Earth Institute Profiles

G. Michael Purdy

Director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

G. Michael Purdy

Michael Purdy, a native of England, has always been drawn to the sea. He spent more than two months a year for 25 years on the water, pursuing a successful career as a marine seismologist. In 2000, he became the director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the largest unit of the Earth Institute.

These days, Purdy’s time at sea is limited to navigating his small sailboat in Long Island Sound. His time ashore is busy charting the course of the world-renowned research center, which specializes in research of the solid Earth, the atmosphere and the oceans, with a particular emphasis on the climate system.

Before coming to Lamont-Doherty, Purdy's research career focused on studying the structure of Earth's ocean lithosphere through the use of techniques in experimental seismology. He believes that the knowledge humankind requires for developing our planet in a responsible and sustainable manner can only be gained “through the building of new collaborations among fundamental earth science, engineering, social science and policy communities.” During his tenure as the head of Lamont-Doherty, researchers at the Observatory have made significant advances in our understanding of how the planet's climate systems and ecosystems are evolving and changing over time.

In 2006 Purdy was awarded the Maurice Ewing Medal by the American Geophysical Union for his more than three decades of dedication as a researcher, innovator and administrator in the earth sciences. And through Purdy’s leadership, Lamont-Doherty instituted the “Director’s Series on the Science of Diversity,” which draws together researchers from a variety of disciplines to speak openly and candidly on issues of gender differences and academic diversity.

Purdy began his career at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts as a postdoctoral scholar, where he specialized in observational ocean bottom seismology and studied the structure and dynamics of the Earth's crust beneath the ocean. In 1991 he became chairman of its Department of Geology and Geophysics (G&G), one of the world's leading marine geology and geophysics departments, and spent the next four years gaining experience in national and international marine science planning and administration. In 1995 he joined the federal government as director of the Division of Ocean Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), where for five years he managed an annual budget of more than $200 million—the primary source of funding for ocean science research to universities in the nation. While at NSF, he established a new multidisciplinary research program, “Life in Extreme Environments,” and built several valuable interagency collaborations.

Purdy has authored and co-authored more than 60 research articles in peer-reviewed journals, over 20 other reports and articles, and more than 100 published conference abstracts.

Purdy received his B.S. with Honors from Imperial College, London University, in 1969, and his M.S. in 1970 from the same institution. He earned his Ph.D. in marine geophysics at the University of Cambridge, U.K., in 1974.