University of New Mexico Distinguished Professor Yemane Asmerom was elected as an American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fellow. He joined 53 other individuals from around the world in the 2022 Class of Fellows.  

Since 1962, the AGU Union Fellows Committee has selected less than 0.1% of members as new Fellows. AGU, a nonprofit organization that supports 130,000 enthusiasts to experts worldwide in Earth and space sciences, annually recognizes a select number of individuals as part of its Honors and Recognition program.

Yemane Asmerom - AGU fellow
Distinguished Professor Yemane Asmerom elected AGU Fellow.

Asmerom was selected because he made outstanding achievements and contributions by pushing forward the frontiers of our science. In particular, he is being recognized for his seminal contributions to the study of climate change. He also embodies AGU’s vision of a thriving, sustainable, and equitable future powered by discovery, innovation, and action. Equally important is that he conducted himself with integrity, respect, and collaboration while creating deep engagement in education, diversity, and outreach. Asmerom’s research interests range from the study of climate and sea level change to the evolution of the solid earth and early solar system utilizing radiogenic isotopes.  

“Starting from a small poor farming village in Eritrea to this has been a dizzying journey. I was blessed with amazing teachers, my 4th-grade math teacher who taught me algebra, my 7th-grade English teacher who built my confidence to speak in “another tongue” opening the world to me and myself to the world and my 12th-grade geography teacher who planted the seed that blossomed to the love of my science. I came to this country to escape war and satisfy a deep hunger for education, with $20 to my name. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of strangers I got the best of what this wonderful Country can offer to satisfy my hunger,” said Asmerom. “I started and prospered at UNM because some great UNM administrators decided to bet big on my vision in starting my lab.

“And critically, I was fortunate enough to continue to benefit from the skill and hard work of our people at every level, people such as my department collaborator Victor Polyak, electronic engineer Chris Anderson, and UNM personnel at Physical Plant, Research Administration, Communication, to name a few. The best ideas are the product of collaborations. I am fortunate to have collaborators who are brilliant, open, and with an abundance mindset here at UNM and around the World.”

Earth and Planetary Sciences Professor Tobias Fischer, a colleague of Asmerom’s for years, talked about his speleothem research which has garnered worldwide recognition.

“Professor Asmerom is a world leader in speleothem continental climate reconstructions. He, his colleagues, and students have put UNM on the map for high precision dating of speleothems that resulted in ground-breaking insights into climate evolution in North America, Central America, and the North Atlantic over time scales from recent to glacial,” said Earth and Planetary Sciences Professor Tobias Fischer. “His work places critical constraints on the climate of the past and therefore puts into perspective the current climate change we are experiencing.

“Prof. Asmerom’s other main contribution is understanding the transfer and timing of materials from the Earth’s interior to the surface through intraplate volcanism. His detailed and challenging work on short-lived radionuclides provided key constraints on the rates of melt and fluid transfer from the mantle to the surface in continental rift and volcanic arc settings. 

“To advance these lines of research, Professor Asmerom has built and maintained a world-class radiogenic isotope facility here at UNM that continues to produce results of the highest quality, receives a substantial amount of external research funding, trains numerous students, and hosts countless visitors per year. The award Professor Asmerom is receiving is well deserved and in line with the fact that UNM’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences is a top research entity and the highest ranked STEM department on campus.”

Keith Prufer, a professor in the Department of Anthropology who has collaborated with Asermom for 15 years on climate change and human societies in the tropics noted his work with radiogenic isotopes.

“He is certainly a leader in his field focused on climate change on various time scales,” said Prufer. “His lab is one of the foremost for developing precise age models based primarily on radiogenic isotopes of U/Th, and he is also deeply committed to linking age models to high-quality records that accurately reflect earth systems. In addition to being a rigorous scientist, Yemane is committed to producing research results that are both relevant to our current climate crisis from the perspective of understanding changes that will occur in the near future and how climate science may affect policies to mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

“Yemane is also a very strong advocate for diversity and equity in STEM and the academy generally. Yemane generally cares about the success of his colleagues, collaborators, and students. Much of the work we have done has resulted in papers led by graduate students or junior colleagues from universities in the US and abroad.”

Asmerom was made a Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 2015, and a Fellow of the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry in 2016.

AGU will formally recognize this year’s recipients during the #AGU22 Fall Meeting, Dec. 12-16, 2022 in Chicago, Ill., and online everywhere. This celebration is a chance for AGU’s community to recognize the outstanding work of our colleagues and be inspired by their accomplishments and stories.

Research stories involving Distinguished Professor Yemane Asmerom