Focus Area Lead

Marcus Bursik

Professor and Chair

Department of Geology

Professor Bursik's Biography

Marcus Bursik received the Ph.D. degree from Caltech in 1989. He studied geology and geophysics.   He joined UB in 1992 after serving at University of Cambridge and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Since 2000 he has been full professor of geology in the Department of Geo- logical Sciences, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, and is currently chair of the department. He has held visiting professor and scientist positions at Universidad Nacional Autonomo de Mexico, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He has published more than 100 papers and two books. His main interest is volcanic hazards, plume dynamics and tephrochronology, especially in the Mono-Inyo Craters, California. He is a member of the American Geophysical Union and a life member of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior. 


Long-term, we seek to create a cadre of graduates with world leading expertise and substantial capacity in all topics related to research, education and training in climate change, environmental justice and vulnerability, sea-level rise and global impacts and risks.  For example, we have the potential to be the top university in training students to understand sea-level rise induced by climate change, and to help society map out appropriate responses for a sustainable future.  Short-term, with a hire in climate modeling, UB would harbor one of the top US research groups focused on climate and ice sheet change.  We thus propose the hire of an expert in climate modeling, probably focused on ice sheets, but with sufficiently broad interests and abilities not only to integrate current data-driven research within a theoretical framework, but also to bridge to the greater climate system, related hazards through a strong link with the Center for Geohazards Studies (CGS), and ultimately to environmental and societal impacts.


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There is an opportunity here to provide answers to some of the most important, practical scientific questions facing humanity today.   The climate is changing.  Average global temperature has risen 1°C since 1900, but the mean arctic air temperature is currently rising at almost 0.5°C/decade.  This rise is having devastating effects on ice masses, which hold almost 70% of the world’s fresh water supply.  The extreme melting is particularly extensive in the Greenland Ice Sheet, which holds a staggering 10% of the global freshwater supply (Fig. 2).  The physical link between temperature rise and melting is, however, poorly understood.  Its elucidation requires precise ice-sheet extent and elevation data gathered in difficult conditions, coupled with complex numerical modeling of the entire atmosphere-ocean-ice system.  As this link becomes better understood, however, we will be able to move towards less uncertain forecasting of the potential sea level rise induced by the melting.  Once we have this knowledge, what do we do with it?  Our current capabilities in hazards and risk analysis is geared towards phenomena that are characterized, relative to the sea-level rise problem, by extremely quick onset, and localized devastation.  Coastal communities are on the front-line of the hazard and risks.  According to a World Bank study, five of the ten cities most at risk from flooding damage are in the US, and New York City follows only Miami (the other cities are all in China, India and Japan).  If we can begin to forecast the potential sea-level rise, and if we can begin to understand how to treat slow onset, widespread devastation hazards, what policies are governments to put into place to mitigate the damages?

We have an opportunity in this area to provide leadership capable of building on and creatively synthesizing university investments in CGS, the Extreme Events Strategic Strength, 3E projects, and previous faculty hires.  This focus area should provide leadership and forums for faculty cooperation and interdisciplinary research on climate change.

Ultimately, we can set the standard for innovative, interdisciplinary research and scholarship aimed at understanding climate change and sea-level rise, mitigating its impacts, and optimizing societal resilience and a regenerative economy. The work in this focus area will build on UB’s long-standing contributions to climate change science, hazard science, and multi-hazard engineering.  We can develop a cadre of graduates capable of working with and in civil defense and government to define climate change impacts and institute appropriate responses.  We have the opportunity to train, here in Buffalo, at undergraduate and graduate levels, a generation of students who are strongly grounded in their main area of interest but who can understand the “languages” and needs of other disciplines that touch upon climate change. 

View the Focus Area Presentation at the RENEW Roll-Out Meeting on May 25th, 2016