Adam Maloof

2011 James B. Macelwane Medal Winner

Adam C. Maloof was awarded the 2011 James B. Macelwane Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 7 December 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding young scientist.”


Adam Maloof exemplifies a new breed of field geologist, operationally engaged with geophysics, geochemistry, and geobiology and ranging up and down the geologic column. Adam became a geologist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., one of the handful of liberal arts colleges where a disproportionate share of talented geologists get their start. Adam e-­mailed me midway through his junior year as an exchange student at the University Centre in Svalbard, on Spitsbergen in Arctic Europe. He asked a generic question about my research and three specific ones on snowball Earth. I didn’t answer the latter but sent three references where answers might be found. Ten days later I received a critique of each paper and three more questions, eliciting more references. After 2 months of this, I offered him a summer apprenticeship in Namibia. Later I learned that getting the papers photocopied in Oslo and mailed to Longyearbyen took 9 of the 10 days.

Before coming to Harvard for graduate work, Adam apprenticed with Joe Kirschvink on a paleomagnetic expedition to Morocco. Joe subsequently opened his lab at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to Adam and has powerfully influenced his thinking. So, too, have geologist-­geochronologist Sam Bowring and astropaleomagnetist Ben Weiss at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Adam’s Ph.D. work had three unrelated parts. First, he showed by soil mechanical analysis that deep sand-­wedge polygons at a Cryogenian permafrost horizon, known to have formed near the paleomagnetic equator, do not require a large change in orbital obliquity (to amplify low-­latitude seasonality) but could instead have formed in the sublimation zone on a snowball Earth. Second, he proposed a pre-­Cryogenian episode of large, rapid, oscillatory true polar wander, based on integrated paleomagnetic, sequence stratigraphic, and chemostratigraphic data from Svalbard. Third, he laboriously tracked down and established a remarkable carbonate δ13C reference curve for the first half of the Cambrian period in Morocco, calibrated with U-­Pb zircon dates from interlayered tuffs.

During his Agouran postdoc at MIT, he led landmark expeditions to Lonar Crater, India, finding no evidence for shock demagnetization or impact-­induced transient magnetic fields, hypothesized as core-­dynamo alternatives for paleomagnetism on extraterrestrial bodies; to Great Bahama Bank, where he documented the acquisition and subsequent destruction of natural remanent magnetization in Holocene tidal-­flat carbonates; and to Lake Superior, where he and advisee Nick Swanson-­Hysell removed a long-­standing obstacle to the acceptance of symmetrical geomagnetic reversals in deep Precambrian time.

At Princeton, new constraints on carbon cycling before, during, and after the Cryogenian glaciations stream from his research group, which also developed MatStrat, free software for plotting and analyzing stratigraphic data. With Susannah Porter and other talented collaborators, Adam spearheaded a chemostratigraphic recalibration of richly fossiliferous early Cambrian sections in Siberia, Mongolia, and south China onto his chronometrically calibrated but poorly fossiliferous reference section in Morocco. The result is revolutionary: The canonical “big bang” of complex life now consists of three distinct pulses, each associated with a reorganization of the carbon cycle and collectively doubling the bang’s duration.

An award-­winning teacher, Adam presents his work with style and conviction; visiting his data tables yields the reason for the swagger.


—Paul F. Hoffman, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., and School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada


I found out about the Macelwane Medal a few days after the fact when I ran into cell phone service while fixing a flat tire in the field. My phone was filled with congratulations from many of my friends who are in the audience today. It is easy to underestimate how powerful a little encouragement can be for a young scientist; thank you, Paul, for the nomination, and thank you, AGU, for this encouragement. I am humbled by this recognition and want to acknowledge some of the people who helped me along the way.

At Carleton College, Bereket Haileab and Dave Bice taught me to see that every rock is an awe-­inspiring book of Earth history. I went on to Harvard for one primary reason: to study with Paul Hoffman. While Paul turned me into a field geologist, one of the most important lessons he taught me was to read broadly and constantly.

The eighth floor in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Green Building was one of the most stimulating and generous scientific environments I have ever worked in. As a postdoc, I benefited from the inspiring tutelage of John Grotzinger and Ben Weiss. Sam Bowring became a valued colleague and mentor, whose sage advice I have sought on an almost weekly basis over the past 5 years. New collaborations with paleontologist Susannah Porter, planetary scientist Sarah Stewart, and architect Brad Samuels led to projects more rewarding than I could have imagined.

At Princeton I have been surrounded by gifted and supportive colleagues, like Michael Bender, Tom Duffy, Francois Morel, Satish Myneni, Allan Rubin, Danny Sigman, Jeroen Tromp, and Bess Ward. I also am fortunate to have found funny, reliable, and brilliant friends like Frederik Simons and Blair Schoene to teach classes and conjure up projects with. My students Nick Swanson-­Hysell, Catherine Rose, Jon Husson, and Blake Dyer have been the source of many rewards, challenges, and discoveries. Over the years, I benefited immensely from conversations with Dave Barbeau, Tanja Bosak, Claire Calmet, Doug Erwin, David Evans, Ryan Ewing, Josh Feinberg, David Fike, Galen Halverson, John Higgins, Matt Hurtgen, Peter Huybers, Doug Jerolmack, David Jones, Jamie Kellogg, Joe Kirschvink, Andy Knoll, Bob Kopp, Cin-­Ty Lee, Kevin Lewis, Peter Moore, Rick O’Connell, Jon Payne, Dan Rothman, Dan Schrag, Adam Soule, John Shaw, Carl Tape, and many more.

While growing up, I sought activities, and eventually an occupation, that would challenge both body and mind while immersed in nature. Now I work in a discipline where more than half the data I collect come from trekking through wild places and observing the natural world. I would not have the courage to follow this path if not for the generosity and love of my parents, Doreen and Bruce Maloof. Finally, thank you to my wife, Pascale Poussart, for challenging the status quo and making every day a new experiment. Trying to emulate her compassion, resolve, and spunk make me a better person.