Syvitski obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from Lakehead University in 1974 in both geology and mathematics and an Honors degree in geology in 1975. In 1978, he became a Ph.D. recipient from the University of British Columbia. After graduation, he became an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary. In 1981, he moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia where he worked as a Senior Research Scientist of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography with the Canadian Federal Department Natural Resources Canada. During that period he received appointments as Adjunct Professor at Canadian Universities: Dalhousie, Laval Universities, Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Institut national de la recherche scientifique of Quebec. In 1995, Professor Syvitski retired from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and moved to Boulder, Colorado, USA where he was appointed Director (1995-2007) of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research of the University of Colorado, where he also performed duties as a Professor in the Departments of Geological Sciences, Atmosphere and Ocean Sciences, Hydrological Sciences, and the graduate program in Geophysics. In 2007, he became Executive Director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System. 
Professor Syvitski has written over 300 peer-reviewed books and articles some of which he published in such journals as the Journal of Geology, Science, Nature Geoscience, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and many others. In 2009 he was awarded the A.G. Huntsman Award for Excellence in the Marine Sciences from the Royal Society of Canada, and in 2010 he became a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. In 2011, he was appointed by the International Council of Science as Chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.
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