Dutton, Clarence Edward

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Dutton, Clarence Edward

(b. Wallingford, Connecticut, 15 May 1841; d. Englewood, New Jersey, 4 January 1912)


Prepared for college early (he was ready to matriculate at thirteen), Dutton was held back by his parents, Samuel and Emily Curtis Dutton, as too young. Entering Yale at fifteen, he at first showed more literary than scientific aptitude. After graduation in the class of 1860, he entered Yale Theological Seminary. His studies were interrupted by the Civil War; he entered the army, where he quickly discovered a liking for mathematics that led him to make the army his career. Emerging from the war a captain of ordnance, he was stationed first at Watervliet Arsenal, near the Bessemer steelworks in West Troy, New York. His first scientific paper was on the chemistry of the Bessemer process.

Later Dutton was transferred to the Washington Arsenal; here he was led toward geology by the brilliant group of men who were then creating a structure of government-supported science. At Washington Philosophical Society meetings he met S. F. Baird and Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution; E. W. Hilgard of the Coast and Geodetic Survey; Simon Newcomb, Asaph Hall, and William Harkness of the Naval Observatory; and F. V. Hayden and J. W. Powell of the western surveys. By 1875 Powell had enough confidence in Dutton as a geologist to ask that he be assigned to special duty with his geographical and geological survey of the Rocky Mountain region. When the western surveys of Powell, Clarence king Hayden, and G. M. Wheeler were consolidated in 1879, Dutton continued with the United States Geological Survey until 1890, when he returned to regular army duty.

From the beginning of his geological studies, Dutton was interested in orogenic problems, and during his years of work in the plateau region of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico he had the opportunity to study not only the faults and monoclines along which uplift and subsidence had taken place but also the extensive volcanism that had accompanied these earth movements. In a number of reports and papers and in two major monographs (Report on the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah, 1880, and The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, 1882) he established himself as a brilliant interpreter of physical features. With Powell and Grove Karl Gilbert, his close collaborators, he established some of the basic principles of structural geology—in particular the theory of isostasy, which he developed to explain crustal movements. His geological writings, moreover, are marked by great charm of style; and he virtually formulated a new aesthetic for the startling scenery of the Grand Canyon country.

In 1882 Dutton studied live Hawaiian volcanoes, intending thereafter to examine the extinct volcanoes and lava beds of Oregon. He was diverted by the Charleston earthquake of 1886, on which he prepared a monograph; and from 1888 to 1890 he directed the hydrographic work of the irrigation surveys under Powell. After returning to army duty in 1890, he wrote further papers on volcanism and earthquakes, including several on the possibilities of earthquakes along the route of the proposed Nicaragua Canal. His last major contribution was Earthquakes in the Light of the New Seismology, which linked volcanism to radioactivity.


I. Original Works. A full listing of Dutton’s papers is appended to Wallace Stegner, Clarence Edward Dutton: An Appraisal (Salt Lake City, n.d. [1936]). The most important are Report on the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah, vol. XXXII, U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region (Washington, D.C., 1880); The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, U.S. Geological Survey Monograph no. 2 (Washington, D.C., 1882); “Hawaiian Volcanoes,” in Report of the United States Geological Survey, 4 (1884), 75–219; “Mount Taylor and the Zuñi Plateau,” ibid., 6 (1885), 105–198; “The Charleston Earthquake of August 31, 1886,” ibid., 9 (1889), 203–528; “General Description of the Volcanic Phenomena Found in That Portion of Central America Traversed by the Nicaragua Canal,” United States Senate Document no. 357, 57th Congress, 1st Session (1901–1902), XXVI, 55–62; and Earthquakes in the Light of the New Seismology (New York, 1904).

II. Secondary Literature. In addition to Stegner, above, brief discussions of Dutton’s life and work may be found in Biographical Record, Class of Sixty (Boston, 1906); and in G. P. Merrill, The First Hundred Years of American Geology (New Haven, 1904); as well as in the administrative reports of the Powell Survey and the United States Geological Survey.

Wallace Stegner

Dutton, Clarence Edward

views updated May 08 2018

Dutton, Clarence Edward (1841–1912) An officer in the US Army, Dutton was seconded to the US Geological Survey. He introduced the term ‘isostasy’, a concept for which he saw evidence in the Colorado plateau. Interested also in volcanology and seismology, he investigated the Charleston (USA) earthquake of 1886, and in 1904 published a textbook on seismology.

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