About UCMP : UCMP newsletter

Our friend and collaborator, Garniss Curtis, passed away on December 19 at the age of 93
by Bill Clemens

Garniss Curtis

Garniss Curtis, ca 1960s.
Garniss had a long and distinguished career as a member of the faculty of what is now the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. He then moved on to play a major role in the establishment of the Berkeley Geochronology Center. As a member of the faculty, he was an inspiring teacher who contributed to the education of generations of students who were associated with UCMP. Garniss promoted extensive and precise field investigations that provided the geological context of fossil localities.

Early in the 1960s, Garniss and the late UC Berkeley professors John Reynolds and Jack Evernden pioneered the development of radiometric age determinations. Their research was based on the radioactive decay of potassium into argon in volcanic rocks. At the same time, another UC Berkeley professor and long-time member of UCMP, Donald Savage, was evaluating what we thought we knew of the sequence of the prehistoric mammalian faunas in North America. In addition to their sequence, how old were they? What was the tempo of their evolution? How did the pattern of evolution of mammals and other terrestrial vertebrates in North America relate to those of vertebrates on other continents?

Recognizing that many of these faunas came from deposits interbedded with volcanic ashes, Garniss and Don began a series of collaborative research projects. Their first studies focused on the North American fossil record and clearly demonstrated that radiometric age determinations of volcanic ashes could provide a temporal framework for ordering prehistoric faunas. Soon they were investigating the geology and paleontology of deposits in northern Italy and southern France that were formed near the beginning of the Pleistocene and correlating them with North American faunas. The record of the scientifically significant results of subsequent collaborative research projects involving Garniss and members of UCMP is too dense to repeat here.

On retirement from the UC Berkeley faculty, Garniss moved his laboratory facility to what is now the Berkeley Geochronology Center, housed just a block north of the UC campus. The scientists at the Center continue the tradition of close cooperation with members of UCMP. Together their work is producing a clearer appreciation of the global patterns and tempo of evolution of the Earth's biota.

A celebration of Garniss' life will be held at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club from 2:00 to 5:00 PM on September 29, 2013. Read more recollections of Garniss' remarkable life and additional details of the celebration.

Garniss Curtis photo by Dennis Galloway, © UC Berkeley