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Comments on Foundation papers


Bowen (1922)

Bowen (1922) is a short paper where he presented his famous reaction series for the first time.  This reaction series was a compact summary of Bowen’s argument that fractional crystallization of basalt leads to a granitic residual liquid.  The Wager & Deer (1939) memoir describes the fractional crystallization trend of the Skaergaard basaltic magma, as revealed by the successive layers of cumulates.  This study had a huge impact mainly because the calculated residual liquid was strongly enriched in iron.  It was not a granite!  Much later, Tuttle & Bowen (1958) determined the melting relations in the system albite-orthoclase-quartz-H2O, which showed that felsic rocks of a very wide range of compositions, if partly melted, would produce a granitic melt. These results also indicated that the final stages of fractional crystallization of a wide range of feldspar-quartz mixtures would produce a granitic melt.  However, the issue of what would happen if a basalt were fractionally crystallized remained too complex for a model-system study.  Thus, the conclusions of the Skaergaard study remained standing, and a different mechanism, melting of felsic crustal rocks, became recognized as the most likely origin for granites. Bowen would have been the senior author on the Tuttle and Bowen GSA Memoir, but he died from an overdose of sleeping pills. Tuttle wrote it after Bowen died and became the senior author.

For much of Bowen’s career, he had been in a big argument with Fenner, a colleague of his at the Geophysical Laboratory (Carnegie Institution of Washington), over the effects of fractional crystallization of basaltic magma. In contrast to Bowen’s continuing arguments that this would lead to a silica-rich (granitic) residual liquid, Fenner argued, on the basis of petrographic study of partly crystallized basalts, that it would lead to an iron-rich residual liquid. Bowen and Schairer then determined the MgO-FeO-SiO2 phase diagram, which strongly supported Fenner's idea.  It is a classic paper, with detailed descriptions of phase-equilibrium principles that are wonderful material for students. However, there is not a single word in that paper about the Bowen-Fenner controversy! It seems clear that Bowen had hoped to use that study to discredit Fenner's idea.  Certainly, Bowen must have realized that the claim he had held throughout his career, that granitic magmas are produced by fractional crystallization of basaltic magma, was wrong.  However, none of his writings reveal any hint of uncertainty. 

Nevertheless, he left behind a wonderful legacy of absolutely superb and beautifully executed experimental studies that were critical to the resolution of a major controversy.  His experimental data provided inspiration and a solid foundation for studies of more complex systems over a wide range of pressures by another generation.–Dean Presnall

  • Bowen, N.L., 1928, The Evolution of the Igneous Rocks, Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 334 pp.
  • Bowen, N. L., 1922, The reaction principle in petrogenesis, J. Geology, 30, 177-198.
  • Tuttle, O.F., and N.L. Bowen, 1958, Origin of granite in the light of experimental studies in the system NaAlSi3O8-KAlSi3O8-SiO2-H20, Geol. Soc. Am. Mem. 74, 151 pp.
  • Wager, L.R., and W.A. Deer, W. A., 1939, Geological investigations in East Greenland Part III. The petrology of the Skaergaard Intrusion, Kangerdlugssuaq, East Greenland. The Scoresby Sound Committee’s 2ND East Greenland Expedition in 1932 to King Christian IX’s Land Leader: E Mikkelsen Plus The British East Greenland Expedition 1935-1936 Leader: L.R. Wager. Medd. om Grønland, 105 (4), 346 + 27 plates + One map. Back

Wetherill (1956)

This paper set out the basics of concordia-discordia plots and remains the basis of obtaining accurate U-Pb ages even today.–Ajoy Baksi Back

Patterson (1956)

Using the uranium-lead method, this paper calculates the age of the Earth and it is basically unchanged today.–Ajoy Baksi Back

Von Herzen (1959)

This paper by Dick Von Herzen in Nature (1959) is rarely referenced, but it is based on heat flow measurements in the Pacific Ocean. Dick noted that the heat flow on the East Pacific Rise is higher than the surrounding region and a similar pattern had been observed for the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. He speculated on how these patterns might be related to convection cells, rising up at the ridge. Also, he noted the curious near equality in heat flow values between the continents and oceans despite the differences in the radioactive content of oceanic and continental crusts.–Carol Stein Back

Morley & Larochelle (1962)

I interviewed Vine, Matthews and  Larry Morley extensively for my book The road to Jaramillo. Morley had clear priority in time of conceptualization over Vine and Matthews and he also had a more complete version of the theory. I thus renamed the Vine-Matthews hypothesis, the Vine-Matthews-Morley hypothesis. Morley's paper was turned down flat by two journals, and the referee for one them sent a scathingly pejorative critique. I tried to get a copy of Morley's original manuscript but it had been burned in a fire that destroyed much of his stuff.

Details: in February 1963, Morley submitted his hypothesis in the form of a Letter to Nature. Two months later he was notified that they "did not have room to print his Letter." He then submitted it to Journal of Geophysical Research in April. He got no answer until September, which was after the publication of the Vine-Matthews paper in Nature. The editor of Journal of Geophysical Research apologized for the very tardy response, which he said was due to his summer-long absence. He said that the paper had gone to an anonymous referee who had said that "such speculation makes interesting talk at cocktail parties, but it is not the sort of thing that ought be published as serious science."

Following the second rejection Morley gave an oral presentation to the Royal Society of Canada in Quebec, June 4th, 1964. His hypothesis was not published until late 1964 in an article written with Andre Larochelle who told me explicitely that he played no role in the formulation of the hypothesis and that the idea had been exclusively Morley's. The fire at Morley's home occurred 5th December, 1978 and destroyed all the correspondence from both Nature and Journal of Geophysical Research.

For further details about other aspects of this story see The road to Jaramillo: Critical years of the Revolution in Earth Science, William Glen, 1982.–Bill Glen Back

Merrihue (1966)

This paper s ets out the basics of 40Ar/39Ar dating especially the stepheating technique.–Ajoy Baksi Back

York (1969)

A classic paper with almost 2000 citations. It forms the basis of all isochron fits, evaluating the statistics thereof.–Ajoy Baksi Back

Cox (1980)

Cox (1980) is a simply titled and readily readable paper that argues effectively why we get such uniformity in the type of eruptive products observed in flood basalts. The origin of basaltic magmas had been a cause for great debate during the sixties and seventies, and several bench-mark papers had already been delivered on the subject.

The insight that Cox’s work offers is achieved using a classical petrological approach. Major element variation diagrams are used to asses the influence of crystallizing mineral assemblages upon residual liquids, and then to demonstrate that the uniformity of flood basalt compositions are primarily the result of the buffering of chemical change during ascent and ponding of the melt prior to eruption. Cox also uses the then ‘new-fangled’ computerized numerical modelling approach to assess major element fractionation of basaltic rocks. However, most importantly, he then tests his modelled results against real data from basalts he collected in Lesotho, Nuanetsi and Parana, thus demonstrating that the favoured model holds true in nature. In effect, this paper is a lesson in using the classical scientific approach.

The paper also outlines the idea of ‘underplating’ based entirely upon the same petrogenetic arguments. Cox states: ‘In areas of flood vulcanism a potentially large new contribution to the crust is made by underplating, the volumes of concealed cumulates being at least as large as the amount of erupted surface lava’. The ramifications of this observation have had significant impact upon our understanding of the uplift associated with many LIPs, and not least upon the ongoing plume/alternatives debate.

This paper is also remarkable in that it pre-dates access to the analytical techniques we enjoy today, and instead makes maximum use of major element analytical data, married with long experience and considerable insight: To paraphrase a comment made to me by Cox during my PhD studies ‘A shiny machine is perhaps no substitute for careful and elegant thought’. Whether the reader is plume-advocate or plume-skeptic, this paper offers insight into why flood basalt provinces are as they are.

On a personal note, Cox was my PhD supervisor and in his latter years a supportive friend. He was highly respected in the field of flood basalt volcanism. He had an uncanny way of identifying key issues, researching them, and then delivering his results and thoughts in disarmingly simple language. He died tragically in a boating accident in 1998. He had literally just retired, and we (ex-students and colleagues) were trying to arrange a special function for him – just to say thanks, and celebrate his contribution as a scientist and mentor. We did get together as planned, but instead it was a wake. There is a small band of ex-Cox PhD students who have since achieved some degree of success in the science – which he would have certainly shared and enjoyed, but sadly there are no more pints to be had down the Eagle and Child, where a few beers would ensure that talk about petrology, water colour painting and boating would mix seamlessly.– Mike Widdowson Back

Halls (1982)

Halls (1982) is important for the following reasons:

  1. it represented a paradigm shift in our understanding of the importance of regional dyke swarms in geodynamic processes. Prior to this time, dyke swarms were poorly understood and mostly ignored by the general geology community.
  2. it was used to build interest for the first international dyke swarm conference (in 1985 in Toronto, Canada). The success of this first conference has led to a series of conferences generally every 5 years: 1990 (in Adelaide, Australia), 1995 (Jerusalem, Israel), 2001 (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), 2005 (Rovaniemi, Finland), and the next is scheduled for Varanasi, India in February 2010.
  3. its insights led to the current understanding of regional dyke swarms and their links with Large Igneous Provinces, mantle plumes, and analogues on other planets.– Richard Ernst Back

Press (1986)

This book and its descendants (three editions so far and versions for Fortran 77, Pascal, C, Fortran 90, and C++) is certainly one of the most influential publications in science in the last several decades. It deserves at least an "Hono(u)rable Mention". It may not quite be science, but it is very important. – Bruce Julian Back

Renne (1997)

Obtained the right age of the Vesuvius 79 AD eruption material, and drives the final nail into the coffin of fundamentalists. Renne et al. obtained a ~2000-year age using a system with a half-life of over 1 billion years. –Ajoy Baksi Back

Czamanske (1998)

This was the first paper to link "no uplift" to "no plume" – Alexei Ivanov Back

Oreskes (1999)

Oreskes (1999) documents how, in the early 20th century, American Earth scientists vociferously opposed the new and highly radical notion of continental drift. Yet 50 years later the same idea was heralded as a major scientific breakthrough. Today continental drift is accepted as a scientific fact. This insightful book, based on archival sources, looks at why American geologists initially rejected the idea so adamantly while their counterparts in Europe were relatively receptive. Back

Trumpy (2001)

Trumpy (2001) reviews the great advances of alpine geologists who, in the early 20th century, fully documented the horizontal movements that created this chain but were unable or afraid to challenge the mainstream view and formulate the Plate Tectonics theory.– Luca Ferrari Back

Murakami (2004); Oganov (2004)

The CaIrO3-type phase of the MgSiO3 phase was discovered in 2004 using the laser-heated diamond anvil cell (LHDAC) technique by a group at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and, independently, by researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology who used a combination of quantum-mechanical simulations and LHDAC experiments. The TIT group's paper appeared in the journal Science. The ETH/JAM-EST collaborative paper appeared two months later in the journal Nature. This simultaneous discovery was preceded by S. Ono's experimental discovery of a similar phase, possessing exactly the same structure, in Fe2O3. His data was stored on a common computer accessible to K. Hirose, and the possibility of data misuse has become an issue of contention between the two scientists.– Wikipedia Back

Green (2005)

I quote from Green's paper: I conclude that the saga of ultrahigh-pressure metamorphism is probably in its young adulthood or, perhaps, still only at the end of its childhood. It has been a relatively slow revolution, with its principal punctuations being Ernst (1963), Ernst (1978), Chopin (1984) and Smith (1984), Sobolev and Shatsky (1990), and Dobrzhinetskaya et al. (1996). In each case, a powerful new set of observations was added to the fabric of metamorphic petrology: The first two were due to initial applications of new experimental advances, the third and fourth were field-based (but with experimental backing required for the stability range of the high pressure polymorphs discovered), and the fifth, based on microstructures, required subsequent experimental verification to be viable.– Alexei Ivanov Back

last updated 28th October, 2008