KWI Karst Award

The Karst Award is an award given annually to an outstanding member of the cave and karst field.

Karst Award winner for 2018: Dr. Victor Polyak

Dr. Victor Polyak received his Bachelor of Science degree from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and his Masters and Doctoral degrees from Texas Tech University. Since 1998, he has been a senior research scientist at the University of New Mexico working in paleoclimate and tectonic research using speleothems and sediment from caves around the world.  Victor has studied clays and associated minerals occurring in caves of the Guadalupe Mountains, work that has expanded our knowledge of clay genesis in caves.  His work has also provided additional information about the geologic history of Carlsbad Cavern and the other caves of that region, including their age of formation and connection to the tectonic history of the region. Another area of study is the timing of speleothem growth in Grand Canyon caves, which yielded useful and new information related to the rate of canyon incision by the Colorado River. Victor also has a great interest in sulfur-related speleogenesis, cave minerals, speleothems, and lava tube cave features. Currently, Victor’s interests are focused on paleo-climatology through the study of stalagmites and other speleothems.   Annual banding, fossils, mineralogy, and isotope geochemistry preserved in these speleothems in southeastern New Mexico caves allow the reconstruction of Holocene and Late Pleistocene climate of the southwestern United States. Through continuing research and the need for ever more accurate and precise paleoclimate data, Victor has developed new techniques for dating speleothems and increased the resolution of climate studies using speleothems by a factor of 100.  This has allowed near annual resolution of climate data using speleothems from caves around the world providing researchers valuable insight into climate studies, climate variability and landscape evolution.

Victor has had a life-long interest in caves and cave science.  In 1985, Victor and Noble Stidham founded the Lubbock Area Grotto of the National Speleological Society. While a graduate student at Texas Tech he was encouraged by Professor Alonzo Jacka to collect samples for study from Guadalupe Mountains caves. The work led to his Master’s Thesis, titled The Mineralogy, Petrography, and Diagenesis of Carbonate Speleothems from Caves in the Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico. Necip Guven, professor and clay mineralogist at Texas Tech, encouraged Victor to continue his cave studies, focusing on clays in Carlsbad Caverns. Using material from his dissertation, Victor and associates published a landmark paper entitled Age and Origin of Carlsbad Cavern and related caves from 40Ar/39Ar of alunite.  In 1998, Victor became manager of Yemane Asmerom’s  Radiogenic Isotope Laboratory at the University of New Mexico. Since then, Victor and Yemane, through multiple collaborations, have continued studies using caves. Victor has applied age-dating isotope geochemistry to the studies on diverse topics such as paleoclimate, landscape evolution, sea level change and archaeology.   Victor is the author or co-author of more than 115 publications on speleology and radiogenic isotope geochemistry. He and his wife, Paula Provencio, reside in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Previous KWI Karst Award Winners