Marcia McNutt

Marcia McNutt
Marcia McNutt
Director of the United States Geological Survey
Assumed office
October 21, 2009
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Mark Myers
Personal details
Born 1952 (age 58–59)
Alma mater Colorado College
University of California, San Diego

Marcia Kemper McNutt (born 1952) is an American geophysicist. She is director of the United States Geological Survey and science adviser to the United States Secretary of the Interior.

McNutt was president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, an oceanographic research center in the United States, professor of marine geophysics at the Stanford University School of Earth Sciences and professor of marine geophysics at University of California, Santa Cruz.


Family and education

McNutt's father was a small business owner and her mother was a college-educated homemaker. In an interview with the National Academy of Sciences, McNutt said that in their household, women’s education was a tradition and a norm, and that her parents encouraged McNutt and her sisters academically.[1]

She was valedictorian of her class at the Northrop Collegiate School (now The Blake School), graduating in 1970. She received a bachelor's degree in physics summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Colorado College in 1973. As a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, she then studied geophysics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where she earned a PhD in earth sciences in 1978.[2] Her dissertation was titled Continental and Oceanic Isostasy.[3] McNutt is a NAUI-certified scuba diver and she trained in underwater demolition and explosives handling with the U.S. Navy UDT and Seal Team.[3][4]

McNutt is one of six women scientists featured in the 1995 PBS (WGBH-TV) series, "Discovering Women."[5] How she excelled in science with a household of young daughters and the help of housekeeper Ann and her daughter is described by Jocelyn Steinke in "A portrait of a woman as a scientist: breaking down barriers created by gender-role stereotypes".[6]

McNutt has three daughters, two of whom are identical twins.[7] Her daughter, Ashley Hoffman, was "Miss Rodeo California" in 2009.[8] McNutt is a horse enthusiast and has shown her horse "Lulu" in the western pleasure class.[8]

McNutt's first husband died in 1988. McNutt and Ian Young, an MBARI ship's captain, were married in 1996.[9][10]

Early years

collection of small buildings with a dozen people outside on the Pacific coast
MBARI, associated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium (back view shown), was founded and privately funded by David Packard to be the "NASA of the oceans".[11]

After a brief appointment at the University of Minnesota, McNutt worked for three years on earthquake prediction at the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California. In 1982, she was appointed Griswold Professor of Geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and she served as director of the Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Science and Engineering, a cooperative effort of MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.[2]


She participated in 15 major oceanographic expeditions and served as chief scientist on more than half of them.[12] She published 90 peer-reviewed scientific articles.[12][13] Her research has included studies of ocean island volcanism in French Polynesia, continental break-up in the Western United States, and uplift of the Tibet plateau.[14]

McNutt has made notable contributions to the understanding of the rheology and strength of the lithosphere. She showed that young volcanoes could flex the lithosphere, influencing the elevation of nearby volcanoes, and used a 3-D analysis of topography and gravity data to show that the Australian plate could be strong on short time scales and weak on long scales. She also showed how subducting ocean plates could weaken and identified a large topographic feature called the South Pacific superswell.[15][16]

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

McNutt was president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) from 1997 to 2009.[17][18] During that time the Western Flyer, MBARI's research vessel, made expeditions from Canada to Baja California and the Hawaiian Islands.[19] MBARI built the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS), the first deep-sea cabled observatory in the continental United States.[19]

US Geological Survey


waist-high portrait, seated in front of microphone, blond hair, light blue top, daughter half visible and half cut off at left
McNutt and daughter Merideth at left during confirmation hearing by the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

In July 2009, McNutt was announced as President Obama's nominee to be the next director of the United States Geological Survey and science adviser to the United States Secretary of the Interior.[20] The Senate unanimously approved her nomination on October 21.[21] She is the first woman director of USGS since its establishment in 1879.[20] Secretary Ken Salazar endorsed McNutt for the position.[20] In a television interview following Obama's announcement, McNutt said:

"Many other countries are far ahead of the U.S., in installing wind farms, installing solar panels, moving to alternate energies, and in preparing their populations for the decision-making necessary to cope with climate change."[22]

BP oil spill

Aerial photograph of the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana showing extent of oil spill in May 2010
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill. McNutt headed the Flow Rate Technical Group who determined the extent of the spill.

During her first year, four major events impacted USGS in quick succession: a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, an 8.0 earthquake in Chile, the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and the BP oil spill.[23]

In May 2010, McNutt headed the Flow Rate Technical Group which attempted to measure the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.[24] Preliminary reports from the group said that the rate of the oil spill was at least twice and possibly up to five times as much as previously acknowledged.[25] Subsequent estimates, based on six independent methodologies,[26] were four times the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.[27] A refined estimate based on new pressure readings, data, and analysis, released by the United States Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and McNutt in August, said that 4.9 million barrels (with uncertainty of plus or minus approximately 10 percent) of oil had leaked from the well until it was capped on July 15.[28] The disaster was the largest ever accidental spill of oil into marine waters.[29]

Public employees, integrity policy

American flag and group of four or five speakers at a podium in front of audience including a Native American in headdress
McNutt at Grand Canyon National Park with Secretary Salazar and other officials to mark an extended moratorium on uranium mining.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a lawsuit against the department of the interior claiming that hundreds of pages of reports and communications should not be withheld, and their director, Jeff Ruch said in a press release, " is still being manipulated under the current administration".[30][31] Ruch said in a later press release, "That is the screwiest explanation I have ever heard"[32] in response to Salazar's announcement of a new scientific integrity policy for the Department of Interior in February 2011.[33] The American Geophysical Union announced its endorsement of the policy.[34]

USGS peer review process

McNutt participated in the reversal of a 2006 USGS policy that required agency scientists to submit their work to two internal reviewers and obtain a sign-off from a higher level official before submitting their work to external journals who then applied their own peer-review process. Scientists can now have both internal and external reviews simultaneously and the internal process is reduced to one internal review plus sign-off by the USGS Office of Science Quality and Integrity.[35]

Afghan mineral wealth

In September 2011, a USGS team including Jack H. Medlin, Said Mirzad, Stephen G. Peters and Robert D. Tucker [36] published a report[37] which they presented at the Afghan embassy in Washington, DC, detailing 57 information packages about Areas of Interest (AOIs) that total at least 1,000,000 metric tons of untapped mineral deposits they have found in Afghanistan.[38] Scientific American speculated that replacing "opium and Taliban strongholds with a mining bonanza" could "could change U.S. foreign policy and world stability".[36] This report, which points to resources that The New York Times said in 2010 were worth $1 trillion,[39] was put into the public domain.[36] McNutt said at the time:[40]

"There is always increased risk for commercial ventures investing in new mining facilities in frontier areas such as Afghanistan, but by putting our information on the locations and estimated quantities and grades of ores in the public domain, we lower that risk, spurring progress."[40]

Awards and honors

She is a fellow for the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Association of Geodesy. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She chaired the President’s Panel on Ocean Exploration under President Bill Clinton. She serves on evaluation and advisory boards for institutions including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Stanford University, Harvard University and Science magazine.[12] In 1988, McNutt won the Macelwane Medal from the American Geophysical Union, presented for outstanding research by a young scientist, and in 2007 she won the AGU's Maurice Ewing Medal for her contributions to deep-sea exploration and her leadership role in the ocean sciences.[2][15]

She is a past president of the American Geophysical Union (2000–2002).[2] In 2002, Discover magazine named McNutt one of the top fifty women in science.[41] In 2003 she was named Scientist of the Year by the ARCS Foundation.[2] She holds honorary doctorates from the University of Minnesota and Colorado College and was recognized as Outstanding Alumni in 2004 by the University of California, San Diego.[2] McNutt chaired the board of governors of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions which merged to become Consortium for Ocean Leadership for which she was trustee.[14]

Dr. Marcia McNutt is a member of the USA Science & Engineering Festival's Nifty Fifty, a collection of the most influential scientists and engineers in the United States that are dedicated to reinvigorating the interest of young people in science and engineering.[42]


  1. ^ "InterViews: Marcia McNutt". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Marcia McNutt". Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute via Internet Archive. July 9, 2009. Archived from the original on August 3, 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-30, September 5, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Marcia McNutt: Curriculum Vitae". Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute via Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 2007-10-06. Retrieved 2009-07-30, September 5, 2010. 
  4. ^ Perlman, David and Fimrite, Peter (July 11, 2009). "Obama taps Californians for parks, geology jobs". San Francisco Chronicle (Hearst Communications). Retrieved 2009-08-01. 
  5. ^ Ball, Charles H. (March 22, 1995). "Faculty member, alumna among WGBH's 'Discovering Women'". MIT Tech Talk via MIT News. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  6. ^ Steinke, Jocelyn (1997). "A portrait of a woman as a scientist: breaking down barriers created by gender-role stereotypes" (PDF). Public Understanding of Science (Institute of Physics, jointly with the Science Museum, London) 6. ISSN 0963-6625. Retrieved April 15, 2011. 
  7. ^ Lubick, Naomi (July 2005). "Marcia McNutt: Oceangoing geophysicist". Geotimes. American Geological Institute. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  8. ^ a b Winter, Allison (June 16, 2010). "USGS Director Quietly Wages 'Fearless' War on Oil Spill". The New York Times. Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Marcia Kemper McNutt Receives 2007 Maurice Ewing Medal". American Geophysical Union. Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  10. ^ Brinkerhoff, Noel and Wallechinsky, David. "United States Geological Survey: Who is Marcia McNutt?". Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  11. ^ NASA earth science : hearing before the Committee on Science, House of Representatives. U.S. Government Printing Office via Google Books. April 28, 2005. p. 51. Retrieved 2009-07-31. 
  12. ^ a b c "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts" (Press release). The White House. July 9, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  13. ^ "Marcia McNutt: Publications". Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Retrieved 2009-07-30. [dead link]
  14. ^ a b "Salazar Applauds President Obama’s Intent to Nominate Dr. Marcia McNutt as Director of the U.S. Geological Survey" (Press release). United States Department of the Interior. July 9, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-31. 
  15. ^ a b Watts, Anthony B.. "2007 Maurice Ewing Medal Winner: Marcia Kemper McNutt". Medals, Awards & Prizes. American Geophysical Union. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  16. ^ McNutt, Marcia K. and Fischer, Karen M. (1987). Keating, Barbara H.. ed. "The South Pacific Superswell in Seamounts, Islands, and Atolls". Geophysical Monograph (American Geophysical Union) 43: 25. ISBN 9780875900681. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  17. ^ "MBARI President and CEO Marcia McNutt to be nominated as Director of U.S. Geological Survey". Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. July 10, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-31. 
  18. ^ "MBARI Announces New President". KSBW (Internet Broadcasting Systems). November 4, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  19. ^ a b "Secretary Salazar Applauds Senate’s Confirmation of Dr. Marcia McNutt as Director of the U.S. Geological Survey" (Press release). U.S. Department of the Interior. October 22, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  20. ^ a b c Stephens, Tim (July 15, 2009). "MBARI president Marcia McNutt to be nominated as director of U.S. Geological Survey". University of California, Santa Cruz. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  21. ^ Straub, Noelle (October 22, 2009). "Senate Confirms Nominees for Interior, DOE". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  22. ^ Marcia McNutt speaking to Karina Rusk (July 10, 2009). Marcia McNutt to head USGS. KGO-TV (ABC). Event occurs at 1:14. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  23. ^ McNutt, Marcia (December 18, 2010). "A year on the job, she takes pride in disaster response". Science News (Society for Science & the Public). Retrieved January 1, 2011. 
  24. ^ Tapper, Jake (May 24, 2010). "Today’s Qs for O’s WH - 5/24/10". ABC News. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  25. ^ Robertson, Campbell (May 27, 2010). "Estimates Suggest Spill Is Biggest in U.S. History". The New York Times. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  26. ^ "Admiral Allen, Dr. McNutt Provide Updates on Progress of Scientific Teams Analyzing Flow Rates from BP’s Well" (Press release). U.S. Department of the Interior. June 10, 2010. Retrieved June 10, 2010. 
  27. ^ Boxall, Bettina (June 10, 2010). "Gulf oil spill: Oil spill rate could be double previous estimate, government says". The Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company).,0,1014836.story. Retrieved June 10, 2010. 
  28. ^ "U.S. Scientific Teams Refine Estimates of Oil Flow from BP’s Well Prior to Capping" (Press release). U.S. Department of the Interior. August 2, 2010. Retrieved September 5, 2010. 
  29. ^ Robertson, Campbell and Krauss, Clifford (August 2, 2010). "Gulf Spill Is the Largest of Its Kind, Scientists Say". The New York Times. Retrieved September 5, 2010. 
  30. ^ "Lawsuit to Unravel Varying BP Spill Estimates" (Press release). Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. September 16, 2010. Retrieved September 27, 2010. 
  31. ^ "Interior be Sued Over Oil Spill Emails". CBS News. September 15, 2010. Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  32. ^ "Press Office Screens Ocean Science for "Grammatical Errors"" (Press release). Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. February 15, 2011. Retrieved February 26, 2011. 
  33. ^ "Salazar Announces New Scientific Integrity Policy and Designation of Departmental Science Integrity Officer" (Press release). United States Department of the Interior. February 1, 2011. Retrieved February 26, 2011. 
  34. ^ "Earth and space scientists endorse DOI roadmap for scientific and scholarly integrity". R&D (Advantage Business Media). Retrieved February 25, 2011. 
  35. ^ Tollefson, Jeff (July 26, 2011). "US federal agency loosens peer-review rules". Nature News (Macmillan). Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  36. ^ a b c Simpson, Sarah (September 22, 2011). "Afghanistan's Buried Riches". Scientific American. Retrieved October 17, 2011. 
  37. ^ "USGS Projects in Afghanistan: About the Mineral Resource Information Packages". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved October 17, 2011. 
  38. ^ Quinones, Manuel (September 20, 2011). "RARE EARTHS: USGS Details Afghanistan Find". Greenwire (Meridian Institute). Retrieved October 17, 2011. 
  39. ^ Risen, James (June 13, 2010). "U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan". The New York Times. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  40. ^ a b The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, USGS, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Afghanistan’s Geological Survey. Jha, Lalit K (September 26, 2011). "Mineral resources seen as a boost to Afghan economy". e-Ariana (Ariana Media). Retrieved October 17, 2011. 
  41. ^ University of California, Santa Cruz (10 October 2002). "Discover magazine names three UC Santa Cruz professors among the top 50 women in science". Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  42. ^ USA Science & Engineering Festival's Nifty Fifty.

External links


Political offices
Preceded by
Mark Myers
Director of the United States Geological Survey

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