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The Ocean of Truth

The Ocean of Truth: A Personal History of Global Tectonics

Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    The Ocean of Truth
    Book Description:

    Menard begins with the leading hypotheses (such as that the earth expands) and the supporting evidence for each. He traces the crucial work of the 1960s year by year as researchers debated hypotheses in correspondence and at frequent meetings. Throughout the book Professor Menard considers the implications of his story for the sociology of science and the goals of scientific research.

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5468-4
    Subjects: Geology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Marcia McNutt
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-16)

    Revolutions are painful but they become necessary when the old order no longer makes sense. That was true in geology after World War II. There was no agreement about the most fundamental properties of the earth. Was it cooling, heating, or staying at a constant temperature? Was it contracting, expanding, or retaining its size? Did the interior convect? Did continents drift? No geologist knew for sure. Nor, with the tools and techniques of the past, was there any way to know. Only a scientific revolution could solve the stagnation in geology, but where would it start and when? As it...

    (pp. 17-29)

    Whereas a palace revolution is recognizable by the gunfire, a scientific revolution is recognizable by the language, whether it be in newly coined words or in the symbols of a new mathematics. Data and hypotheses are expertly discussed for decades in an expanding special vocabulary. Then one day a scientific revolution occurs, and the hypotheses, vocabulary, and experts are swept away. New experts appear among the few hardy survivors of the old, and they generate the vocabulary that characterizes the new theory.

    The revolution that included continental drift, sea-floor spreading, and plate tectonics was no exception, but the timing was...

  8. Chapter 3 I KEEP MY SHIPS AT SEA
    (pp. 30-43)

    The plate tectonics revolution in the late 1960s had extraordinary impact and overwhelming momentum. Its rapid acceptance was owing in no small degree to the availability of large quantities of pertinent field observations that could rapidly confirm predictions. This chapter is a history of the creation of the principal organizations that collected the data and how the work was done. The period of concern is 1946-1968. It spans Maurice Ewing’s move to Columbia University, Roger Revelle’s reshaping of Scripps, the invention of a new system of funding, the acquisition of ships, and the development and use of new systems for...

    (pp. 44-55)

    When we put to sea on the Midpac expedition in July of 1950 we expected certain results even though our observations would be in unexplored territory (Fig. 5). Seldom have expectations been so far from reality. Even now, 33 years later, Russ Raitt’s face glows when he recalls our constant astonishment at what the instruments were showing. So numerous were the discoveries that our second great geophysical expedition, Capricorn, in 1952-1953 was an anticlimax—at least in retrospect. On our first ventures we found most of the kinds of phenomena that could be found with the instruments then available. On...

    (pp. 56-69)

    After I received my Ph.D. at Harvard,¹ my wife wanted to return to California, and my friend Edwin Conger Buffington said that the U.S. Navy Electronics Laboratory in San Diego was a good place to work. Thus I joined him in the Sea-Floor Studies Section, headed by Robert Sinclair Dietz (Figs. 29, 36, and 37), which was a subdivision of the Oceanographic Branch under Eugene LaFond. This was a very fortunate association for me. In most government laboratories, particularly those run by the military, the spirit is bureaucratic; action, if there is action, is in response to directives, and initiative...

    (pp. 70-79)

    In the middle of the 1950s, two marine geophysicists from Scripps were to discover an incredible pattern of magnetic anomalies in the eastern Pacific. A decade later such patterns would have been found in all the ocean basins and recognized as symmetrical around mid-ocean ridge crests:

    The straightness, symmetry, extent and ubiquity of these patterns is without parallel in geology and their discovery was completely unexpected.¹

    So it was. After his moderate success in towing a magnetometer on Capricorn, Ron Mason shuttled back and forth between London and La Jolla for a few years pursuing his magnetic studies. The early...

    (pp. 80-93)

    We have been following marine discoveries in the early 1950s in the Pacific where the data had no obvious relation to continental drift except to show that the crust is rigid and highly mobile. We are now at the time when a discovery of the first magnitude was made in the Atlantic: the crests of mid-ocean ridges are tensional rifts. The interpretation of this discovery, however, being in the Atlantic, was linked to continental drift. Perceptions of this subject had changed since we last considered it at Wegener’s death in 1930, so before turning to the rift it seems advisable...

    (pp. 94-107)

    In 1956 the geological world was electrified by stories in newspapers and magazines that Lamont scientists had discovered a world-girdling rift 2 miles deep, 20 miles wide, and 40,000 miles long. This discovery was remarkably fruitful in that it immediately stimulated exploration of mid-ocean ridges and speculation on global tectonics. The history of the discovery may also prove fruitful in illuminating how science works. Hardly any of the factual material in the “discovery” was new, and hardly any of the speculation was correct. Nonetheless, the hypothesis of a world-girdling topographic rift could not have been more stimulating or valuable. The...

    (pp. 108-118)

    Harry Hess and Alfred Wegener were similar in many ways: cheerful men, professors, married to professors’ daughters. Each fought through a long war, not as children straight from school but as established young scientists breaking a career. Wegener was 34-38 years old in World War I and twice wounded on the western front. Hess was 35-40 in World War II and earned four battle stars in the western Pacific. Both had such broad and deep interests that each appeared to have had quite different careers as viewed by contemporary specialists with narrower but no deeper concerns. The major difference in...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. Chapter 10 OCEANIC TRENCHES
    (pp. 119-131)

    Each generation of scientists believes that its observations will be able to solve the great problems that eluded its predecessors. The prognosis is particularly optimistic if new kinds of instruments have been invented to shed light on the old problems. If the old observations could not really solve the problem, then the conflicting conclusions drawn from them may be neglected—even if by luck one of them will turn out to have been correct. So reasons the new generation. So Philip Kuenen, the new man in the early 1930s, wrote regarding the trenches and island arcs of Indonesia:

    The earlier...

    (pp. 132-141)

    Before World War II the grand geological syntheses such as continental drift could not be tested. In the 1950s new tools and new men began to accumulate enormous quantities of entirely new kinds of observations. Paleomagnetics, explosion seismology, heat flow, marine magnetics, and echo sounding—all were yielding startling results. For the first few years, confusion grew as a few geologists attempted to absorb and evaluate the unfamiliar observations. Most geologists, of course, continued, unconcerned, with their research in petrography, stratigraphy, or other specialties. I do not mean to imply that the new men were dynamic and farsighted, as opposed...

  18. Chapter 12 THE EXPANDING EARTH
    (pp. 142-151)

    Geologists commonly report their results for some field work, relate them to some phenomenon such as compression, and then refer to an “underlying cause” for the compression. The underlying causes have little to do with the results, which could be produced by a variety of causes, but such a reference distinguishes the broad research scientist from a mere field technician. The underlying causes are phenomena that affect the whole earth such as interaction with the moon or other celestial bodies, heating or cooling, or changes in volume, rate of rotation, or orientation of the axis of rotation. Little risk is...

  19. Chapter 13 SEA-FLOOR SPREADING
    (pp. 152-161)

    In 1959, Harry Hess published his last ideas on tectonics before embracing seafloor spreading. For publication, he was reduced to the final resort of a busy man of affairs: an abstract for a meeting and a bit of science spliced into a progress report of a committee.¹ Fortunately, this style of publication is printed very rapidly and gives an accurate impression of his thinking at the time. The tectonic ideas in his abstract² differed little from those in his papers of 1954-1955. He merely added Heezen’s rift to the list of important discoveries and made a few calculations to the...

  20. Chapter 14 1960
    (pp. 162-174)

    In tectonics the decade of the 1960s was characterized by the chaos that precedes general acceptance of a theory. Some geologists believed in continental drift and sea-floor spreading. Others believed in an expanding or a contracting earth, and so on. Those who took a stand on global tectonics as suggested by one type of information hardly communicated with other geologists with other kinds of information. The groups of specialists tended to talk only to each other with little effort to convert the ignorant, and the vast majority of geologists were not involved with global tectonics and remained quite neutral—at...

  21. Chapter 15 1961-1962 THE REVOLUTION BEGINS
    (pp. 175-189)

    Half a century after Wegener’s opening salvo, the second phase of the revolution in the earth sciences began quietly in 1961. Bob Dietz published his seafloor spreading paper inNaturein June, and there was some follow-up in that journal later in the year. J. D. Bernal commented on 14 October, Dietz responded.¹ Bernal rebutted, and Tuzo Wilson identified corollaries and expanded on Dietz’s hypothesis. Those were the only publications regarding the new hypothesis that would ultimately carry everything before it. The existence of any follow-up publication at all, especially in such a journal and by such famous names as...

  22. Chapter 16 1963-1964 INCREASING TENSION
    (pp. 190-211)

    Certainly the most important geological hypothesis to emerge in 1963 was that magnetic reversals are recorded by the cooling lavas at a spreading center. That fact, however, was not appreciated at the time, and the idea languished—largely ridiculed or ignored except in one visionary paper by George Backus. On the other hand there was a continuing development of the broader hypotheses of global tectonics in 1963-1964, and they are the subject of this chapter.

    The chaotic state of global tectonics prevailed through 1963-1964, becoming, if anything, even more polarized than before. Lacking critical new data, and lacking appreciation of...

    (pp. 212-222)

    In order to advance their fruitful hypothesis, Fred Vine and Drummond Matthews had to believe three hypotheses simultaneously at a time when few scientists believed any one of them. They also had to disbelieve the only observation directly related to the hypothesis. Even so, they were not the only ones to produce such a hypothesis. The year 1963 clearly was a time when the stage was set for a conceptual leap forward. Perhaps it was because Dietz had come so close in his original paper on sea-floor spreading in 1961. His idea that the magnetic anomaly stripes off California are...

  24. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  25. Chapter 18 1963-1964 CONTINENTAL DRIFT
    (pp. 223-237)

    Research and publication on marine tectonics and paleomagnetics as well as on the older subject of continental drift increased in 1963-1964. There were more conversions to the concept of drifting as well as the first stirrings of a new vocal opposition. The proportion of geologists who accepted drift, who were merely disengaged, or who actively opposed it varied markedly by country. Thus this chapter is organized in three parts dealing with views in the United States, then with those in Britain, and then with the confrontation of views at the Royal Society Symposium on Continental Drift in March 1964.


    (pp. 238-255)

    In 1915 Wegener published the first book on continental drift. Half a century later his brilliant hypothesis was confirmed. DuToit might say “It was already confirmed in 1937 by my geological maps of the southern hemisphere.” “And by my precise plotting of the geology on a globe in 1956,” Carey might echo. Quite so; it will be a characteristic of this scientific revolution that most specialists were only convinced by observations related to their specialties. It would still be some years before the headlines proclaimed “Continental Drift Confirmed” because of the discovery of some fossil in Antarctica. It would even...

  27. Chapter 20 1966 CONVERSION OF THE INVOLVED
    (pp. 256-280)

    Sea-floor spreading, magnetic recording, transform faults, and magnetic symmetry were all presented by the beginning of 1966. They were already broadly correct ideas, but no one seemed sure that they were, except possibly Tuzo Wilson and Bob Dietz. During 1966 Fred Vine and Drummond Matthews became convinced that their hypothesis was really correct. This was the year of the Eltanin-19 magnetic profile that was a miracle of symmetry. That profile alone was capable of converting to sea-floor spreading almost everyone who was involved enough to appreciate the issues. By the end of 1966 the hypothesis would be accepted not only...

  28. Chapter 21 THE OCEAN OF TRUTH
    (pp. 281-294)

    Sea-floor spreading was proved for those who were aware of and could understand the data. They were few in number at the start of 1967, and nearly all worked at the same institutions. A feverish search for enlightenment began, and anyone who was suspected of knowing anything was invited or importuned to inform eager audiences across the country. The year augured well; the ferment of Madingley Rise in 1965 and Lamont in 1966 would begin to intoxicate the geological world. The publication of Fred Vine’s paper in December 1966, gives a convenient date for ending the period of uncertainty, speculation,...

    (pp. 295-302)

    In a history of science by a working scientist it has become customary to conclude with a chapter in which the writer attempts to link his material with the grander concepts of philosophy, history, and sociology. I, too, had such a chapter in mind, but that was when I expected to cover the 1970s and perhaps early 1980s in this volume. The present account terminates in 1968 after following the idea of continental drift from its conception to its proof. As a social phenomenon, however, the scientific revolution was not over at that time. The existence of a proof was...

    (pp. 303-304)
  31. NOTES
    (pp. 305-326)
    (pp. 327-340)
  33. INDEX
    (pp. 341-353)
  34. Back Matter
    (pp. 354-354)