Schmandt Receives 2013 Keiiti Aki Young Scientist Award

Brandon Schmandt received the 2013 Keiiti Aki Young Scientist Award at the 2013 AGU Fall Meeting, held 9–13 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes the scientific accomplishments of a young scientist who makes outstanding contributions
to the advancement of seismology.


schmandt_brandonBrandon Schmandt earned his B.A. from Warren Wilson College and his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. He was a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and is now an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico.

Brandon’s research is characterized by artful integration of high-quality seismological imaging with geologic and tectonic information, and he has produced key insights into the structure and evolution of the North American continent. Brandon’s body wave tomography model for the western United States robustly synthesized data from the EarthScope Transportable Array and many other arrays. His collaborative work integrating this model with other seismic and geologic constraints has shed new light on varied processes, including the evolution of a segmented subducted Farallon slab, remnant microplates and slab windows, and lithospheric instabilities beneath the Colorado Plateau. Brandon has also produced evidence for a low-velocity layer on top of the western U.S. transition zone and the exciting observation of upwarping of the 660-kilometer discontinuity that correlates with a plume-like zone of low velocities in the mantle beneath the Yellowstone hot spot. This latter result is one of the best pieces of evidence to date for connection of a surface hot spot track with a lower mantle plume.

Brandon is continuing to innovate. Using a high-density exploration array in Long Beach, Calif., he recently resolved a sharp offset in Moho topography across the eastern edge of the California Inner Borderland, a result with significant tectonic implications. He is also pioneering in the field of fluvial seismology, studying the seismic signal of a dam release on the Colorado River as a tool for monitoring sediment transport.

To quote from his Aki Award nomination, “Brandon has already demonstrated technical innovations, keen intellectual curiosity, the drive and energy to produce at the highest levels, dedication to the new ethic of open access of data, and a gift for cross disciplinary collaboration, all with a sense of humility.”

—KAREN M. FISCHER, Department of Geological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, R.I.


I appreciate Karen’s generous words, and I am sincerely honored to receive this year’s Aki Award. I would like to acknowledge that my research has been enabled by excellent mentors and colleagues and by a unique community of scientists. I was particularly lucky to wander into Gene Humphrey’s office as a first-year graduate student with a curiosity about western U.S. tectonics and seismology. Gene always matched my energy and enthusiasm and allowed me to find my path. Later, as a postdoc, I benefited from a similarly flexible and supportive environment in the Seismo Lab at Caltech. I also feel fortunate to be part of the seismology community. It is a special community that will strive to collect a world-class data set, such as the EarthScope seismic data, and then openly put those data in the hands of any eager scientist. This unselfish and open-minded perspective is a great motivation for me, and I expect it is for many young scientists. I am excited for the future as a member of the seismology community.

—BRANDON SCHMANDT, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque