APPLETON, WIS. — Lawrence University geologist Marcia Bjornerud has been named a recipient of a 2009 Fulbright Senior Scholar Award. Beginning in March, the $28,000 award will support four months of research in New Zealand at the University of Otago, the country’s oldest and top-ranked research university.

Bjornerud, professor of geology and the Walter Schober Professor in Environmental Studies, specializes in mountain building processes. While in New Zealand, her research will focus on rocks exposed along the Alpine Fault on the South Island, one of the world’s most active plate boundaries.

“Convergence between two tectonic plates, combined with extremely rapid rates of erosion, can force rocks from as much as eight miles deep in the earth’s crust to the surface in ‘only’ a few million years,” said Bjornerud, a member of the Lawrence faculty since 1995. “I will be studying rocks that have recorded ancient earthquakes along this fault line as a way to understand better what happens during great seismic events.”

Bjornerud’s research in New Zealand will complement her current field-based studies with Lawrence students on the ancient rocks of northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which were once in a similar tectonic setting.

“Studying fault zones, both modern and ancient, can improve seismic risk assessments in earthquake-prone areas,” Bjornerud explained. “While it may never be possible to predict earthquakes with precision, understanding the phenomena that lead to runaway slip on faults may eventually lead to warning systems that could save lives.”

This is the second time in nine years Bjornerud has been recognized as a Fulbright Scholar. In 2000, she was awarded a Fulbright fellowship that took her to the University of Oslo for a year of field research on the west coast of Norway.

Appointed the first holder of the Schober professorship in April 2007, Bjornerud has written two books, the science textbook “The Blue Planet” and 2005’s “Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth,” a storyteller’s history of the Earth and the toll human activity is exacting on the planet. In 2003, she was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in geophysics at the University of Minnesota, Bjornerud earned master’s and doctorate degrees in geology at the University of Wisconsin.

Established in 1946 and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Scholar Program is the federal government’s flagship program in international educational exchange. It provides grants in a variety of disciplines for teaching and research positions in more than 120 countries.