Fall 2021

Earth Sleuth

Investigative geologist returns to lead College of Science

Carmala Garzione ’96 ’00 has been fascinated by Earth and the story of its rocks since she was a child. She collected and inspected minerals. She hiked and explored, wondering why we have mountains in some places and not others. That curious child became an Earth scientist who uncovers the tales rocks tell, and today she is the dean of the College of Science at the University of Arizona, where she earned master’s and doctorate degrees in geosciences.

“There’s a story in everything geological. If you’re looking at a microscopic scale of a rock, you can tell a story about what that rock went through,” Garzione says. “Or you could be looking at a whole mountain range, and that mountain range has a story behind it. And that history is sleuthed out through physical and chemical observations as well as physical models that can describe the observations. I love how integrative geology is.” 
Garzione came to UArizona from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she was associate provost for faculty affairs. Her specialty is plate tectonics and paleoclimate, the understanding of how Earth’s evolution has influenced climate over time. 

"Right now, because of human emission of CO2 related to burning of fossil fuels, Earth’s CO2 concentrations are similar or headed toward what Earth looked liked between about 5 and 8 million years ago,” she says. “Earth was a lot warmer then, and so one of the goals of studying paleoclimate at that time is to understand where Earth’s climate may be headed in the future.”

Carmala Garzione Snapshot

What do you enjoy most about Tucson?  

Wide open spaces and views of mountains in all directions. I love the desert here. It’s the most beautiful desert I’ve ever seen or experienced.  

Ready for trekking in the desert?

I love hiking, and there’s a lot of remote and wild hiking that you can do in and around Tucson. It feels like there’s a trail in every corner of the city with access to backcountry. 

Do you see your passion for hiking extend to geology?

Fieldwork and hiking are a big part of the joy of geology research — getting out into the field and observing and collecting data. I’m always pointing out things on my family hikes. Fortunately, my family enjoys doing a little “field work” on our hikes.

What’s an idea you geek out about?

The thrill of exploration of space always draws me in, whether it’s exoplanets, astrophysical phenomena or places within our own solar system. 

What is a little-known talent of yours?

I’m really good with animals. Different types of creatures have lived in our house at different times. We’ve had chickens, ferrets, hermit crabs, reptiles, saltwater and freshwater fish, and a lot of different insects and creepy crawlies. We raised tadpoles this spring. We’re kind of an evolving zoo.

What aspects of your career will YOU miss as dean?

I love teaching, and I’m going to miss that. I hope that students view me as accessible and there to understand their experience and support their needs and goals. 

What is your personal mantra?

Self-improvement is a mantra that extends both to myself and the way I interact with people. Continual improvement has motivated me throughout my career.