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Behl to Receive Distinguished Educator Award From Petroleum Geologists’ Association

Published: May 17, 2010

Professor Richard J. Behl of CSULB’s Department of Geological Sciences will receive the 2010 Distinguished Educator Award during the 85th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG).

The award will be presented Friday, May 28, at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel during a combined event that also includes the 106th annual meeting of the Cordilleran Section of the Geological Society of America as well as meetings of the Western Regional Society of Petroleum Engineers; Pacific Section of the Society for Sedimentary Geology; Los Angeles Basin Geological Society; and Pacific Coast Section of Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

However, Behl said he will have to miss the award luncheon in order to attend the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ Commencement ceremony, where three of his graduate students will earn Master’s degrees and a group of his undergraduates advisees will receive their bachelor’s degrees.

Behl, who joined CSULB in 1995, is an expert in marine sedimentology, stratigraphy, paleoceanography and paleoclimatology, focusing on coastal California’s tectonic and sedimentary history. He earned a B.A. in chemistry from UC San Diego, a Ph.D. in earth sciences from UC Santa Cruz, and has experience as a petroleum geologist.

“I think, in part, I was honored because of my efforts towards giving my students connections with the petroleum industry, to find them part-time jobs while they’re students and have them placed in full-time positions after they graduate,” Behl said. “I participate a lot in the AAPG meetings, leading field trips and convening technical sessions and participating in the annual student expos, which are combination job fairs and research symposia.”

Behl brings students to monthly luncheon meetings of the Los Angeles Basin Geological Society and takes them on yearly field trips of professional geological organizations. Behl said that local geology firms often contribute toward the students’ attendance costs, both to support the students and develop professional connections with the university and their future work force.

At CSULB, Behl earned a 2004 Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award and is a co-founder of the university’s Institute for Integrated Research in Materials, Environments, and Society (IIRMES), a state-of-the-art, interdisciplinary laboratory that conducts research on societies, environments and materials. He is also one of the Geology, Geography and Archaeology faculty that make up CSULB’s Geosciences Diversity Enhancement Program (GDEP), funded by the National Science Foundation to train and recruit high school and community college students from underrepresented minority groups into the geosciences.

Behl is active in a number of domestic and international research organizations and projects, including a National Science Foundation-funded project that is testing the potential of Santa Barbara Channel sediments or recording climate change over the past 1.2 million years under the auspices of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.

“Paleoclimatology and paleooceanography are very important because they are what we base our understanding of how the Earth operates,” he explained. “We need to know what has actually happened in the past. How fast can a change occur; what triggers it; what are the effects; what feedbacks might occur that make things worse or amplifies a change?”

The AAPG named him a Distinguished Lecturer for 2003-04 and arranged for him to travel across the U.S. and Canada to speak about his research. He also was the 2006-07 president of the Pacific Section of the Society for Sedimentary Geology. This April, he traveled to Estonia to serve as a co-chair of the International Past Global Change Program Varves Working Group, an affiliate of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program. Varves are annual layers of sediment or sedimentary rock that can provide detailed clues to climatic change over time, he said.

A resident of Laguna Beach, Behl continues to train volunteer docents and develop educational materials for visitors at Orange County wilderness parks. “A year or so ago, when I had a group of students and high school teachers working with me as part of our GDEP program, we created a series of geologic trail guides that are now going into print and will be distributed in the parks,” he said. Furthermore, he and other CSULB students helped design some of the parks’ signs and exhibits. “I’m working closely right now on a new interactive computer-driven three-dimensional geology exhibit for the Nix Nature Center at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park that will help visitors understand the relationship between the geology, landforms, ecosystems, and the past and present human usage of the area.”

For more information about Behl’s research, visit his Web site.

–Anne Ambrose