As long as we are on the subject, what sorts of things might be worth Nobel Prizes in geoscience? There are two aspects of the Nobels that differ from most geoscience prizes: they are for a particular discovery, and from what GG understands, the committee considers discoveries only to be Nobel-worthy if others have built upon those discoveries. A challenge any earth science Nobel committee would face is the fairly collaborative nature of the field–picking out a couple of people might be hard.
Certainly lots of the pieces of plate tectonics years ago would have produced some Nobels, but let’s imagine things that are closer to the present.
- Ambient noise tomography strikes GG as something that might be considered worthy. At a minimum, it rescued EarthScope from promises made that could not otherwise have been kept.
- Slow-slip/tremor in subduction zones seems a worthy discovery as the community tries to see if this has any use in earthquake prediction or as a means of better understanding earthquake rupture processes and earth rheologies.
- Snowball Earth shook up our complacency about how static Earth environments have been and suggested more extreme relationships between climate and evolutionary events. A similar argument can be made for the meteorite impact at the end of the Cretaceous.
- Dating of detrital zircons stands out as a new technique that has mushroomed in understanding sedimentary systems. Some of that credit too goes to the development of tools like a laser ablation-ICPMS technique now widely applied in these kinds of studies.
- Perhaps the identification of the post-perovskite phase (or maybe we should now call it the post-bridgmanite phase) merits an award as this helps to untangle the mysteries at the bottom of the mantle.
- The role of water in nominally anhydrous minerals might even be something to consider as water seems to affect material properties as well as having important implications for melts in the mantle and a global water cycle.
- Anisotropy of earth materials shows up in many places. You could start with SKS splitting analysis and go forward from there.
- InSAR analysis revealed just how elastic the earth really is and has opened a means of monitoring remote areas that was impossible before.
- The GRACE mission has removed a lot of ambiguity in the changes in water storage around the world, including and most prominently in the major ice sheets.
Anyways, this gives you some food for thought. Feel free to add your own “nominations” in the comments section.