Miller, Kenneth G. (earth scientist)

(1956- ) American Micropaleontologist

There are minute organisms called foraminifera that float or swim in the near surface waters of our oceans in great abundance. These foraminifera are what many filtering marine animals feed upon. The foraminifera also die in great abundance, sink in the water, and make up a good portion of the sediment on the ocean floor. Foraminifera are rapidly evolving animals that are very sensitive to environmental changes especially with regard to climate changes. Kenneth Miller is one of the foremost experts on the evolution and biostratigraphy of foraminifera. Clearly, because the foraminifera-rich sediments lie deep under the oceans, fieldwork and sampling is no trivial task. Research vessels must travel out to sea and piston-coring devices are driven into the sediment where continuous cores of sample are taken. Miller has made many such cruises to obtain his research material. As early as 1980, he was on a deep-ocean cruise aboard the R/V Knorr. He has sampled sediments aboard the Glomar Challenger, the Conrad, the Atlantis II, the Maurice Ewing, and the Cape Hatteras, among others.

After the cruise, the samples are analyzed in the laboratory. The cores of sediment are painstakingly studied to determine the type and abundance of foraminifera with depth, which is equivalent to time. With colleagues, he determines stable isotope abundances in the foraminifera and sediment. With these data, Miller can then determine the paleoceanography and paleoecology of the ocean basin. He interprets rises and falls of sea level, changes in climate, and catastrophic events like the extraterrestrial impact at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, among others, in addition to evolutionary changes in the foraminifera. Many of the larger questions regarding global changes involve the comparison of the character of certain key strata from core to core and even with strata that can be seen in the Atlantic Coastal Plain onshore in New Jersey. These comparisons permit a more three-dimensional view of a given succession of strata. Such a view allows better environmental interpretations. By performing the same sort of detailed analysis on many sections of the Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Plain stratigraphy, a detailed history is being constructed. Not only will this work better define the stratigraphy in terms of sediment succession, fossil succession, and even isotopic and magnetic succession through the participation of colleagues, it will also lead to a much better understanding of the processes involved in passive margin development. Because Miller’s results are so directly reflective of climate changes, those researchers trying to model climate variability and response to predict future changes are especially interested in his findings. Several of Miller’s papers on this research include, “Long-Term and Short-Term Cenozoic Sea Level Estimates” and “Control of North Atlantic Deep Water Circulation by the Greenland-Scotland Ridge.”

Kenneth Miller was born on June 28, 1956, in Camden, New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in geology with highest honors and distinction in 1978. He completed his graduate studies in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography and earned a Ph.D. in 1982 with a Phillips Petroleum graduate fellowship. He remained as a postdoctoral fellow for one year. He was a postdoctoral research fellow and an associate research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University, New York, from 1983 to 1988, where he was named an Arco scholar. In 1988, Miller joined the faculty at his alma mater at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, where he remains as of 2002. He was named a prestigious Professor II in 2000 and served as department chair. Kenneth Miller is married to Karen Clark Miller and they have four children.

Portrait of Kenneth Miller

Portrait of Kenneth Miller

Kenneth Miller has been extremely productive in his still young career. He is an author of some 97 articles in international journals, professional volumes, and governmental reports. He is also an author or editor of four books. Many of his articles are seminal works on the Cenozoic stratigraphy of the Atlantic Ocean and their reflection of climate changes and controls. He is also extremely successful at grant funding, having obtained some $10 million in federal grants.

Miller has performed outstanding service to the profession. He served as vice president and as a member of the board of directors of the Cush-man Foundation for Foraminiferal Research. He served on numerous committees and panels for the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), and the Joint Oceanographic Institute for Deep Exploration Sampling (JOIDES). His editorial service is also exemplary. He served as editor for Paleoceanography and associate editor for Palaios, Journal of Sedimentary Research, Paleoceanography, Geological Society of America Bulletin, and Marine Micropaleontology.

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