Bjornerud awarded Fulbright for New Zealand study

Emily Koenig

Geology professor Marcia Bjornerud has been named as a recipient of the 2009 Fulbright Senior Scholar Award. Founded in 1946, the Fulbright program sends 800 scholars abroad each year for academic purposes, encouraging international educational exchange.
Specifically, the Senior Scholar Award annually sponsors a small number of United States scholars to conduct research in New Zealand. Bjornerud’s award grants her $28,000 for four months of study. Beginning in March, Bjornerud will be based at the University of Otago, New Zealand’s most prestigious research university.
Bjornerud earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis and her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bjornerud came to Lawrence in 1995 and is now the first Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Studies and the geology department chair.
In 2000, Bjornerud was awarded a similar Fulbright fellowship, which she used to conduct research at the University of Oslo in Norway. Highly involved in the field, she has also examined areas of high Arctic Canada, Ontario and northern Wisconsin.
As one of her many accomplishments, Bjornerud has written a somewhat nontraditional textbook titled “The Blue Planet,” which maintains that all students, as Earthlings, should understand how their planet works. Another accomplishment: saving a 3.7 billion-year-old rock from destruction when the downtown Appleton J.C. Penney was demolished.
Bjornerud’s second book, “Reading the Rocks: An Autobiography of the Earth,” an accessible and dynamic examination of earth history, is this year’s addition to the freshman studies reading list. The book demonstrates the way geologists can derive an extraordinary amount of meaning from a single rock and examines the broader implications of what is discovered there.
In this spirit, Bjornerud will use the Fulbright award to study exposed rocks along the Alpine Fault on New Zealand’s South Island. The fault runs almost the entire length of the island and is visible from space. Bjornerud plans to examine the records of past earthquakes found on these rocks in order to better understand – and possibly learn warning signs of – large seismic events.
Bjornerud’s reception of this award is not only a recognition of her academic career but also an excellent acknowledgment of the necessity of geological research in a time when understanding and respecting our planet may be of more vital importance than it has ever been.