The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes Esteban Gazel, an assistant professor in the College of Science, for revealing the processes that shaped the Earth.
A geoscientist, Gazel led an international research team that revealed new information about how continents were generated on Earth more than 2.5 billion years ago — and how those processes have continued within the last 70 million years to profoundly affect the planet's life and climate.
In a study in Nature Geoscience, Gazel and colleagues detailed how relatively recent geologic events — volcanic activity 10 million years ago in what is now Panama and Costa Rica — hold the secrets of the extreme continent-building that took place during the Archaean Eon, when the Earth was three times hotter, volcanic activity was considerably higher, and life was limited at best.
Many scientists think that all of the planet's continental crust was generated during this time in Earth's history, and the material continually recycled through collisions of tectonic plates on the outermost shell of the planet. But Gazel’s research showed "juvenile" continental crust has been produced throughout Earth's history.
The discovery provides new understanding about the formation of a unique characteristic of the planet — the continental crust, masses of buoyant rock that keep the whole planet from being covered with water.
A native of Costa Rica, Gazel was the first geoscientist to be selected by Costa Rica’s El Financiero newspaper — the nation’s leading business newspaper — as one of 40 people under 40 who have positively influenced the region.
The newspaper cited Gazel’s rising trajectory in science from receiving the National Science Award of Costa Rica in 2009, to earning a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University for 2009-2011, to his current role at Virginia Tech.
Gazel translates his passion for geology for his students in the classroom. He says this is a crucial time for geosciences — population growth is forcing human development into areas at risk of natural hazards. Energy and other natural resources are being depleted, increasing the need for trained geoscientists. His mission is to contribute to the education of the next generation of geoscientists so that they can bring solutions to these challenges.
Gazel received his bachelor's degree from the University of Costa Rica and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University.