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Wes Hildreth

My eclectic and evolving USGS career began in 1977 when I was 39.  I’m a field-intensive continental geologist interested in magmatism, geomorphology, tectonics, and deep-time (not real-time) geologic history.  I’ve emphasized on-foot authentic geologic mapping of blank spots on the map, largely in wilderness or otherwise uninhabited areas.  

My early work attracted AGU’s Bowen Award for chemical petrology (magmatic zonation of the Bishop Tuff and Novarupta 1912, isotope evolution of caldera cycles at Yellowstone, advancing the model of fundamentally basaltic transcrustal magmatism [JGR 1981]; and I was excused the wild-goose chase of Soret effects in magma chambers). IAVCEI later gave me the Thorarinsson Medal in Volcanology, recognizing numerous papers on the Katmai region, the Cascades, the Chilean Andes, my deep-crustal MASH model of arc magmatism, and the granitic Mush model of rhyolite melt extraction. GSA recently gave me (and Judy Fierstein) the 2019 Florence Bascom Geologic Mapping Award, which celebrated what I love doing best (geologic maps of Mount Adams, Mount Baker, Three Sisters, Katmai, Simcoe Mountains, Pantelleria, Quizapu–Descabezado, Mammoth Mountain, Laguna del Maule, and Long Valley caldera. Early-on, I set aside my loner tendency (imprudent in remote areas) and teamed up with Judy Fierstein, an intrepid and indefatigable field partner of 41 years. Honi soit qui mal y pense. We survived or dodged many and varied risks together. The renowned Argon Geochronology Lab at Menlo Park (directed by Brent Dalrymple, Marv Lanphere, and Andy Calvert) has been an essential support of much of our work. My career owes much to many USGS colleagues, most of all to Patrick Muffler, Bob Christiansen, Paul Bateman, and Charlie Bacon.


Before USGS, I grew up bi-coastally in Dedham MA and Mill Valley CA. My first paper & pencil map was of Muddy River and the Fenway at age 8, and I have been a Red Sox fan ever since. I was a US Army private 1958–9 and Top Eight Phi Beta Kappa in my Harvard Class of 1960–61. I won Harvard’s Detur Award in the Humanities in 1958 and was a medalist (29th) in the 1960 Boston Marathon. My undergrad advisor, trilobite authority Harry Blackmore Whittington, offered me a thesis project on the Burgess Shale (perhaps a wonderful life but a career indoors, rejected); Harry chose better with Simon Conway Morris. As a Harvard Travelling Fellow, I went around the world alone 1961–62, ending up with two months training immersion at Percy Cerutty’s running camp in Victoria. Drove my VW van to Panama and back in 1963, meeting the Sandinista leadership in Estelí and Managua. After two years of Harvard grad school in International Affairs, I withdrew, alienated by bitterness over the Vietnam War and its Harvard faculty proponents. I was next a NPS Naturalist (John Muir style) at Death Valley, Muir Woods, Glacier Bay, Olympic, and Grand Canyon (1966–70). At Berkeley grad school in Geology, I was motivated by Ian Carmichael, Clyde Wahrhaftig, Mitch Reynolds, Herb Shaw, and Charlie Bacon. An all-nighter with Dallas Peck at the bar of a Baja rancheria sealed my USGS commitment. In 2021, I’m still “running” an hour every day, mapping, writing, and restraining my socio-political exasperation.

Professional Experience

  • 1966-1970  Naturalist, National Park Service 

  • 1973-1975  Instructor, University of California at Berkeley

  • 1977  Postdoc with Professor Ian Carmichael, Berkeley

  • 1977-date Research Geologist, U.S. Geological Survey. Projects at Yellowstone; Katmai, Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Kaguyak caldera (AK); Pantelleria (Italy); Mammoth Mountain, Long Valley caldera, Bishop Tuff, Death Valley NP, Mojave National Preserve (CA); Mount Adams, Mount Baker, Three Sisters, Simcoe Mountains (Cascades); Descabezado-Azul-Quizapu, Tupungato, Laguna del Maule (Chile)

  • 2006-date  Senior Scientist (ST), Department of the Interior

  • Co-P.I. on Scientific Plan (1986) and Proposal for Research Drilling (1987) at Katmai.

  • International Development Bank USGS-Chile-Peru-Bolivia project on Volcanic-hosted Precious-metal Deposits in the Andes, 1990.

  • Co-P.I., NSF project, Chile: "Life History of an Arc Volcano,” M.A. Dungan, leader; 1991–1993.

  • Scientific Advisory Team, Long Valley Observatory, California Volcano Observatory, 2002­­–.

Education and Certifications

  • Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts (B.A., 1961)

  • University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D., 1977)

    Dissertation Advisors: Ian S.E. Carmichael (UC Berkeley), Charles M. Gilbert (UC Berkeley), Herbert R. Shaw (USGS)

Affiliations and Memberships

  • Editorial Board, Bulletin of Volcanology, 1991-2001.

  • Associate Editor, JGR, 1984-86; special issue on Open Magmatic Systems.

  • Associate Editor, Andean Geology (formerly Revista Geológica de Chile, 1987-present

  • USGS Volcano Science Center, Publications review & approval designee, 1996-2013.

  • Geological Society of America, Fellow.

  • American Geophysical Union (AGU), Fellow.

  • AGU Fellows Selection Committee 2008–2012

  • International Association of Volcanology & Chemistry of Earth's Interior (IAVCEI)

  • IAVCEI Honors and Awards Committee 2012–2015

Honors and Awards

  • Detur Book Prize, Harvard College, 1958, Humanities; awarded annually since 1657.

  • Outstanding Soldier of the Cycle, 1959, U.S. Army.

  • Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard College, 1960 (Junior year election of top 8 in class of 1100).

  • Boston Marathon 1960, 29th place (Medals to top 35).

  • Sheldon Traveling Fellow, Harvard, 1961–1962 (Europe, Middle East, South Asia).

  • G.K. Gilbert Fellowship (U.S. Geological Survey), Chilean Andes, 1983–1985.

  • N.L. Bowen Award, 1985, American Geophysical Union.

  • Fellow of the Geological Society of America, 1985

  • Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, 1995.

  • Thorarinsson Medal, International Association of Volcanology & Chemistry of Earth's Interior: highest award in International Volcanology, 2004.

  • Meritorious Service Award, Department of the Interior, 2004.

  • Bascom Geologic Mapping Award, Geological Society of America, 2019

Abstracts and Presentations

  • Circum-Pacific Plutonism Project (IGCP), 1977; Invited Speaker, Japan-Korea Excursion.

  • Penrose Conference on Granitic Magmas, 1978; Invited Keynote Speaker.

  • Gordon Conference on Silicate Melt Structure, 1979; Invited Keynote Speaker.

  • Penrose Conference on Silicic Volcanism, 1980; Invited Keynote Speaker.

  • IAVCEI Conference on Arc Volcanism, Tokyo, 1981; Invited Speaker.

  • Tin Resources Working and Information Group; 1983.

  • USGS Distinguished Bradley Lecturer, 1983.

  • Co-Convenor of Conference on Open Magmatic Systems, Taos, New Mexico, 1984.

  • Workshops on Geothermal Resources of the Cascade Range, 1985; 1988; panelist, speaker.

  • IAVCEI Conference, New Zealand, 1986; Invited Speaker.

  • Hawaii Symposium on How Volcanoes Work, Hilo, 1987; Symposium Organizer.

  • IAVCEI—IUGG General Assembly, Vancouver, 1987; Symposium Organizer.

  • IAVCEI General Assembly, Santa Fe, 1989; Program Committee.

  • IAVCEI Commission on Explosive Volcanism: Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes (Alaska) field-trip leader; 10 days on foot, 1991.

  • GSA Annual Meeting, Seattle, 1994, Opening Keynote Speaker on Cascade Magmatism.

  • Penrose Conference on Silicic Magmatism, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 2001; Opening Keynote Speaker, “Critical overview of silicic magmatism.”

  • Scientific Committee, IAVCEI General Assembly (Chile, 2004), 2002-04. Convener of Symposium on Arc Magmatism. Thorarinsson Lecturer.

  • GSA Cordilleran Section Meeting, 2010, Field trip leader, Long Valley and Mammoth Mountain.

  • Devils Postpile National Monument, Centennial Celebration, 2011, Field trip leader.

  • National Park Service Centennial Speaker 2016, at Devils Postpile National Monument.

  • IAVCEI General Assembly, Portland, OR, 2017, Invited Keynote Speaker on Geologic Mapping. Field-trip leader to Long Valley caldera and the Bishop Tuff.

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