Allan Cox

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Allan Cox
Allan V. Cox headshot.JPG
Membership Honorary
BSc university University of California at Berkeley
MSc university University of California at Berkeley

Allan Verne Cox (December 17, 1926 – January 27, 1987) is known for his work in paleomagnetism and, with his associates, published a series of papers that established a chronology of magnetic field reversals, including the Jaramillo Event, which was a magnetic field reversal event which helped establish this chronology.

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership

Contributed by George Thompson

The Society of Exploration Geophysicists rarely bestows honorary membership on a "long-haired academic scientist." Why, then, has it selected Professor Allan Cox to receive this honor? The award recognizes Allan's "outstanding contributions to the geophysical profession, research on paleomagnetism, and leadership as an educator at Stanford University." Most members of the SEG know Allan as a paleomagnetist and coauthor of a new geologic time scale. But few people know how extensively he has influenced exploration geophysics through his dedication to students at Stanford.

Allan traces his career in geophysics to a summer job with the U.S. Geological Survey in 1950 as field assistant to Clyde Wahrhaftig in the Alaska Range. In Alaska, Allan became intrigued by rock glaciers, and this new fascination led him into the earth sciences. He received his B.A. in 1955, his M.A. in 1957, and his Ph.D. in 1959 from the University of California at Berkeley.

From 1959 to 1967 Allan worked as a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey headquarters in Menlo Park, California. He remembers a tar-paper shack in the Survey's backyard where he and his co-workers, notably Richard Doell and Brent Dalrymple, set out to prove that the earth's magnetic field has reversed itself a number of times, so that during half of the planet's history, its magnetic field has been directed toward the south.

Cox and his associates published a series of papers that helped to establish a time scale of geometric reversals, and developed many of the modern field and laboratory techniques necessary to accumulate basic data on the earth's magnetic history. Allan's early attempts toward establishing a reversal time scale concentrated on thick continental volcanic piles where magnetic reversals could be related to stratigraphy. "To a paleontologist," he once said, "a volcano is a giant tape recorder." Allan has used such tape recorders all over the world (in sedimentary as well as volcanic rocks) to help decode the plate tectonics record.

In 1965 Cox and others analyzed some volcanic rocks in the vicinity of Jaramillo Creek, near Santa Fe, and discovered that a switch from reversed (south) to normal (north) magnetism had occurred about 900,000 years ago. This event was the crucial piece of evidence that finally made comprehensible a mass of already existing data about the magnetism of sea-floor spreading. It confirmed sea-floor spreading and continental drift, and it triggered the revelation about plate tectonics that has revolutionized the science of geology. The sea-floor record has become a quantitative tool for revitalizing all earth science.

In 1968 Allan joined the faculty of Stanford University, where he is now the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Geophysics and dean of the School of Earth Sciences. His honors include election to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1969 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974. In 1978 he was elected president of the American Geophysical Union. Allan received the Fleming Medal of the American Geophysical Union in 1969, the Vetlesen Prize from Columbia University in 1971, the Day Medal of the Geological Society of America in 1975, and the Day Award of the National Academy of Sciences in 1984.

Such honors are the well-deserved rewards of a distinguished career, but they fail to describe Allan's intense interest in people and in education. At Stanford he saw a challenging need for a master's program in exploration geophysics, combining strong underpinnings in theory with the excitement of solving practical problems. Almost single-handedly (and without personal experience in exploration), while simultaneously carrying on his research in paleomagnetism, Allan created an exploration geophysics program that has contributed 100 young professionals to the exploration field over the last 10 years. Allan's wisdom and penetrating insight have been vital factors, for his influence on students is quietly but pervasively catalytic. He would like to share this honor with the talented students who have come through the exploration program.

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Allan Cox
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