French Geologist and Ballen Scholar to Shed Light on Local Geology

February 11, 2015

Benjamin van Wyk de Vries


Las Vegas, N.M. – An international expert in volcanology from France will shed light on local extinct volcanoes during a series of public talks at Highlands University beginning Feb. 17.

New Mexico has the most extinct volcanoes on the North American continent and Benjamin van Wyk de Vries, a geology professor at Blaise Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, France, will decipher local landmarks during his time at Highlands as a Visiting Ballen Scholar.

“Ben is a world-renowned volcanologist and provides not only a scientific understanding, but also a deep international cultural background that he will share in his engaging way with Highlands and the community,” said Michael Petronis, the Highlands University geology professor who wrote the Ballen scholar proposal.

Van Wyk de Vries is a leader in the study of volcano tectronics, which is the architecture of volcanoes from how they build to how they collapse. He has authored more than 70 peer-reviewed research articles on volcanology over the last 20 years and wrote the last chapter of the Encyclopedia of Volcanoes.

Petronis said van Wyk de Vries brings a diverse perspective of international geologic experience in academia, industry and government work.

The two scientists have collaborated on geologic fieldwork research in France, the Czech Republic, and the Canary Islands. They also established an international exchange program in 2011 that has given geology students from both Highlands and Blaise Pascale the opportunity to conduct field and laboratory research onsite in France and New Mexico under their supervision.

Van Wyk de Vries’ public talks include:

What is a Volcano? – Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. in the university’s Student Union Building Ballroom at the northwest corner of National Avenue and 8th St. A free Mexican food buffet will be served.

Van Wyk de Vries will talk about the nuts and bolts of volcanoes, using photographs and videos to illustrate his points. The audience will have the hands-on experience of building their own models of volcanoes.

What is Geoheritage? – Feb. 23 at 6 p.m in the Student Union Building Ballroom. A free Mexican food buffet will be served.

In this talk, van Wyk de Vries will introduce the concept of geoheritage – the relationship between people and the natural landscape, including geologic formations. The focus will be on discussing Las Vegas and New Mexico geologic landmarks of importance.

Van Wyk de Vries was the driving force for the Chain des Puys volcanic mountain range in Central France being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.

“Ben’s interest in geoheritage stems from his natural risk work in Latin America, where involving local people in geological heritage empowered them to deal with their own geological risk,” Petronis said. “This geoheritage approach marries research and education in a popular, accessible fashion.”

Petronis added that the Gallinas River canyon is an example of local geoheritage.

“In New Mexico, there is an age-old relationship between the land and the people. For instance, how the rocks in the Gallinas weathered influenced the ecosystem at different elevations, with different crops growing along the river’s path.”

During his two weeks at Highlands, van Wyk de Vries will also teach a number of seminars for faculty and students.

On the lighter side, van Wyk de Vries will host two “Cricket for All” sessions at the university’s Central Park on Feb. 19 and 26 at 12 p.m. He will introduce the community to French cricket and beach cricket, which are easier to play and less formal than traditional English cricket.