day, the Day Prize includes a cash award and an invitation to provide four to six lectures that “would prove a solid, timely, and useful addition to the knowledge and literature in the field.” Granted every three years, the prize recognizes research in geology, oceanography, hydrology, geochemistry, meteorology, petrology, forestry, and atmospherics.

“Some of the previous awardees of the Day Prize were my heroes,” Hart said, “so this is quite a nice validation that what I’ve been working on has been acknowledged and respected by the community.”

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit honorific society of distinguished scholars dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Since 1863, the National Academy of Sciences has served to “investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art” whenever called upon to do so by any department of the government.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment.