Jaime Urrutia Fucugauchi

2013 International Award Winner

Jaime Urrutia Fucugauchi received the 2013 International Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 11 December 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors “an individual scientist or a small team for making an outstanding contribution to furthering the Earth and space sciences and using science for the benefit of society in developing nations.”


Jaime Urrutia Fucugauchi was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. His surname Urrutia means “distant” in Basque, and Fucugauchi means roughly “Good luck—come in!” in Japanese. And Jaime, of course, is “James” in Spanish. Thus, Jaime was international from birth. There could hardly have been a better candidate for the AGU International Award.

Jaime did his bachelor’s degree at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and his Ph.D. at the University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. He spent a year as a postdoc at the University of Michigan, where he did research in paleomagnetism and nuclear geophysics. Back at UNAM he mounted a first-rate paleomagnetism lab, which expanded to a network of laboratory facilities, and began publishing his several hundred contributions on age determinations, paleoclimates, tectonics, and environmental pollution. In 1997 he was appointed director of the Institute of Geophysics at UNAM, and in June 2013, he became a member of the UNAM Board of Governors, the highest corporate body of the university, which appoints the rector and the directors of schools and research institutes. Jaime has also served as International Secretary of AGU, an elected office that involves membership of the Board of Directors of AGU. The list of Jaime’s well­deserved awards and distinctions is overwhelming. He is an enthusiastic promoter of international collaboration.

Let me tell you briefly about Jaime’s work on the Chicxulub impact crater. Jaime picked up where his professor Antonio Camargo, a geophysical engineer at PEMEX, left off. PEMEX was after discoveries of a different sort. The peculiar disturbed area of the Yucatan Peninsula where the asteroid had impacted 66 million years ago did not look promising as an oil field. But Jaime realized that this was a major discovery even though many experts were doubtful. So he organized a homegrown effort that took a decade of exploration. The crater measures more than 200 km across, half on land and half offshore. Now, it is agreed that the age of the impact was close to 66 million years, which coincides with the extinction of land-based dinosaurs and oceangoing ammonites, among others. Jaime’s persistence has led to several major projects investigating the crater structure, deformation, drilling, ejecta blanket, and impact effects. The violence of the impact had indeed caused local rocks to form tektites, shocked quartz features, and the globally distributed ejecta layer that marks the K-T boundary.

Congratulations to Jaime for his valuable contributions to geophysics and his well-deserved award. ¡Enhorabuena!


Thank you, Cinna, for your kind and generous citation and for your friendship. It is a great recognition having been selected for the 2013 International Award. I feel honored, especially considering the international breadth of AGU, fostering scientific excellence and promoting research in Earth and space sciences worldwide. AGU has evolved over the years, becoming increasingly international and multidisciplinary, providing the intellectual framework and networking for research collaboration. I have been privileged to serve as International Secretary of the Union, which together with work in the committees permitted me to better appreciate the range of activities and the programs AGU does to serve its membership and the geophysics community.

As Professor Lomnitz points out, I started doing research in paleomagnetism after having been trained in exploration geophysics. At the time, the lack of laboratory facilities was an incentive to create a network of laboratories to carry on the research projects, which in turn prompted work on tectonics, stratigraphy, geochronology, paleoclimates, and, eventually, impact craters. The research on the Chicxulub impact has been an interesting, wonderful adventure constantly opening new avenues as we attempted to move forward. The studies on the impact and the Cretaceous­Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary involve researchers from many different disciplines and from several countries, becoming a major international interdisciplinary effort. The structure marking the impact site is located in the Yucatan platform in the southern Gulf of Mexico. It was first explored by the Petroleos Mexicanos oil company and was interpreted in terms of an impact crater by Antonio Camargo and Glen Penfield. The Chicxulub crater is the source for the globally distributed K-Pg boundary layer. The impact affected the life support systems of the planet, causing the mass extinction of organisms at the K-Pg boundary. Professor Camargo was a gifted and generous person who contributed greatly to the oil exploration programs and at the same time mentored generations of geophysicists in the country.

Carrying out research in developing countries presents additional challenges due to limited resources and often inadequate infrastructure. Geosciences research increasingly requires global multidisciplinary approaches. Understanding how deeply interrelated Earth’s components and processes, population growth, increased needs of mineral and energy resources, global anthropogenic impacts, and studying the planet as an interconnected system are emphasizes the need of international cooperation. In the short and long term, all efforts to promote and facilitate interactions and cooperation among scientists from diverse regions and disciplines will strengthen and bring benefits to the geosciences community and society.

I am grateful to the students and colleagues who over the years have shared the passion for the studies and projects, making the whole enterprise a wonderful adventure. I thank Cinna Lomnitz, Xixi Zhao, Tom Beer, Ligia Pérez-Cruz, Stefano Vignudelli, and Marina Stepanova and all my friends for their support, with my thanks and love to Ligia, Araxi, Avedis, Dario, Humberto, and Margarita. Finally, thanks to the American Geophysical Union for providing a stimulating and inspiring environment for unselfish cooperation and for the advancement of science.

—JAIME URRUTIA FUCUGAUCHI, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico