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   Don L. Anderson
Condolences for Don L. Anderson


Don L. Anderson passed away peacefully at his home in Cambria in the early morning of Tuesday, 2nd December, 2014.

If you wish to post condolences for Don, please send your text to Gillian R. Foulger


It came as quite a jolt to learn that Don had passed away on December 2nd. I first met Don when he came to an AGU poster I was presenting. Must have been 2002 or 2003. The next meeting was when I invited him to be our William Best Memorial Lecturer at the Potomac Geophysical Society in Arlington, Virginia. That was 2004 and he was preparing the material for his forthcoming book The New Theory of The Earth. We were anxious to hear 'at least one hour's worth' of his critique of plumes. Don had a marvelous sense of leverage and parlaying, to use financial and gambling terms. In addition to our PGS lecture, over the next couple of days Don also gave lectures at the Geophysical Laboratory and the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington as well as at the Geology Department of the University of Maryland. Each lecture was completely different but each explored aspects of the plume theory critique: mantle structure, thermodynamics, thermal expansion coefficient issues, the mechanics of plates in compression and in tension ("the mechanics of cathedrals"), and much more. Through his organizational skills, four research groups in the Washington, D.C. area benefited from the trip instead of just one. An irreplaceable giant of geophysics has lit a fire that will only burn brighter.–Michael P. Ryan

.Max Planck famously said: "A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

Don L. Anderson belied Planck's dictum, because his ideas and work were fresh, and new, and original to the very end of his life, and usually out-of-step with mainstream thinking. If anything, it is the new (or later) generation of earth scientists that embraces old worn out thinking – Zombie Science – which Anderson challenged relentlessly, but always gracefully and with humor, and increasingly, in his later years, with classical analogies and literary allusions, such as in his wonderful paper "A Tale of Two Planets.”

With Don L. Anderson’s passing, science and humanity have suffered a great loss.–Bill Erickson

.It is shocking to know the sad demise of Don L. Anderson. A great visionary and expert on geology is passed away. His contribution in the field of geology is great and unforgettable.–Kamal Kant Sharma

I am very sorry to hear about Don’s passing away. He is still with us through his work and an our hearts through his kindness and generosity with which he approached us. It is beyond doubt that Don has greatly contributed to our understanding of the Earth (and beyond) but I want to thank all his near ones sharing Don’s greatness with us and I will always carry his message with me in my professional and personal life.
Leo Eisner

I thank Don L. Anderson for the monumental task of challenging the common belief on the source of hotspots.–Ingi Þ. Bjarnason

My sincere condolences. I didn't interact with him very much - I only saw him at AGU a couple of times - but I always greatly enjoyed reading his papers. One of my absolute favorites is his 1985 Nature paper where he turns the whole idea of enriched mantle layers upside down. It is utterly brilliant, and I can't help but wonder if were are migrating towards a loose variant of that model today (or maybe even not so loose...). Anyway, it must have been a great pleasure to work with him and it is a loss to our community to be sure.–Keith Putirka

Although this is unfortunately not a surprise, this is however a big shock. I never met Don and exchanged with him only a little but his work was essential since the beginning of my career. This is our role now to continue on the way, including by writing ideas in opposition with those of Don, this is how they will remain alive and will not cratonized. Warm regards,–Jean-Paul Liégeois

Thank you for communicating the sad news that Don Anderson passed away. He has made an outstanding contribution to looking at the Earth in a novel way. His influence will continue. I hope to be able to attend his session at the AGU Fall Meeting. I vividly remember our conversation about him on our boat trip at Cabo Frio a few years ago. Kind regards,–Peter Szatmari

I’m deeply sad to hear Don’s passing away. I could not get an opportunity to meet Don. He, however, significantly encouraged me through e-mail communication. For these five years, I left from academia. But I came back there this September to meet him at the DLA symposium, since I was afraid that the day would come. Don summoned me to academia. I gratefully and sincerely thank Don and pray for the repose of his soul.–Hidehisa Mashima

It is really sad to know that such a scientist passed away but this is life. May God and Jesus give him eternal life and I am sure that he will be remembered every day by earth scientists all over the world. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the forthcoming AGU meeting but I will make sure to have all what he published lately from colleagues in the USA who will attend the meeting. Best Regards,–Charles Tabet

I am truly grieved to learn of Don's passing away. It greatly diminishes the stock of bold thinkers in the Geophysics community.–Vinod Gaur

This is a great loss and his niche in the scientific world will possibly remain vacant... May his soul rest in peace. I had an opportunity to review his New theory of Earth book. I am personally very much influenced by his research philosophy ("Go not......", preface of his new theory of Earth book!) although I never met him...a desire that will remain unsatisfied as well. Kind regards,–Rajat Mazumder

I am so sorry for him. He was an exceptionally brilliant scientist. So sad.–Mehmet Keskin

I read your very sad mail in Jerusalem (mid-night). Indeed Don was a science-giant, a perfect gentlemen. I send my deep condolence.–Moti Stein

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Don Anderson. The originality, independence, rigor, and significance of Don’s science are forever preserved in the scientific literature. But his originality of spirit, unique intellect, and generosity live most strongly in our memories. With regret,–Brennan Jordan

I am very sorry to learn about Don passing away. Don's ability to question various absurd geologic concepts will be much missed. He was way up there amongst the big thinkers. It is fortunate that there is a special session attributed to his work at the AGU. He deserves the tribute.–Erik Lundin

That is really sad news. A great loss. He was a gentleman and a scholar. I very much enjoyed my times with him, and his works have been wonderfully challenging to me as a scientist, and which I use to challenge our students in my teaching. My thoughts are with you and his family at this time.–Scott Bryan

I did not get a chance to meet Don in person, but I learn a lot from his book “New Theory of the Earth” and we also had communications via emails. Don had a big influence on my life, I will miss him. —Xiaobo He

Don was a great friend and colleague. He inspired and challenged my thinking since I met him first as a graduate student 35 years ago. I will miss him. We lost a brilliant scientist and a compassionate man. A sad day.

Hubert Staudigel

I am very saddened by Don Anderson's passing. In a sense, I owe him the major opportunities of my scientific life in the U.S.

I approached Don at the Mathematical Geophysics meeting in Cambridge, UK in early July 1974. The garden party had been relocated indoors due to typical English weather. "Would you take me as a graduate student?" In ten minutes he had approved this late, oral application and laid its logistics; I arrived in Pasadena on the 26th of August, and by the end of September, we had written an Okal and Anderson paper to Nature. In February 1978, as I was busily writing up my dissertation, he came casually to my office "You are going to get an interview at Yale; I just spoke to them". The rest is history.

Beyond the leadership of the Seismo Lab in the 1970s, that extraordinary beehive, and his fascinating class in the structure and origin of the Earth, I also recall the occasional "seminars in experimental statistics", in effect night-long poker games at his house, with Nancy bringing breakfast around 6 a.m. The consensual advice from the senior grad students had been "You should know Don always bluffs". In hindsight, I understood it was just on his part a compassionate redistribution of wealth towards the group of graduate students starving on, in these days, $300 a month.

To Nancy and his family, I express my deepest sympathy and wishes for courage and hope in their bereavement.

Emile A. Okal

Don Anderson was a big influence on my life. It was purely by happenstance that I was his copy editor for Theory of the Earth in 1988, which taught me a great deal about deep-Earth science and about originality, the ability to stand outside conventional assumptions in science. I followed his work, occasionally writing about it, ever afterward. His talks were buzzsaw affairs, cutting across a lot of old notions that he could only address in quick asides -- he had so much ground to cover! He was a prodigious researcher, collaborator and writer with a first-rate mind to the end. He deserved more time to keep enlightening us.–Andrew Alden

Don was a wonderful mentor and an inspiring teacher. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him. He will be greatly missed.

My deepest condolences to Don's Family.

–Tom Duffy

I knew Don Anderson both as a scientific colleague and a good friend since 1962--more than 50 years. The period 1955 to 1966 was an era in which most seismologists at Cal Tech and Lamont worked on seismic surface waves. Don was the leading contributor to that work, especially to an understanding of the structure of the Earth’s upper mantle and the properties of the low velocity zone, which we now refer to as the asthenosphere or the gliding layer of plate tectonics. He was unique in that he went on to combine work from geophysics and geochemistry to elucidate earth structure and evolution.

I read Don’s work very carefully since it was of great importance to me. I remember well Spring AGU meetings in the 1960s in Washington where Don arrived and presented papers with the Cal Tech group. Don nominated me for a visiting Fairchild fellowship at Cal Tech, which was a very important and stimulating part of my sabbatical year in 1981.

We had a bond in that his middle name and my first name are Lynn. I have fond memories of him and I will miss him.

–Lynn Sykes
December 4, 2014

We have lost an amazing friend and colleague. He was a brilliant contributor to science and was always supportive of the contributions of others.–Dean Presnall

We have lost a colossis from earth science. Don gave us all the things people have mentioned, and we will miss his impish humor as well as his dedication to the big ideas. We shared stories about growing up in Baltimore. After all the days living in California, Don never lost his "Bal-mer" accent and his science beginnings at Polytechnic High School. My favorite memory of Don's humor was in the lobby of a hotel in San Francisco during AGU one year long ago. He was smoking a cigar (of course) -- when that was still allowed -- and claimed it was to keep him acclimated to the Los Angeles smog! Go in peace, good friend.–Bob Duncan

I am deeply saddened to learn of Don’s passing. Don was a wonderful person who lived and conducted his science with great passion. He was always supportive of me throughout my career. He was a leader in earth science who truly knew how to present a different viewpoint and charge a debate without animosity. I believe his work will continue to challenge a number of scientific viewpoints for a very long time, and I will miss him terribly.–David Graham

It is very sad news to hear that Don has died. Don was a brilliant scientist but was not afraid to cross disciplines and engage those with different expertises and opinions. He loved working on big Earth science problems. Don had a generous soul and was patient with those of us who are not so smart. He had a great sense of humor and went through life with a smile on his face. He was one of a kind that I was lucky to get to know. We have lost one of the giants in our field and a dear friend.–Bob Stern

Don was a great teacher, mentor, friend, scientist, and debating partner. While he was not my thesis advisor, he constantly made me think more deeply about my work, asking great questions. He was always pointing out papers that I had missed. His sense of humor and love of science were infectious. In the last few months as we worked together I once again found myself much richer for the experience. Even in spite of the physical tool his mind was still sharp. It took all my energy to keep up with him. Our extended 'discussions' really helped me to understand how he connected the dots. Like many others, I miss him already.–Scott King

My first thought is dedicated to his wife and family. It has been a privilege to meet Don. I will remember all my life the light in his eyes when we discussed together about Science and magma generation. Don’s open mind is an example for all of us.

Avec mes meilleures salutations–Sébastien Pilet

It is like to have lost a Great Mentor

“… mia benevoglienza inverso lui fu quale più strinse mai di non vista persona.” (Danta, Purg. XXII)

With deep sympathy–Rita & Giuliano Panza

Great mind has passed away, but Don's influence to science will continue for long.–Alexei Ivanov

I am deeply saddened to learn that Don passed away today. I wish to express my
condolence to Nancy and Don's family, and please help me forward my condolence to them.

Don led me into science and made me a scientist. He taught me how to do science and how to be a good scientist. I am forever gratefully for his mentorship, kindness and friendship. I could not express in words the profound loss I feel at this moment. I wish Nancy and the family all the very best.–Lianxing Wen

I want to express my great sorrow upon hearing of Don's death. We all owe him so much. I went into geophysics because of his influence when I was an undergraduate, and have always been glad that I did. And he steered me toward problems of great importance in Earth Science and showed me effective ways to study them. We have lost a great scientist.

And a great friend.

Here's a picture of him in his office last July:–Bruce Julian

This is such a sad day for Earth Sciences... I will always remember the day that Don visited me in my small office in the Green building, it was one of the most rewarding days in science for me. I learned so much that day, not only on Earth sciences but also on the philosophy of science! Don we will definitely miss you - but you and your spirit will always be with us while doing science. My thoughts go out to Don's family especially to Nancy! –Romain Meyer

Gillian: Thank you for letting me know the sad news. Although I have been prepared for it, I am nevertheless deeply saddened. The only consolation is that I, with Luis, could contribute our work to the volume you are editing. Thank you again for including us in this endeavour.

Those who were lucky enough to be at the Seismo. Lab. with Don since 1960s have greatly benefited from the interaction with him, and his influence will have long-lasting effects on our work for years to come. I am of course one of them, and perhaps the one who was most strongly influenced though we worked on somewhat different
areas of geophysics in later years.

Please convey our deepest condolence to Nancy, her family and relatives.–Hiroo Kanamori

A sad and great loss. Few people can have influenced their field as much as Don. He began his book New Theory of the Earth with the quote: “Go not where the path leads; go where there is no path and leave a trail”. He showed us an alternative understanding of the Earth, and geology is greatly enriched for it.–Alan Smith

One of my professional heroes has died.

I owe him an enormous influence on my career, starting from an undergraduate course in 1963 at Caltech and lastly at the 2013 AGU meeting when he gave me and Thorne Lay a long and dogmatic lecture on the necessity of a 220 km discontinuity in PREM.

My wife Barbara and I also owe Nancy and Don many thanks from hosting us in Pasadena in 1970 when I was a postdoc there, extending to Don's sabbatical leave at the ANU in 1975 when we introduce them to kangaroos and their kids to skiing, and continuing to a few years ago when we visited them in Cambria a few years ago.

I assume that the DLA symposium on Dec 19 is still on and that his provocative abstract will be prominently displayed. I am sure that you and other close friends and colleagues will want this event to be celebration of Don's professional life and not a wake.–Bob Liebermann

VERY sad news indeed and BIG loss to our science! I had never expected that one of the greatest geophysicists and AGU president would write to an individual like me, but he did some time 14 years ago! He expressed his enjoying reading the Niu et al. JGR 1999 paper with interest. He thought my argument for Hawaiian material flowing to the northern EPR mantle was creative, but must be WRONG! I cautiously replied to him and explained what my intention was, he then supplied a better mantle tomographic image with enormous encouragement although he still thought I was more likely to be wrong. Whether it was right or wrong has yet to be tested, but we have since started many email exchanges over the years. I miss his encouragement, his criticism, his inexhaustible source of information and more importantly debate with him!

Don has left us, but the legacies are forever remembered - stop following bandwagons!–Yaoling Niu

Although we have all understood that this day was soon to come, it is still sad news. A great voice is silenced and a generous spirit is now gone. It was a great privilege to work with Don over the years, something I never ever expected, and I was very pleased to see him this past August while he was still in good form. I must say that I appreciate that Nancy and his family surrounded him with care and love during his illness, and I think we all contributed to making his final days interesting and full of meaning. He also kept his incredible sense of humor through it all. Don, we will miss you.–Jim Natland

What a very sad day for Science. I am particularly sorry because I never had an occasion to meet Don by person. In any case the hundreds of e-mail exchanged during the last ten years or so will be saved in my hard disk as the most respectful and sacred items I ever read. Thank you Don for having led us to be curiously skeptics.–Michele Lustrino

Gillian: I never got to know Don until you and he had that wonderful conference in Iceland. As time proceeded I got to know him better and better, and I can now say that I feel a great treasure was added to my life. I will miss him dreadfully, there was no one else quite like him. But I am extremely happy that I got the chance to know this remarkable person. I look forward to celebrating Don's life with you in SF.–Henry Dick


last updated 3rd December, 2014