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As the Earth Moves

On October 24, 1908, Canadian geologist and geophysicist John Tuzo Wilson, CC, OBE, FRS, FRSC, FRSE was born. After academic studies on three continents, a stint with the Geological Survey of Canada, and the Royal Canadian (Army) Engineers, he taught geophysics at the University of Toronto.

In the early 1960s, when most thought continents stayed put, Wilson became another voice backing the theory of Continental Drift. Geophysical investigations had begun to illustrate tectonic plates as converging upon or diverging from each other. Wilson proposed that the Hawaiian Islands and other volcanic island chains may have formed when a plate moved over a permanent hotspot or magma plume rising from the Earth’s mantle. Too radical for the day! His manuscript was rejected by all scientific journals except, finally, the Canadian Journal of Physics.

Wilson’s wide range of geophysical knowledge sparked his way of seeing, composing an image of how the Earth worked. He was soon on to his next conceptual refinement in plate movement debate. Wilson published A New Class of Faults and Their Bearing on Continental Drift that introduced the concept of the transform fault, wherein one plate slides by another.

This elegant solution accommodated a spreading seafloor, mid-oceanic ridges, and strike-slips like the San Andreas Fault. As advances in marine research and oceanography published data and findings about seafloor spreading, Wilson was right there to relate them to the geophysics of continents.

Tuzo Wilson served as President of the Royal Society of Canada, the American Geophysical Union, and as Chancellor, York University. Among his many honours and awards, Wilson received the Vetlesen Prize, Columbia University, the Wegener Medal, European Union of Geosciences, the Bucher Medal, American Geophysical Union, and the Logan Medal, Geological Association of Canada. He was made Companion of the Order of Canada.

Near the intersection of three tectonic plates northwest of Vancouver Island and south of the Queen Charlotte Islands, two seamounts of active submarine volcanoes bear his name.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage