Geography Oceanography, and Weather

Plate Tectonics

Who contributed to early work in plate tectonics?

There were several key scientists who contributed to the study of plate tectonics as it became more favored in the late 1960s. One of the most popular scientists to discover evidence for plate tectonics was J. Tuzo Wilson (1908–1993). By 1965, he described the origin of the San Andreas fault, the large crack in the Earth’s surface near San Francisco, California, as a transform fault (or strike-slip)—one of the major plate boundaries. In 1968, Xavier LePichon (1937-) participated in the definition of the overall “plate tectonics” model and published the first model quantitatively describing the motion of six main plates at the Earth’s surface; in 1973, he wrote the first textbook on the subject.

Other geologists have made major contributions to the development of the plate tectonics theory: William Jason Morgan published a landmark paper in 1968 explaining the many tectonic plates and their movements; he also recognized the importance of mid-plate volcanic hot spots that create island chains such as the Hawaiian Islands. Walter Pitman III was instrumental in interpreting the pattern of marine magnetic anomalies detected around mid-ocean ridges, an indicator of active seafloor spreading and evidence of plate tectonics. And Lynn R. Sykes used seismology to refine plate tectonics, and he noted the connection between transform faults at the mid-ocean ridges and plate motion. He also coauthored Seismology and the New Global Tectonics in 1968, which relates how existing seismic data could be explained in terms of plate tectonics.


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