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Andrea Dutton

Far Beyond the Lab: Decoding Our Future with Climate Change

Dr. Andrea Dutton
Carbonate Geochemist and Sedimentologist
2020 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to New Zealand

Dr. Andrea Dutton in the lab

In her own opinion, Dr. Andrea Dutton is less of a scientist and more of an “earth detective.” As an undergraduate music major at Amherst College in 1991, she could never have imagined herself, 30 years later, as a renowned sea level and climate change expert, and the recipient of back-to-back Fulbright U.S. Scholar and MacArthur Foundation Fellowship awards.

At Amherst, Dr. Dutton was surprised to take a geology course and love it. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music, and pursued a new field after graduating: she taught science at Saint Ann’s School, a private school in Brooklyn Heights, New York City. After several years of teaching, Dr. Dutton returned to academia, completing master’s and doctoral degrees in geological sciences at the University of Michigan. From there, Dr. Dutton spent six years as a postdoctoral and research fellow at The Australian National University. Upon her return to the United States, Dr. Dutton continued her research and teaching as an assistant professor at the University of Florida.

Her research has taken her around the world, from the Seychelles, the Bahamas, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, and most recently to New Zealand through the Fulbright Program. There, Dr. Dutton conducted research at Victoria University of Wellington’s Antarctic Research Centre, analyzing local coral samples for paleoclimatology research. These samples allow Dr. Dutton to reconstruct sea-level change from previous geologic eras, helping to infer sea-level change in the future. 

Committed to spreading the word about sea-level and climate change, via NPR, TEDx Talks, Fulbright lectures, and Rolling Stone Magazine, Dr. Dutton’s mission is to ensure that her research moves far beyond the lab. She speaks passionately about combating glacial ice melt and sea level rise, while acknowledging the immediacy of the crisis. She continues this work as a professor of geology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is excited to nurture students and build new relationships with colleagues in the Department of Geoscience.

In the face of widespread climate change, what is a geochemist to do? Dr. Andrea Dutton distills her mission to this: “A lot of people think of my work as trying to save Planet Earth. But I’m a geologist, and the earth has been here for four and a half billion years. I’m actually not worried about the planet, it will still be here—it will be a different place. What I’m worried about is how we are going to exist in that new world.”