Nicholas Christie-Blick

Earth and Environmental Sciences
Seismology Geology and Tectonophysics
215A Seismology
61 Route 9W - PO Box 1000
(845) 365-8180
(845) 365-8150
Fields of interest: 
Sedimentary Geology and Tectonics

My introduction to the world of geology began as little more than a passing fancy and a love of the great outdoors. When I showed up at the University of Cambridge in 1971 it was with every intention of studying physics. A spring field trip to the Scottish island of Arran soon led to a re-evaluation of priorities, but for largely visceral reasons rather than through any appreciation for the societal relevance of Earth science or whether I might be able to make a living as a geologist. A single job interview, with Consolidated Goldfields towards the end of 1973, and during my final year at Cambridge, went badly. I miscalculated how long it would take to ride “the tube” (subway) from the Chinese Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts to the company’s London office, and I do not think that I displayed much enthusiasm for moving to South Africa or for working underground. My decision a couple of months later to undertake a Ph.D. on Proterozoic glaciation was equally fateful – a byproduct of weekly “supervisions” (one on one discussions) with Brian Harland at Caius College, two conferences that I attended as an undergraduate, Dan McKenzie’s glowing endorsement of U.S. science over tea at Madingly Rise, an enthusiastic letter from John Crowell offering admission and a teaching assistantship at the University of California, Santa Barbara (my #1 choice), and the unexpected end of a personal relationship that might have provided a rationale for remaining in the U.K.

The Neoproterozoic Era proved to be a fertile research target – for its climatic extremes, as a threshold in the history of life, and for concomitant changes in sea level and the chemistry of the oceans and atmosphere. My research with students and collaborators over the years has touched on many aspects of this geology: its stratigraphy and sedimentology, paleobiology, paleomagnetics and isotope geochemistry, and in Australia, India and China as well as the western U.S., where I undertook my Ph.D. project. My broader interests in sedimentary geology and tectonics were stimulated by three years with Exxon in the early 1980s. Exxon was then at the center of a conceptual revolution, in which it was recognized that the best way to study sediments is with reference to their three-dimensional stratal geometry and the manner in which they accumulate layer by layer (sequence stratigraphy). This experience led to a second very fruitful research effort, in a range of geological settings, and with a focus on how sedimentation responds to a combination of sea-level change, deformation and other phenomena. A third area of research, in extensional tectonics, also has its roots in geological mapping in the Cordilleran orogen and Basin and Range Province undertaken as part of my Ph.D. study. However, I credit a late-night conversation with my colleague, Mark Anders in 1992 for an intellectual journey that we have taken together on the paradox of low-angle normal faulting.

Opportunities are available at Columbia for students to learn about and to undertake projects in these and other aspects of sedimentary geology and tectonics. Current research is aimed at such varied topics as how sedimentation responds to sea-level change, deformation and other phenomena; mechanisms of crustal extension, with particular reference to the low-angle normal fault paradox; and the geology of the Neoproterozoic Era.

I am lead proponent for an International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) initiative, Testing the Extensional Detachment Paradigm: A Borehole Observatory in the Sevier Desert Basin. Moving that initiative along is a priority for the 2013-14 academic year, beginning with a white paper and proposal to acquire seismic reflection data around the proposed drill site in the southern Sevier Desert basin. We continue to work at several other sites in the Basin and Range Province, from the Death Valley region to southern Nevada and southeastern Idaho. New work is planned on what are generally regarded as supradetachment basins of Devonian age in western Norway.

Another project that I hope to undertake in due course, once the political situation in Egypt becomes a little less chaotic, is an investigation of the combined influence of crustal deformation and eustasy on early Miocene sedimentation in the Gulf of Suez, Egypt. The research will involve high-resolution sequence stratigraphy and strontium isotope dating of shells and microfossils at one or more fault-related growth folds.

I have learned over the years that a good way to frame any research is to challenge conventional thinking, and to focus upon topics on which there is lively disagreement, because the goal of any project is surely to discover something new and not merely to describe another example of an already well understood phenomenon. Potential students are invited to place their email inquiries in the context of one or more general issues or hypotheses or questions of this kind, and the strategies that might be employed to tackle whatever they suggest.

List of degrees from highest to lowest:
Ph.D. (Geology)
University of California, Santa Barbara
B.A. (Natural Sciences/Geology)
University of Cambridge (King's College), UK
Honors & Awards: 
Distinguished Alumnus Award, Dept. of Earth Science, UC Santa Barbara, 2005
2003 Outstanding Paper in the Journal of Sedimentary Research awarded in 2005
Best Teacher Award, selected by DEES undergraduate students, 2010; and by graduate students in 2008 and 1996
Lamont/DEES Student List: 
A complete list of former students is included in my CV, which may be downloaded at:
Selected Publications: 
Geological time conventions and symbols, Christie-Blick, N. , GSA Today, 02/2012, Volume 22, Issue 2, p.28-29, (2012), 10.1130/G132GW.1

Do phreatomagmatic eruptions at Ubehebe Crater (Death Valley, California) relate to a wetter than present hydro-climate?, Sasnett, P.; Goehring, B.M.; Christie-Blick, N.; and Schaefer, J.M. , Geophysical Research Letters, 01/2012, Volume 39, (2012), 10.1029/2011GL050130

Condensation origin for Neoproterozoic cap carbonates during deglaciation, Kennedy, M.J.; and Christie-Blick, N. , Condensation origin for Neoproterozoic cap carbonates during deglaciation, 04/2011, Volume 39, p.319-322, (2011)

Neoproterozoic strata of southeastern Idaho and Utah: record of Cryogenian rifting and glaciation, Link, P.K.; and Christie-Blick, N. , The Geological Record of Neoproterozoic Glaciations, Number Memoir 36, London, p.425-436, (2011), 10.1144/M36.38

Testing the extensional detachment paradigm: A borehole observatory in the Sevier Desert basin, Christie-Blick, N.; Anders, M.H.; Manatschal, G.; Wernicke, B.P. , Scientific Drilling, Issue No. 8, p.57-59, (2009)

Stratigraphic controls on a salt-withdrawal intraslope minibasin, north-central Green Canyon, Gulf of Mexico: Implications for misinterpreting sea level change, Madof, A.S.; Christie-Blick, N.; Anders, M.H. , American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, Volume 93, p.535-561, (2009)

Re-evaluation of the middle Miocene Eagle Mountain Formation and its significance as a piercing point for the interpretation of extreme extension across the Death Valley region, California, U.S.A., Renik, B.; Christie-Blick, N.; Troxel, B. W.; Wright, L. A.; Niemi, N. A. , Journal of Sedimentary Research, Mar-Apr, Volume 78, Issue 3-4, p.199-219, (2008), Doi 10.2110/Jsr.2008.022

Resolving apparent conflicts between oceanographic and Antarctic climate records and evidence for a decrease in pCO(2) during the Oligocene through early Miocene (34-16 Ma), Pekar, S. F.; Christie-Blick, N. , Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, Apr 7, Volume 260, Issue 1-2, p.41-49, (2008), DOI 10.1016/j.palaeo.2007.08.019

Carbon isotope variability across the Ediacaran Yangtze platform in South China: Implications for a large surface-to-deep ocean delta C-13 gradient, Jiang, G. Q.; Kaufman, A. J.; Christie-Blick, N.; Zhang, S. H.; Wu, H. C. , Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Sep 15, Volume 261, Issue 1-2, p.303-320, (2007), DOI 10.1016/j.epsl.2007.07.009

Is there a role for sequence stratigraphy in chronostratigraphy?, Christie-Blick, N.; Pekar, S. F.; Madof, A. S. , Stratigraphy, Volume 4, Issue 2-3, p.217-229, (2007)

Observations from the Basin and Range Province (western United States) pertinent to the interpretation of regional detachment faults, Christie-Blick, N.; Anders, M.H.; Wills, S.; Walker, C.D.; and Renik, B. , Imaging, Mapping and Modelling Continental Lithosphere Extension and Breakup: Geological Society of London, Special Publication 282, p.419-439, (2007)

Distinguishing between rooted and rootless detachments: A case study from the Mormon Mountains of southeastern Nevada, Anders, M. H.; Christie-Blick, N.; Walker, C. D. , Journal of Geology, Nov, Volume 114, Issue 6, p.645-664, (2006)

The Ediacaran Period: a new addition to the geologic time scale, Knoll, A. H.; Walter, M. R.; Narbonne, G. M.; Christie-Blick, N. , Lethaia, Mar, Volume 39, Issue 1, p.13-30, (2006), Doi 10.1080/00241160500409223

Stratigraphy, sedimentary structures, and textures of the late neoproterozoic doushantuo cap carbonate in south China, Jiang, G. Q.; Kennedy, M. J.; Christie-Blick, N.; Wu, H. C.; Zhang, S. H. , Journal of Sedimentary Research, Jul-Aug, Volume 76, Issue 7-8, p.978-995, (2006), Doi 10.2110/Jsr.2006.086

Pattern of mesozoic thrust surfaces and tertiary normal faults in the Sevier Desert subsurface, west-central Utah, Wills, S.; Anders, M. H.; Christie-Blick, N. , American Journal of Science, Jan, Volume 305, Issue 1, p.42-100, (2005)

The phanerozoic record of global sea-level change, Miller, K. G.; Kominz, M. A.; Browning, J. V.; Wright, J. D.; Mountain, G. S.; Katz, M. E.; Sugarman, P. J.; Cramer, B. S.; Christie-Blick, N.; Pekar, S. F. , Science, Nov 25, Volume 310, Issue 5752, p.1293-1298, (2005), DOI 10.1126/science.1116412

Water shortages, development, and drought in Rockland County, New York, Lyon, B.; Christie-Blick, N.; Gluzberg, Y. , Journal of the American Water Resources Association, Dec, Volume 41, Issue 6, p.1457-1469, (2005)

A new period for the geologic time scale, Knoll, A. H.; Walter, M. R.; Narbonne, G. M.; Christie-Blick, N. , Science, Jul 30, Volume 305, Issue 5684, p.621-622, (2004)

Carbonate platform growth and cyclicity at a terminal Proterozoic passive margin, Infra Krol Formation and Krol Group, Lesser Himalaya, India, Jiang, G. Q.; Christie-Blick, N.; Kaufman, A. J.; Banerjee, D. M.; Rai, V. , Sedimentology, Oct, Volume 50, Issue 5, p.921-952, (2003), DOI 10.1046/j.1365-3091.2003.00589.x

Neoproterozoic stratigraphic comparison of the Lesser Himalaya (India) and Yangtze block (south China): Paleogeographic implications, Jiang, G. Q.; Sohl, L. E.; Christie-Blick, N. , Geology, Oct, Volume 31, Issue 10, p.917-920, (2003)

Quantitative constraints on the origin of stratigraphic architecture at passive continental margins: Oligocene sedimentation in New Jersey, USA, Pekar, S. F.; Christie-Blick, N.; Miller, K. G.; Kominz, M. A. , Journal of Sedimentary Research, Mar, Volume 73, Issue 2, p.227-245, (2003)

Stable isotopic evidence for methane seeps in Neoproterozoic postglacial cap carbonates, Jiang, G. Q.; Kennedy, M. J.; Christie-Blick, N. , Nature, Dec 18, Volume 426, Issue 6968, p.822-826, (2003), Doi 10.1038/Nature02201

Calibration between eustatic estimates from backstripping and oxygen isotopic records for the Oligocene, Pekar, S. F.; Christie-Blick, N.; Kominz, M. A.; Miller, K. G. , Geology, Oct, Volume 30, Issue 10, p.903-906, (2002)

Sequence stratigraphy of the neoproterozoic Infra Krol Formation and Krol Group, Lesser Himalaya, India, Jiang, G. Q.; Christie-Blick, N.; Kaufman, A. J.; Banerjee, D. M.; Rai, V. , Journal of Sedimentary Research, Jul, Volume 72, Issue 4, p.524-542, (2002)

Are Proterozoic cap carbonates and isotopic excursions a record of gas hydrate destabilization following Earth's coldest intervals?, Kennedy, M. J.; Christie-Blick, N.; Sohl, L. E. , Geology, May, Volume 29, Issue 5, p.443-446, (2001)

Carbon isotopic composition of Neoproterozoic glacial carbonates as a test of paleoceanographic models for snowball Earth phenomena, Kennedy, M. J.; Christie-Blick, N.; Prave, A. R. , Geology, Dec, Volume 29, Issue 12, p.1135-1138, (2001)

Detrital zircon provenance of Mesoproterozoic to Cambrian arenites in the western United States and northwestern Mexico, Stewart, J. H.; Gehrels, G. E.; Barth, A. P.; Link, P. K.; Christie-Blick, N.; Wrucke, C. T. , Geological Society of America Bulletin, Oct, Volume 113, Issue 10, p.1343-1356, (2001)

Rock deformation studies in the Mineral Mountains and Sevier Desert of west-central Utah: Implications for upper crustal low-angle normal faulting, Anders, M. H.; Christie-Blick, N.; Wills, S.; Krueger, S. W. , Geological Society of America Bulletin, Jul, Volume 113, Issue 7, p.895-907, (2001)

Paleomagnetic polarity reversals in Marinoan (ca. 600 Ma) glacial deposits of Australia: Implications for the duration of low-latitude glaciation in neoproterozoic time, Sohl, L. E.; Christie-Blick, N.; Kent, D. V. , Geological Society of America Bulletin, Aug, Volume 111, Issue 8, p.1120-1139, (1999)

Reconstruction of Tertiary progradation and clinoform development on the New Jersey passive margin by 2-D backstripping, Steckler, M. S.; Mountain, G. S.; Miller, K. G.; Christie-Blick, N. , Marine Geology, Feb, Volume 154, Issue 1-4, p.399-+, (1999)

Cenozoic global sea level, sequences, and the New Jersey transect: Results from coastal plain and continental slope drilling, Miller, K. G.; Mountain, G. S.; Browning, J. V.; Kominz, M.; Sugarman, P. J.; Christie-Blick, N.; Katz, M. E.; Wright, J. D. , Reviews of Geophysics, Nov, Volume 36, Issue 4, p.569-601, (1998)

Deformation and basin formation along strike-slip faults, Christie-Blick, N.; and Biddle, K.T. , Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists Special Publication, Volume 37, p.1-34, (1985)