Vine, Fred J. (1939- )

views updated

Vine, Fred J. (1939- )

English geophysicist

Frederick J. Vine is best known for his contributions to the theory of plate tectonics and has had a distinguished career as a geologist and geophysicist. Born in London, England, Vine was educated at Latymer Upper School, London, and St. John's College, Cambridge University. With his supervisor at Cambridge, Drummond Matthews (19311997), Vine did crucial work on the process of seafloor spreading.

The German scientist Alfred Wegener (18801930) proposed in 1915 that there had once been a super-continent, which he named Pangaea, that had slowly moved apart. However, Wegener's continental drift theory did not explain how such movement occurred, and was not well received. In the early 1960s, Harry Hess (19061969) hypothesized that seafloor spreading was responsible for the motion of the continents. In 1963, Vine and Matthews published a paper in Nature titled "Magnetic Anomalies Over Ocean Ridges." In this work, the two scientists proposed an idea which, if confirmed, would provide strong support for the seafloor spreading theory.

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 evidence provided compelling support for the ideas of Wegener, and Hess, and resulted in a revolution in the earth sciences, in which the overlooked theory of continental drift was whole-heartedly adopted.

Vine went on to have a distinguished career. With E. M. Moores he did important research on the geology of the Troodos mountains of southern Cyprus. He worked with R. A. Livermore and A. G. Smith on the history of Earth's magnetic field, and together with R. G. Ross he did groundbreaking experimental work on the electrical conductivity of rocks from the lower continental crust . From 19671970 he was assistant professor of geology and geophysics at Princeton University. Vine returned to the United Kingdom in 1970 and became a Reader in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. He was promoted to professor in 1974, and was Dean from 19771980, and again from 19931998. Since 1998, Vine has been a Professorial Fellow of the University of East Anglia. He has received a number of honors, including the Chapman Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1973), the Charles Chree medal and prize of the Institute of Physics (1977), the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society (1982), and the International Balzan Prize (1981)all of which were shared with Drummond Matthews. He is also a Fellow of The Royal Society.

See also Mid-ocean ridges and rifts