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Matthews, Drummond (1931-1937)

Matthews, Drummond (1931-1937)

English marine geophysicist

Drummond "Drum" Matthews had a long, outstanding career in geology and geophysics, contributing to the fundamental understanding of the structure and evolution of the earth's crust .

Matthews grew up near the sea, at Porlock in Somerset, England, and developed a lifelong love of the ocean. He attended Bryanston School in Dorset, before a term in the Royal Navy. He then studied at King's College, Cambridge, specializing in geology and petrology. After graduation, Matthews spent two years (195557) in the Falkland Islands, as part of the Dependencies Survey (later the British Antarctic Survey), before returning to Cambridge to complete a Ph.D. in marine geophysics.

In 1962, as part of the International Indian Ocean Expedition, Matthews made a small but detailed survey of a ridge in the north-west Indian Ocean that showed large areas of the seafloor magnetized in opposite polarities. This was to prove a key piece in the puzzle of seafloor creation and the theory of plate tectonics . As early as 1915, Alfred Wegener (18801930) had proposed that there had once been a super-continent, which he named Pangea, that had slowly moved apart. However, Wegener could not explain how such continental drift occurred, and so his theory was not well received. In the early sixties Harry Hess (19061969) hypothesized that seafloor spreading was responsible for the motion of the continents. In 1963, Matthews, with his first graduate student, Fred J. Vine (1939-), published a paper, "Magnetic Anomalies Over Ocean Ridges," in Nature. In this work, the scientists proposed an idea that, if confirmed, would provide strong support for the seafloor spreading hypothesis. It had long been suspected, but not proven, that the earth's magnetic field has undergone a number of reversals in polarity in its long history. Vine and Matthews suggested that if ocean ridges were the sites of seafloor creation, and the earth's magnetic field does reverse, then new lava emerging would produce rock magnetized in the current magnetic field of the earth. Older rock would have an opposing polarity, depending on when it had been created. By 1966, further studies confirmed the theory for all mid-ocean ridges . This provided compelling evidence for sea floor spreading, and an explanation of the mechanism of continental drift.

From 1960 to 1966, Matthews was a Senior Assistant in Research in the Department of Geodesy and Geophysics, and a Research Fellow of King's College, Cambridge. He became an Assistant Director of Research at Cambridge in 1966, and was appointed Head of the Marine Geophysics Group. During his time as Head, the Group contributed to over 70 scientific expeditions and published nearly 200 academic papers, working in areas as diverse as the North Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Gulf of Oman. In 1971, he was appointed Reader in Marine Geology at Cambridge.

From 1979, Matthews began to study deep crustal seismics that allowed research into the structure and evolution of continental crust. He helped found the British Institutions Reflection Profiling Syndicate (BIRPS), and became its first Director in 1982. BIRPS revealed previously unknown structures in the lower crust and upper mantle. He left BIRPS in 1990, taking early retirement as the result of ill health.

Matthews received many honors and awards recognizing his contributions to geology and geophysics, including the Chapman Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1973, with Fred Vine), the Bigsby Medal of the Geological Society of London (1975), the Arthur L. Day prize and lectureship of the National Academy of Sciences (1975, with Vine), the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society (1982, with Vine), the International Balzan Prize (1981, with Vine and Dan McKenzie), and the G. P. Woollard Award of the Geological Society of America (1986). He was a Fellow of the Royal Society from 1974, and was made a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 1982. Matthews died at the age of 66 after a long battle with diabetes and a resulting heart condition.

See also Continental drift theory; Earth, interior structure

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