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October 29, 2004

Russell McDuff becomes director of UW School of Oceanography

News and Information

An internationally known researcher in marine geology and geophysics has been named director of the University of Washington’s School of Oceanography.

Russell McDuff, a UW faculty member since 1981, has served the last 14 years as associate director overseeing $7 million a year in grants and contracts for the school’s computing, research and shore facilities and the school’s vessels, including the 274-foot Thomas G. Thompson. One of only five such specialized ships in the U.S. academic fleet, maintenance and operation of the ship pumps $1 million a year into the Puget Sound economy.

The School of Oceanography has 50 faculty and 97 staff and has been ranked in recent years by the National Research Council as one of the three best programs in the nation. The UW is the only U.S. institution to offer both graduate and undergraduate degrees in oceanography. The school’s graduate students and undergraduate majors have opportunities to go to sea and work in research labs alongside faculty members.

McDuff studies the exchange of heat and chemicals between the ocean and ocean crust at places, for example, off the coast of Washington where hydrothermal vent structures produce otherworldly landscapes. The structures form after seawater circulates down into crevices and cracks in the seafloor and becomes loaded with dissolved chemicals. Eventually there is enough heat for the fluids to rise and vent back into the ocean, sometimes as forceful jets hotter than 750 F. As the fluids mix with frigid ocean water, the minerals solidify, forming mounds, spires and chimney-like structures.

Exactly how much heat is discharged remains a puzzle. McDuff’s recent work includes a project in 2000 that provided scientists with the first ever high-precision measurements of one specific hydrothermal vent system. Last summer he led an expedition off the coast of Washington trying a novel approach that doesn’t attempt to measure the actual amount of water venting out of a valley on the seafloor but instead uses current meters to measure how much water is being drawn — or entrained — into the valley to fuel the venting that occurs.

McDuff has supervised, or been on the supervisory committees, for 70 graduate students and in 1996 won the distinguished graduate teaching award from the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, of which the School of Oceanography is part.

McDuff earned his bachelor’s in chemistry 1973 from the California Institute of Technology and his doctorate in oceanography in 1978 from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1978 until 1980, prior to coming to the UW as a research assistant professor. He became a professor in 1999.

The School of Oceanography’s previous director, Bruce Frost, has returned to the faculty.


For more information:

McDuff, (206) 543-3058,