Plate Tectonics and People

Dr. John Tuzo Wilson

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<h3>By: J. Matthew Powell</h3>
<div class="img-center"><img alt="Photo Courtesy of:" src="
<div class="img-credit">Photo courtesy of:</div>
<blockquote>"Beneath all the wealth of detail in a geological map lies an elegant, orderly simplicity" -- John Tuzo Wilson</blockquote>
<h3>Biographical Information</h3>
<p>Canadian citizen John Tuzo Wilson was born on October 24, 1908 in Ottawa, Ontario. Dr. Wilson was the eldest child of John Armistead and Henrietta Wilson, who have both notched their place in history as well. John Armistead was a highly skilled Scottish engineer, while Henrietta Wilson was an avid mountain climber. Mount Tuzo in Western Canada is named after Henrietta, as she was the first to reach the mountain peak. John Tuzo Wilson, more commonly known in the scientific community as Tuzo Wilson, began his interest in Geology at a young age. His first job in high school was working with the Geologic Survey of Canada. Wilson Received his Bachelors degree in physics and geology from the University of Toronto in 1930, and is considered to be Canada's first ever graduate in geophysics. From there, Wilson won a two year scholarship to Cambridge University. He then completed his education in 1936 when he received his Doctorate in geology from Princeton University. Following his college career, Wilson joined the Canadian army, reaching the rank of Colonel during World War II. In 1946, he found employment at the University of Toronto as a geophysics professor. John Tuzo Wilson passed away on April 15, 1993 at the age of 84. His cause of death was believed to be a heart attack.</p>
<h3>Specific contributions to the theory of plate tectonics and/or our modern view of the solid Earth</h3>
<p>Dr. Wilson is recognized for the discovery “hotspots” in the mantle, followed shortly thereafter by the concept of a third type of boundary between plates, called a transform boundary. Both of these theories laid the groundwork for the idea of plate tectonics.</p>
<p>One of Wilson’s conquests was to figure out how island chains were formed in areas away from plate boundaries. Focusing on the Hawaiian Islands, he realized that there must be another mechanism at work to create volcanic islands located in interior sections of plates. His belief was that island chains were formed as the oceanic crust moved over a stationary hotspot below. However, this theory was highly controversial, and in fact in the early 1960s his paper outlining such ideas was initially rejected by all the major scientific journals worldwide. Finally, in 1963, “A Possible Origin of the Hawaiian Islands” was published in the Canadian Journal of Physics, and became a cornerstone for the idea of plate tectonics. Here is a diagram from his published paper showing the idea that plate movement was responsible for the formation of new islands as they passed over the hotspot below. The oldest islands were the farthest removed, with the newest and volcanically active island currently sitting over the hotspot.</p>
<div class="img-center"><img alt="Diagram showing plate movement in Hawaii" src="/earth520/sites/">
<div class="img-credit">Image Source: USGS</div>
<p>Initially, as you can see from the illustration above, Wilson believed that these hot spots rose from a narrow plume in the upper mantle, creating the islands and then dying off for a period of time. However in 1970, scientist Jason Morgan noted that these plumes seem stationary over long periods of time. Wilson and Morgan came to the conclusion that these islands were formed from plumes that rose from much deeper in the Earth. Their new theory was that these hotspots actually originate in a plume all the way down to the core-mantle boundary (CMB). More than 30 years later, it is now accepted that these mantle plumes and hotspots rise from the CMB. The image below shows Wilson's original hotspot theory on the right vs the now accepted idea on the left.</p>
<div class="img-center"><img alt="Layers: Upper Mantle, Lower Mantle, D, Outer Core, Inner Core" src="">
<div class="img-credit">Image Source: <a href="">Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics</a></div>
<p>Wilson also focused on the idea of a third type of plate boundary. With divergent plate boundaries evident along ocean ridges and convergent boundaries found along ocean trenches, some boundaries, such as the San Andreas fault, seem to simply slip past one another. Here, Wilson theorized the idea of transform faults (also known as conservative plate boundaries) which move past one another horizontally without crust being created or destroyed. Wilson’s hypothesis was later confirmed, providing more concrete evidence in the theory of plate tectonics.</p>
<h3>Other important scientific contributions</h3>
<p>John Tuzo Wilson is the founder of the term the “Wilson Cycle.” He believed seafloors open, spread, and then close in a cyclical process (a great example can be found <a href="">here</a>. He believed the Atlantic Ocean floor had opened, closed, and reopened again, and in doing so, was a driving force behind the formation of the Appalachian Mountains.</p>
<h3>Other cool stuff you should know</h3>
<p>-- The John Tuzo Wilson Medal is presented annually by the Canadian Geophysical Union to recognize Canadian Scientists who have made a substantial contribution to geophysics:</p>
<div class="img-center"><img alt="Canadian Geophysical Union, medailee J. Tuzo Wilson" src="/earth520/sites/
<div class="img-credit">Image Source: <a href=" State University</a></div>
<p>-- Received Penrose Medal in 1968 from the Geological Society of America. This medal is awarded to those who make great contributions in the field of Geology.</p>
<p>-- Received the John J. Carty award in 1975 from the National Academy of Sciences. This award highlights noteworthy accomplishments in the science field.</p>
<p>-- Received the Logan Medal in 1968 from the Geological Association of Canada.</p>
<p>-- Served as the chief Canadian delegate on the NATO science committee.</p>
<p>-- Elected President of the Royal Society of Canada (1972-1973)</p>
<p>-- Elected President of the American Geophysical Union (1980-1982)</p>
<p>-- Tuzo Wilson holds 15 honorary degrees</p>
<p>-- Two seamounts rising from the floor of the Pacific Ocean, 150 miles west of Vancouver Island, were named the Tuzo Wilson Seamounts in his honor.</p>
<p>Canadian Science Publishing, A Tribute to John Tuzo Wilson, Retrieved September 6, 2015 from <a href="
<p>Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, John Tuzo Wilson, Retrieved September 3, 2015 from <a href="
<p>National Academy of Sciences, John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science, Retrieved September 6, 2015 from <a href=""&g...
<p><span style="font-family:verdana,geneva,sans-serif;">The Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Plate Tectonics, the Wilson Cycle, and Mantle Plumes; Geodynamics from the top. Retrieved September 17, 2015 from <a href="
<p>The Geological Society of America, Penrose Medal, Retrieved September 6, 2015 from <a href="">http:/...
<p>The Geological Association of Canada, Retrieved September 6, 2015 from <a href="">
<p>The Geological Society, John Tuzo Wilson, Retrieved September 4, 2015 from <a href="
<p>The New York Times, John Tuzo Wilson, 84, Is Dead; Early Backer of Continental Drift, Retrieved September 4, 2015 from <a href="
<p>University of Toronto Physics, John Tuzo Wilson, Retrieved September 3, 2015 from <a href="
<p>University of California, San Diego, The Hawaiian Plume Project, Retrieved September 17, 2015 from <a href="">http://igppweb.ucsd.ed...
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