Maya Tolstoy

Maya Tolstoy is a Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York. She is a marine geophysicist specializing in seafloor earthquakes and volcanoes. Dr. Tolstoy has led 18 research expeditions at sea as Chief or co-Chief Scientist, and has 62 peer-reviewed scientific publications, including 6 in Science and 4 in Nature. She has led or co-led over $22 million worth of federally funded research, including co-PI for an Ocean Bottom Seismology National Facility for more than a decade, and was part of the leadership team that implemented the largest community marine seismology experiment to date – The Cascadia Initiative. Professor Tolstoy has been teaching in her area of expertise for more than 20 years, including courses at the graduate and undergraduate level in geophysics.

In addition to her research and teaching, Professor Tolstoy was the Interim Executive Vice President of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University from September 2018 through December 2019. Prior to that she led a number of key faculty governance groups. She co-chaired the Columbia Senate’s Commission on the Status of Women for 5 years, and led its 2014 Pipeline report. In 2016 she was elected to the Policy and Planning Committee (PPC), the faculty governance committee of Arts and Sciences at Columbia. In 2017/18 she chaired PPC leading a number of important initiatives, including developing a faculty voting process, leading a major equity study of faculty, and initiating studies on lecturers in discipline, best practices for by-laws, and childcare and schooling.

She is the recipient of the Wings Worldquest Sea Award honoring women in exploration and was a finalist for NASA’s Astronaut selection. She serves on the National Academy standing Committee on Seismology and Geodynamics and was honored by the American Geophysical Union as the Birch Lecturer in 2016. Dr. Tolstoy has also done extensive outreach work to communicate the excitement and importance of earth science to non-science audiences and worked with film-maker James Cameron on the IMAX documentary Aliens of the Deep. Her research has been covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and numerous other media outlets.

She holds a BSc Honors in Geophysics from the University of Edinburgh and a Ph.D. in Earth Science from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California San Diego.

Fields of Interest

  • Volcanism and tectonics at mid-ocean tidges 
  • Mid-ocean tidge eruptions and long-term climate change Ocean bottom seismology and instrumentation 
  • Hydroacoustic monitoring of the oceans 
  • Impact of anthropogenic acoustic noise on marine mammals


  • 1994 Ph.D., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego 
  • 1988 B.S. Honors, Geophysics, University of Edinburgh

Honors & Awards

  • 2019 Rosemary Hutton Lecturer, University of Edinburgh 2019 Dal Grauer Memorial Lecturer, University of British Columbia 
  • 2016 Birch Lecturer, American Geophysical Union 
  • 2016 Lester W. Strock Lecturer, Skidmore College 
  • 2013 TedX CERN Speaker 
  • 2012 Nobel Conference 48, Invited Speaker 2010 Accomplishment Based Renewal, National Science Foundation ($448,163 Award) 
  • 2009 NASA Astronaut Candidate Finalist (Final 47) 
  • 2009 WINGS Sea Award ($10,000 prize) 
  • 2008 Nature Paper highlighted in NSF’s Annual Report to Congress 
  • 2006 Science Paper highlighted in NSF’s 2006 Year in Review 
  • 2006 IDEAS Featured Speaker, Hofstra University 
  • 2005-2006 Ridge 2000 Distinguished Lecturer 
  • 1996 LDEO Postdoctoral Fellowship