UCSC seismologist Karen McNally receives University Medal from the National University of Costa Rica

Karen McNally, professor emerita of Earth sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has received the University Medal from the National University of Costa Rica. McNally was honored in a ceremony on July 2 for her contributions in helping to establish a modern geophysical observatory in Costa Rica--the Observatorio Vulcanol├│gico y Sismol├│gico de Costa Rica, Universidad Nacional (OVSICORI-UNA)--and in developing the country's program for the reduction of earthquake hazards.

Costa Rica is one of the most earthquake-prone and volcanically active countries in the world. Yet there was no ongoing nationwide monitoring of seismic activity in Costa Rica until McNally helped establish a national seismographic network in 1984. McNally led a team of UCSC and Costa Rican scientists that set up the network with funding from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of the U.S. Agency for International Development. She invited James Gill and Eli Silver, both professors of Earth sciences at UCSC, to join the project.

McNally also played a pivotal role in the establishment of OVSICORI, which now operates the seismographic network of 25 stations covering the entire country and transmitting continuously to the headquarters at the National University in Heredia. The monitoring and research conducted at the observatory has greatly advanced scientists' understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes in Costa Rica, while also helping the Costa Rican government develop programs to reduce the hazards of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

UCSC faculty continue to maintain active collaborations with researchers at OVSICORI, several of whom received their Ph.D. degrees from UCSC's Department of Earth Sciences.

"Our level of knowledge about active earthquake zones in Costa Rica has escalated tremendously since the seismographic network was established," said Susan Schwartz, professor of Earth sciences and director of UCSC's W. M. Keck Seismological Laboratory. Schwartz has done extensive research in Costa Rica in collaboration with OVSICORI scientists.

Costa Rica is flanked by active tectonic margins on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country. Many earthquakes originate on the Pacific side along the Middle America Trench, where the Cocos Plate dives beneath Central America. In 1991, however, the region was struck by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake on the Caribbean coast, where a major thrust fault arcs beneath the Caribbean Sea. Costa Rica is also home to seven of Central America's 42 active volcanoes, including one of the longest continually erupting volcanoes on Earth (Arenal).

McNally's research in seismology has focused on earthquake mechanisms and risk assessment. A leading authority in these areas, she worked with the late Charles F. Richter at the California Institute of Technology before joining the UCSC faculty in 1981. At UCSC, McNally directed the Charles F. Richter Seismological Laboratory and founded the Institute of Tectonics. She also served on the California Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council, which advises the governor's office and the Office of Emergency Services.

McNally is the second recipient of the "Medalla Universidad Nacional" award, a distinction given by the National University of Costa Rica "in exceptional cases to persons or institutions of national or international origin whose contributions in the social, humanitarian, scientific, artistic, and cultural areas have given exemplary inspiration in the construction of a more humane and complete society, inspired in the highest values of a culture filled with peace, justice, and well being."