Professor emeritus dies at age 81 after devoting life to geology research

UC Berkeley professor emeritus Ian Carmichael, who devoted his life to the research of volcanoes and other geological processes, died Aug. 26 after battling prostate cancer and kidney disease. He was 81.

Carmichael’s research led him to all corners of the planet, from New Guinea to Africa, where he used groundbreaking geological methods to gain a better understanding of the volcanic processes that shape the Earth. He studied the chemical composition of lava and minerals to reconstruct volcanic biographies, predict future eruptions and better understand planetary conditions far below the crust.

Carmichael was an important contributor to the geological community, to the point that he had a mineral — carmichaelite, a hydroxyl-bearing titanate found in the southwestern United States — named after him.

“He imprinted a very important signature on volcanic sciences,” said Hugo Delgado Granados, a professor at the Institute of Geophysics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who is currently on sabbatical at UC Berkeley. “Ian was one of the pillars of the current trends in geological science, specifically petrology.”

Carmichael, who graduated with a B.A. in geology from Cambridge University in 1954, twice served as chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Geology and Geophysics — now the Department of Earth and Planetary Science — and was acting director of the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley  from 1997 to 1998.

He also served as editor in chief of the journal Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology from 1973 to 1990.

Granados met Carmichael when the UC Berkeley professor was performing research in southwest Mexico. Carmichael was the first to notice the unparalleled diversity of rock in the region — known as the Jalisco Block — which challenged the theory of plate tectonics. The question of how this extraordinary variety of rock came to be dominated Carmichael’s work in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Some of Carmichael’s most notable contributions to UC Berkeley occurred during his time as director of the Lawrence Hall of Science, including the introduction of an outdoor exhibit,  Forces That Shape the Bay, which allows visitors to experience the pressures and forces that have shaped the region’s geological history.

Carmichael received a Berkeley Citation in 2003 after nearly 40 years at the campus, honoring his achievements and distinguishing him as an extraordinary member of the faculty.

“He was a very good scientist,” Granados said of Carmichael’s legacy. “He was profound.”

Carmichael is survived by his brother Keith, daughters Deborah and Anthea, son Graham and six grandchildren. His son, Alistair, preceded him in death.

A public memorial service is planned for Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Lawrence Hall of Science.