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MBARI’s president wins top post 
in international society

March 9, 1998

Marcia K. McNutt, president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) has been elected president of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), a scientific organization dedicated to advancing the understanding of Earth and its environment in space and making the results available to the public. AGU has 35,000 members in more than 115 countries.

"I can imagine no greater honor than serving the AGU in the capacity of president," McNutt commented. "AGU has been my professional home for more than 20 years." A geophysicist by training, McNutt has served on numerous AGU administrative committees and as president of the tectonophysics section, one of 10 major divisions in the organization.

AGU has two primary purposes. One is to promote rapid and widespread communication of high-quality geophysical research among its members. In pursuit of this aim President-elect McNutt advocates electronic publishing of AGU’s dozen or more journals as a way of extending rapid communication of research results. "It’s critical that we get more involved in electronic publishing," McNutt said. "It provides much better service to institutions, is more economical than stocking back issues of journals, and it conserves resources."

The other objective of AGU is to support public education, and furnish informed advice, on matters and policies concerning Earth and its space environment. With respect to advice on policy issues, McNutt contended "One often sees decisions being made based on political reasons that masquerade as scientific reasons. We at AGU can do a lot more to provide scientific information to decision-makers at local, regional, national, and international levels. Scientists are often reluctant to speak out because new data is constantly streaming in. But sound policy requires the best scientific input, so at some point scientists must be willing to make statements."

In addition to encouraging individual scientists to contribute their knowledge to discussions of policy issues, McNutt’s goal is to promote an expansion of AGU’s public affairs efforts. "Providing more and better scientific information is a matter of opening conduits," she said, "and the best conduits are people." Once in office, she hopes to encourage an expansion of the AGU program that supports science-trained Congressional fellows, who work as staffers on federal legislative committees related to education and public policy issues.

Her experience in university teaching has given McNutt a sensitivity to the challenges facing today’s students in Earth sciences—which relates to another of her goals as president: She wants the AGU to recognize more often the accomplishments of students and facilitate their search for fellowships, post-doctoral appointments, and other employment in areas that go beyond geophysical research and education.

A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, McNutt holds a B.A. in physics from Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and a Ph.D in Earth sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California. After postdoctoral research at Scripps, she taught at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, then took a position with the U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, California to work on earthquake prediction. McNutt was a professor of geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1982–1997 and, from 1995–1997, served as director of the Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Science and Engineering, a graduate program administered by MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Much of McNutt’s scientific research has involved the use of geophysical data to study the physical properties of the Earth beneath the oceans. She became president/chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in September 1997. She will hold her post as president-elect of AGU for two years beginning in June, followed by a two-year term as president starting in 2000.

Contact: Debbie Meyer, Communications Coordinator