Brandon Dugan

Colorado School of Mines

2018 The Asahiko Taira International Scientific Ocean Drilling Research Prize Winner

Brandon Dugan received the Asahiko Taira International Scientific Ocean Drilling Research Prize at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The prize recognizes an individual “for outstanding transdisciplinary research accomplishment in ocean drilling.”


Brandon Dugan’s transdisciplinary contributions, which couple pore pressure, fluid flow, and the evolution of sediment properties, are a crucial pillar of the geohazard research highlighted in the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) science plan. His novel approaches shed light on the fundamental physical processes operating at granular to regional scales by combining field experiments with robust and experimentally validated models.

Brandon’s early work laid the theoretical foundation tested on IODP Expedition 308, “Gulf of Mexico Hydrogeology.” The mechanism for overpressure generation and slope failure that he pioneered has since been adopted elsewhere and continues to guide research in this arena. As part of the Nankai Trough Seismogenic Zone Experiment (NanTroSEIZE), he sailed on Expedition 322, served as the hydrogeology planning group leader for NanTroSEIZE Stage 2, and was co–chief scientist for Expedition 338. Through these projects, Brandon showed how sediment fabric, porosity, and permeability evolve during consolidation and provided basic information to support models of fluid flow, overpressure development, and slope stability. In 2016, Brandon coled Expedition 362 and in a collaborative effort with members of the science party, documented complete dehydration of silicates before plate subduction, expanding on prevailing models of subduction seismogenesis. Processes such as these, which take place outboard of the deformation front, are key to understanding the behavior of plate boundary seismogenesis and tsunami generation.

Brandon’s research has been expanding beyond slope stability and seismogenic themes to multiple directions that encompass both observation and theory. For example, the integration of numerical modeling and IODP data toward understanding gas hydrate dynamics in Hydrate Ridge and the Kumano basin has important linkages to carbon cycling. He recently spearheaded an integrated offshore–onshore drilling program to understand freshwater resources along the New England continental shelf that will address how glacial dynamics, sea level variations, and groundwater flow have emplaced large volumes of fresh water in offshore sediments. This pioneering research has direct and immediate societal relevance, as traditional freshwater resources are declining due to overexploitation and climate change.

Brandon has made extraordinary contributions to the ocean drilling program. He has served the IODP community in many advisory capacities, including as a long-term member of the Environmental Protection and Safety Panel and as a leader or steering committee member of various workshops. Noteworthy is the workshop Engaging Early Career Scientists in Future Scientific Ocean Drilling, which illustrates Brandon’s commitment to engage, train, and motivate early-career scientists to take an active role in IODP, a key effort to ensuring the success and long-term vitality of the program.

—Marta E. Torres, Oregon State University, Corvallis


I am honored to receive the Taira Prize, and I thank AGU, Japan Geoscience Union, and IODP for establishing it. I also thank Marta Torres for her kind citation. My path to ocean drilling started at the University of Minnesota, where Mark Person introduced me to integrating mathematical modeling and Earth science research. An internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory exposed me to working with wells. Most influential, however, was a handwritten note from Michelle Markley on a structural geology homework that said, “use your imagination.” This led to a Ph.D. at Penn State blending engineering and geosciences. Peter Flemings, my advisor, set me loose on data from Leg 174A. Under his guidance, I started linking fluid flow and slope stability. Peter’s mentorship was invaluable. He encouraged me and pushed me to understand and to explain. This inspired me to sail on Leg 194, where I experienced the grind and the joys of working at sea and, even as a young graduate student, was treated as an equal while being mentored. I loved the environment that mixed hard work, cutting-edge science, and engineering. On Expedition 308, we tested models that I developed, and we advanced in situ pressure analyses. Here I realized the true value of working with a diverse group of scientists all looking at the same problem. In addition, I became aware of all that the technicians and crew do so we can focus on science. This blossomed into other projects looking at fluid–rock interactions, like NanTroSEIZE, where I sailed as a scientist (Expedition 322) and a co–chief scientist (Expedition 338). This leadership opportunity helped me grow as a scientist and as a mentor and pushed me to integrate across disciplines. Since then I have had other great experiences as a co–chief scientist studying inputs to the Sumatra subduction zone (Expedition 362) and as a logging scientist studying landslides and slow-slip earthquakes (Expedition 372). Every project has amazed me, and I am proud to be part of this community—working together, testing hypotheses, and solving problems at sea. Within this community, many scientists have inspired me, but a few who have had the biggest impacts are Peter Flemings, Lisa McNeill, Casey Moore, Greg Moore, Demian Saffer, Marta Torres, and Mike Underwood. I thank them. Most of all, I thank my family, wife, and children, who support me as I chase my dreams.

—Brandon Dugan, Colorado School of Mines, Golden