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Ron A. Harris

Ron Harris

Professor - Geology Club Faculty Advisor

Office: S317 ESC

Meet Professor Ron Harris


  • B.Sc. Geology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, 1982
  • M.Sc. Geophysics, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, 1985
  • Ph.D. Tectonics, University College London, UK, 1989


Where I grew up, the sun rises each day over glaciated volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range and sets over folded strata of the Coast Range. This incredible landscape stirred my curiosity from as early as I can remember. I would commonly ask how these ranges formed, why they were parallel, why the spacing of the volcanoes was so regular, why the ice that sculpted them was gone, and if the forces that shaped the landscape were still active? I loved maps and would stare at them for hours wondering what caused the global patterns that shaped the continents and ocean basins. These experiences convinced me that nature spoke a language of patterns, but I could not decipher the meaning.

My first geology course introduced me to the theory of plate tectonics, which provided a way for me to translate the pattern language of nature I had observed over the years into something meaningful. The astonishment I experienced stirred a passion in me that deepens with every new discovery about how the Earth works.

The greatest discovery I have ever made was finding Deb, whom I married as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon. My master’s thesis research brought us and our first two boys to Alaska. The active tectonic landscape of Alaska greatly influenced the pathway of my career. It was like going back in time several millions of years to when the Rocky Mountains were born and full of fire and ice.

So exactly how are mountains born? The mountains of Alaska are still not young enough to fully understand this. So, I begin exploring the tectonic evolution of southeast Asia, which is a nursery of mountain systems at various stages of development. This research led us to England to pursue my Ph.D. with the Southeast Asian Tectonics Studies Group at the University College London.

My professional career began as part of the geology faculty at West Virginia University, where I taught and conducted research for 9 years. By this time we had four boys, who are great field companions!

I joined the geology faculty at BYU in 1998. My research has expanded to investigating how tectonic processes impact humans. To assist with this research I founded a non-profit organization called In Harm's Way. The purpose of the NPO is to save lives through accurate forecasting of natural hazard events coupled with effective communication to those most at risk and the implementation of disaster mitigation strategies. See


  • 1998-present PROFESSOR OF GEOLOGY, Brigham Young University
  • 1996-1998 ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF GEOLOGY, West Virginia University
  • 1989-1995 ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF GEOLOGY, West Virginia University
  • 2010 VISITING PROFESSOR, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan, Arc-Continent Collision Processes
  • 1997 VISITING PROFESSOR, Universitas Pembangan Nasional, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Natural Disaster Mitigation in Indonesia.
  • 1991-1995 GEOLOGIST, U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Alaskan Geology (intermittent).
  • 1986-2010 GEOLOGIC CONSULTANT, U.S. Geological Survey/ U.S. Bureau of Mines; Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, Union Texas Petroleum, British Petroleum, and ARCO (geologic evolution of Eastern Indonesia).
  • 1988 Instructor, Sultan Qaboos University, Oman
  • 1986-89: RESEARCH ASSISTANT, University of London (structural field studies of mountain building processes in the active Banda and Taiwan orogens, and Alaska, Oman, and Cyprus).
  • 1985-86 Director of Field Geology Course in Alaska Range, Univ. of Alaska,
  • 1983-86 RESEARCH ASSISTANT, Geophysical Institute, Univ. of Alaska (structure, thermochronology, and paleomagnetism of Yukon-Koyukuk Province, Alaska).
  • 1983 GEOLOGIST, Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys (field mapping in the Brooks Range and its metamorphic borderlands).
  • 1982: GEOLOGIST INTERN, Unocal Oil Co., Ventura, CA (exploration of Ventura Basin, California)
  • >75 invited talks at Universities, international conferences, government institutes, and Industry.
  • Multiple research and teaching awards
  • Several newspaper articles and television and radio interviews.


Mountain Building Processes and Hazards

1. Active and Ancient Collisional Processes

  • Structural, petrological, geochemical, geophysical and geomorphological studies of Arc-Continental Collisions and Ophiolites.
  • Active collisions of the Banda Arc (Indonesia, E. Timor), Himalaya, and Taiwan
  • Ancient Collisions of Brooks Range (Alaska), Oman, Turkey, Himalaya, Tibet, California, and Utah
  • Active Faults in Indonesia and the Wasatch Range, Utah

2. Natural Disaster Mitigation

  • Compilation of historical records of major earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia since 1528
  • Investigation of tsunami deposits to constrain tsunami inundation models of densely populated coastal communities.
  • Numerical modeling of historical and potential tsunami events
  • Construction of tsunami inundation maps for urban coastal areas throughout Java and E. Indonesia.
  • Tsunami and earthquake hazards education throughout the Indonesia region and the Guerrero Coast of Mexico
  • Seismic hazards education and disaster mitigation in Utah

Grants & Awards

Research Grants:

  • 2018-2021 Seismic Disaster Mitigation in Indonesia, Geoscientists Without Borders, $100,000
  • 2015-2017 Tsunami Disaster Mitigation in Java, Indonesia, Geoscientists Without Borders, $100,000
  • 2010-2013 Australia Down-Under: Structural Restoration of the Banda Arc-Continent Collision, NSF, $750,000
  • 2008-2009 Training geologists in East Timor, $21,000
  • 2003-2006: Geodynamic Evolution of the Active Banda Arc-Continent Collision, Indonesia, NSF, $310,000
  • 2000-01: GPS Velocity Field of Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia, Undergraduate Mentorship Grant, $17,800
  • 1999-00: Geological evolution of the Santaquin and Payson Lakes region, Utah, USGS and UGS, $41,000
  • 1997: Geophysical Disaster Mitigation in Indonesia, Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, $53,350
  • 1992-95: Structural Restoration of the Banda Orogen, Indonesia, NSF, $103,200
  • 1992: Thermal History of the Banda Orogen, Indonesia, Union Texas Petroleum, $49,910
  • 1991: Geology and Geophysics of the Banda Orogen, Indonesia, Texaco/Chevron, $50,000
  • 1990: Geological Investigation of East Timor, Indonesia, Union Texas Petroleum, $67,109
  • 1986-89: Origin of the Brooks Range Ophiolite, Alaska, American Chemical Society, PRF; $32,208

Research Awards:

  • J. Keith Rigby Research Award (1999 and 2012) 
  • J. William Fulbright Foreign Research Scholarship for Tectonic Disaster Mitigation in Indonesia (1997)    
  • American Chemical Society-Petroleum Research Fellowship (1986-89)
  • K.M. Reed Alaskan Geology Research Award (1986)

Teaching Grants:

  • “Tell me and I'll forget, involve me and I'll understand: Developing a digital and interactive geology textbook, $16,000 (2010)
  • “Increasing Curiosity with Wonder-Full Virtual Field Trips”, $9025 (2000)
  • “Geology in Motion: An Introductory Geology Course for the Internet”, $22,000 (1999)
  • “Collaborative Learning  Supported by Multimedia Presentations in Large Introductory Courses”, $2500.
  • “From Rocks for Jocks to Earth System Science: Integration of Technology into the Geology Lab”, $4000.

Teaching Awards:

  • Department of Geological Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award (2006)
  • University Outstanding Teacher Award, West Virginia University (1997)
  • College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher Award, West Virginia University (1995)

Peer Reviewed Publications