Plate Tectonics and People

Xavier le Pichon

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Biographical Information

(Photo from Xavier Le Pichon's Facebook site:



Xavier Le Pichon was born June 18, 1937, in Quinhon, Vietnam to a French rubber tree plantation worker where he lived until 1946. While in Vietnam, he was home-schooled by his mother. During World War II, Pichon and his family spent six months in a Japanese concentration camp. At the age of nine, he moved with his mother and siblings to Cherbourg, France while his father remained in Vietnam fighting against the communist North Vietnamese.


In 1956, Pichon began his studies in geophysical engineering at the University of Strasbourg. Afterwards, he was recruited by University of Caen to conduct research, but instead accepted a Fulbright Fellowship at Columbia University. For his fellowship work, he took the advice of Maurice Ewing and went aboard a ship (VEMA) to study physical oceanography.


In 1960, he returned to France for a two year service in French Navy where he also worked on physical oceanography. In 1963 he received a visa to return to the United States where Maurice Ewing got Le Pichon a position with his brother John Ewing studying seismic refraction.


In 1967, after reading a paper by Jason Morgan concerning the mechanics of sea floor spreading, Le Pichon began studying more intently the concepts and in 1968 published his paper on global clinimatics. In this paper he modeled how the motion of the earth's crust had occurred from the Cretaceous Period to present.


Source of biographical information above was primarily summarized from:

Interview of Dr. Xavier Le Pichon by Tanya J. Levin on May25, 1998,

Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA,

Specific contributions to plate tectonic theory / solid Earth geophysics

In 1968, using a computer Le Pichon was able to demonstrate a model of motion of six plates that form the earth's crust. He demonstrated that the total crust created at the ocean ridges equaled the amount of crust lost due to subduction.


In a 1993 paper he co-authored with Pierre Henry, and Siegfried Lallemant, they studied "the tectonic implications of the release of fluids from the pores of the accreted and (or) subducted sediments within the outer margin of the upper plate (roughly the part which is less than 20 km thick), using physical models based on the simplest assumptions." (Le Pichon, Henry, & Lallemar, 1993)

Other interesting scientific contributions

Le Pichon's first paper was about deep circulation of the Southwest Indian Ocean written while taking measurements about that topic aboard a ship. Prior to this research trip, he had no experience in oceanography. (Le Pichon, X., 1960)


Other cool stuff you should know




Interview of Dr. Xavier Le Pichon by Tanya J. Levin on May25, 1998,

Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA,


Le Pichon, X. (1960), The Deep Water Circulation in the Southwest Indian Ocean, J. Geophys. Res., 65(12), 4061–4074


Le Pichon, X., Henry, P., & Lallemar, S. (1993). ACCRETION AND EROSION. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences , 21, 307 -331.


Xavier Le Pichon. (2011). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from