Remembering Tuzo Wilson at The 2016 Arthur Holmes Meeting

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 4:07pm

Henry Halls (Professor Emeritus, Earth Sciences) has just returned from an all expenses paid invitation to the 2016 Sir Arthur Holmes conference at the Geological Society of London in the UK, where he gave a 30-minute keynote address on “Precambrian dyke swarms: initial stages of Wilson cycles?”.

The meeting concerned the legacy of Tuzo Wilson’s 1966 seminal paper “Did the Atlantic close and then re-open?”  The conference theme was to evaluate this paper on the 50th anniversary of its publication. This cyclical behaviour has been considered fundamental in the life of ocean basins and in the operation of plate tectonics in general. It has been given the name “Wilson Cycle”.

Halls’ contribution to this topic was, by using the numerous dyke swarms of the Canadian Shield as evidence of continental rifting, to show that Precambrian Wilson Cycles existed from about 550 to 2500 million years ago, demonstrating that Plate Tectonics has been operating throughout this  period of time. During this long span of Geological history the life time of an ocean (from initial opening to closure) has remained sensibly constant, lying within an age range of about 200 ±50 million years.

During the conference Halls also showed a five minute video of Tuzo Wilson taken on the occasion of his farewell speech after a celebration of his tour of duty as the de facto first Principal (1967 - 1974) of Erindale College (now UTM). The video was well received, especially since many in the audience were of an age to have interacted with Tuzo in the early days when Plate Tectonics, as the underlying mechanism of Earth’s surface and internal behaviour, was being hotly debated. 

The conference was somewhat marred by poor behaviour on the part of certain very loud and remonstrative delegates sitting in the front seats who would continually interrupt speakers, often making insulting remarks about their efforts.After the conference was over, twenty delegates went for a four-day field trip to the very north of Scotland to examine the Caledonian collisional zone and evidence for its re-activation. The usual windy and rainy weather was replaced by virtually cloudless skies which lasted for the entire trip!

Taken as a whole, it was a very memorable experience, especially to the Geological Society itself which represents the world’s oldest and most prestigious geological organization, the headquarters of which are in Burlington House, an impressive mansion on Piccadilly, one of London’s main thoroughfares. The most meritorious award of the Society is the Wollaston medal which was presented to Tuzo Wilson in 1967. The UTM video was accordingly presented by Halls to the Society as a memory of one of their most illustrious members.

Henry Halls June 15 2016.