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Dan McKenzie (geophysicist)

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Title: Dan McKenzie (geophysicist)  
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Dan McKenzie (geophysicist)

Dan McKenzie
Born (1942-02-21) 21 February 1942
Nationality British
Fields Geophysics
Institutions University of Cambridge
Thesis The shape of the earth (1967)
Doctoral advisor Teddy Bullard
Influences Walter Munk, Don L. Anderson
Notable awards Balzan Prize (1981)
Wollaston Medal (1983)
Japan Prize (1990)
Royal Medal (1991)
Copley Medal
William Bowie Medal (2001)
Crafoord Prize (2002)

Dan Peter McKenzie, CH, FRS is a Professor of Geophysics at the University of Cambridge, and one-time head of the Bullard Laboratories of the Cambridge Department of Earth Sciences. He wrote the first paper defining the principles of plate tectonics, and his early work on mantle convection created the modern discussion of planetary interiors.

Early life

Born in Cheltenham, the son of an ear, nose, and throat surgeon,[1] he first attended Westminster Under School and later Westminster School, London.

Education and career

McKenzie attended King's College, Cambridge where he read physics, obtaining a 2:1 in his final degree.

As a graduate student, he worked with Edward "Teddy" Bullard who suggested he work on the subject of thermodynamic variables. He was awarded a Research Fellowship at King's College at the beginning of his second year which enabled him to study anything he wanted. As such, he gave up doing what Teddy had suggested and became interested in how the interior of the earth convects, something completely speculative at that time. McKenzie taught himself fluid mechanics and then went to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, on the invitation of Freeman Gilbert and Walter Munk. After eight months he returned to the Cambridge, submitting his PhD in 1966. He has since said that nothing in his early life as a scientist had such a profound effect on him as those eight months in California.[2]

Plate Tectonics

Spending time between Cambridge and a Fellowship held in Caltech, McKenzie was invited, along with Teddy Bullard, to a conference in New York which initiated his revolutionary work on plate tectonics. After listening to separate talks from Fred on plate tectonics,[3] looking at the thermal structure of oceanic plates as they formed and cooled.[1]

Following this, he published a seminal paper with Bob Parker,[4] which employed [1]

Working with John Sclater, McKenzie determined the entire geological history of the Indian Ocean, the publication[5] of which eventually resulted in them both receiving Fellowships at the Royal Society.

Mantle Convection and Sedimentary Basins

McKenzie was awarded a University position and took it up in 1969. At this point he decided to move away from plate tectonics, choosing instead to focus on the behavior of fluids below the plates. He studied cellular convection and motions in the mantle whilst at the same time pursuing yet another new avenue of research; the development of sedimentary basins. It was from this work that he produced a classic paper[6] that has been widely accepted by oil companies as the "McKenzie Model of Sedimentary Basins."[1]

McKenzie was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1976 aged just 34, and by 1978 was awarded a University Readership position.

Later career

McKenzie continues to work at the Bullard Laboratories in Cambridge where he is Professor of Earth Science. Most recently his research has provided new insights into the tectonic evolution of Mars and Venus.

In 2002 he was awarded the prestigious Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for his contributions to research in the field of plate tectonics, sedimentary basin formation and mantle melting.

With his appointment as a Companion of Honour in 2003, he brought the then current Cambridge membership of this elite group to four: Brenner, McKenzie, Hobsbawm and Hawking.

Selected bibliography

  • McKenzie, D., Nimmo, F., Jackson, J., Gans, P. B. & Miller, E. L. 2000 Characteristics and consequences of flow in the crust. J. geophys. Res. 105, 11029-11046.
  • McKenzie, D. & Fairhead, D. 1997 Estimates of the effective elastic thickness of the continental lithosphere from Bouguer and free air gravity anomalies. J. geophys. Res. 102 27523-27552.
  • Jackson, J. A. & McKenzie, D., 1988 The relationship between plate motions and seismic moment tensors, and the rates of active deformation in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Geophys. J. R. astr. Soc. 93, 45-73.
  • Bickle, M. J. & McKenzie, D., 1987 The transport of heat and matter by fluids during metamorphism. Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 95, 384-92.
  • Jackson, J. & McKenzie, D., 1983 The geometrical evolution of normal fault systems. J. Structural Geol. 5, 471-82.
  • McKenzie, D. & O'Nions, R. K., 1983 Mantle reservoirs and ocean island basalts. Nature 301 229-231.
  • England, P. & McKenzie, D., 1982 A thin viscous sheet model for continental deformation. Geophys. J. R. astr. Soc. 70, 295-321.
  • McKenzie, D., 1978 Some remarks on the development of sedimentary basins. Earth planet. Sci. Lett. 40, 25-32.
  • Parsons, B. & McKenzie, D., 1978 Mantle convection and the thermal structure of plates. J. geophys. Res. 83, 4485-96.
  • McKenzie, D., Roberts, J. & Weiss, N. O., 1974 Convection in the Earth's mantle: towards a numerical simulation. J. Fluid Mech., 62, 465-538.
  • McKenzie, D., Molnar, P. & Davies, D., 1970 Plate tectonics of the Red Sea and East Africa. Nature 226, 243-8.
  • McKenzie, D. & Sclater, J. G., 1971 The evolution of the Indian Ocean since the late Cretaceous. Geophys. J. R. astr. Soc. 25, 437-528.
  • McKenzie, D. & Parker, R. L., 1967 The North Pacific: an example of tectonics on a sphere. Nature 216, 1276-1280.
  • McKenzie, D., 1966 The viscosity of the lower mantle. J geophys. Res. 71, 3995-4010.



  1. ^ a b c d e Macfarlane, A. & Harrison, S. (2007) "An interview with McKenzie"
  2. ^ American Geophysical Union "McKenzie Receives 2001 William Bowie Medal" [1]
  3. ^ McKenzie, D., 1966 The viscosity of the lower mantle. J geophys. Res. 71, 3995-4010
  4. ^ McKenzie, D. & Parker, R. L., 1967 The North Pacific: an example of tectonics on a sphere. Nature 216, 1276-1280
  5. ^ McKenzie, D. & Sclater, J. G., 1971 The evolution of the Indian Ocean since the late Cretaceous. Geophys. J. R. astr. Soc. 25, 437-528
  6. ^ McKenzie, D., 1978 Some remarks on the development of sedimentary basins. Earth planet. Sci. Lett. 40, 25-32.

External links

  • Personal web page at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • Dan Mckenzie interviewed by Alan Macfarlane, 11 May 2007 (film)
  • McKenzie Receives 2001 William Bowie Medal - American Geophysical Union
  • Listen to an oral history interview with Dan McKenzie - a life story interview recorded for An Oral History of British Science at the British Library
  • Dan Mckenzie and Friends 2011 (film)
  • Dan McKenzie at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
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