John Tuzo Wilson

Last updated

Juan('Jock') Tuzo Wilson
John Tuzo Wilson in 1992.jpg
John Tuzo Wilson in 1992
Born(1908-10-24)October 24, 1908
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
DiedApril 15, 1993(1993-04-15) (aged 84)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Alma mater
Known forTheory of Plate tectonics
Scientific career
Fields Geophysics & Geology
Institutions University of Toronto
Doctoral advisor Harry Hammond Hess
Doctoral students Harold Williams

John Tuzo Wilson, CC, OBE, FRS, [1] FRSC, FRSE (October 24, 1908 – April 15, 1993) was a Canadian geophysicist and geologist who achieved worldwide acclaim for his contributions to the theory of plate tectonics.

Order of Canada order

The Order of Canada is a Canadian national order and the second highest honour for merit in the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada. It comes second only to membership in the Order of Merit, which is the personal gift of Canada's monarch.

Order of the British Empire order of chivalry of British constitutional monarchy

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.

Fellow of the Royal Society Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, including Honorary, Foreign and Royal Fellows

Fellowship of the Royal Society is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of London judges to have made a 'substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science and medical science'.


Plate tectonics is the idea that the rigid outer layers of the Earth (crust and part of the upper mantle), the lithosphere, are broken up into numerous pieces or "plates" that move independently over the weaker asthenosphere. Wilson maintained that the Hawaiian Islands were created as a tectonic plate (extending across much of the Pacific Ocean) shifted to the northwest over a fixed hotspot, spawning a long series of volcanoes. He also conceived of the transform fault, a major plate boundary where two plates move past each other horizontally (e.g., the San Andreas Fault). His name was given to two young Canadian submarine volcanoes called the Tuzo Wilson Seamounts. [3] The Wilson cycle of seabed expansion and contraction (associated with the Supercontinent cycle) bears his name.

Crust (geology) The outermost solid shell of a rocky planet, dwarf planet, or natural satellite

In geology, the crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet, dwarf planet, or natural satellite. It is usually distinguished from the underlying mantle by its chemical makeup; however, in the case of icy satellites, it may be distinguished based on its phase.

A mantle is a layer inside a planetary body bounded below by a core and above by a crust. Mantles are made of rock or ices, and are generally the largest and most massive layer of the planetary body. Mantles are characteristic of planetary bodies that have undergone differentiation by density. All terrestrial planets, a number of asteroids, and some planetary moons have mantles.

Lithosphere The rigid, outermost shell of a terrestrial-type planet or natural satellite that is defined by its rigid mechanical properties

A lithosphere is the rigid, outermost shell of a terrestrial-type planet, or natural satellite, that is defined by its rigid mechanical properties. On Earth, it is composed of the crust and the portion of the upper mantle that behaves elastically on time scales of thousands of years or greater. The outermost shell of a rocky planet, the crust, is defined on the basis of its chemistry and mineralogy.

Birth, education and military

Wilson's father was of Scottish descent and his mother was a third-generation Canadian of French descent. He was born in Ottawa, Ontario. He became one of the first people in Canada to receive a degree in geophysics, graduating from Trinity College at the University of Toronto in 1930. [4] He obtained various other related degrees[ clarification needed ] from St. John's College, Cambridge. His academic years culminated in his obtaining a doctorate in geology in 1936 from Princeton University. After completing his studies, Wilson enlisted in the Canadian Army and served in World War II. He retired from the army with the rank of Colonel.

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, by the North Sea to the northeast and by the Irish Sea to the south. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Ottawa Federal capital city in Ontario, Canada

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada. It stands on the south bank of the Ottawa River in the eastern portion of southern Ontario. Ottawa borders Gatineau, Quebec; the two form the core of the Ottawa–Gatineau census metropolitan area (CMA) and the National Capital Region (NCR). As of 2016, Ottawa had a city population of 964,743 and a metropolitan population of 1,323,783 making it the fourth-largest city and the fifth-largest CMA in Canada.

Ontario Province of Canada

Ontario is one of the 13 provinces and territories of Canada and is located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province accounting for 38.3 percent of the country's population, and is the second-largest province in total area. Ontario is fourth-largest jurisdiction in total area when the territories of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are included. It is home to the nation's capital city, Ottawa, and the nation's most populous city, Toronto, which is also Ontario's provincial capital.

Career and awards

John Tuzo Wilson was President (19571960) of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). In 1969, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to the rank of Companion of that order in 1974. [5] Wilson was awarded the John J. Carty Award from the National Academy of Sciences in 1975. [6] In 1978, he was awarded the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London and a Gold Medal by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. He also served as honorary vice president of the RCGS. [7] He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Canada, and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. [8] He was the Principal of Erindale College at the University of Toronto and was the host of the television series The Planet of Man. He was elected President-elect (19781980) and President (19801982) of the American Geophysical Union. He also served as the Director General of the Ontario Science Centre from 1974 to 1985. He and his plate tectonic theory are commemorated on the grounds outside by the Centre by a giant "immovable" spike indicating the amount of continental drift since Wilson's birth.

International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics

The International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics is an international non-governmental organisation dedicated to the scientific study of the Earth and its space environment using geophysical and geodetic techniques.

The John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science is awarded by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences "for noteworthy and distinguished accomplishments in any field of science within the charter of the Academy". Established by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) and first awarded in 1932, the medal has been awarded in specific fields since 1961. The recipient is awarded a $25,000 prize.

Wollaston Medal award of the Geological Society of London

The Wollaston Medal is a scientific award for geology, the highest award granted by the Geological Society of London.

The John Tuzo Wilson Medal of the Canadian Geophysical Union recognizes achievements in geophysics. He is also commemorated by a named memorial professorship and an eponymous annual public lecture delivered at the University of Toronto.

The J. Tuzo Wilson Medal is given out annually by the Canadian Geophysical Union to recognize scientists who have made an outstanding contribution to the field of geophysics in Canada. Factors taken into account in the selection process include excellence in scientific or technical research, instrument development, industrial applications and/or teaching. The award was created in 1978 and named after its first recipient, John Tuzo Wilson.

The Canadian Geophysical Union/Union géophysique canadienne began as a society dedicated to the scientific study of the solid earth and has evolved into one that is concerned with all aspects of the physical study of Earth and its space environment, including the Sun and solar system. To express this broader vision of the geophysical sciences, the Union has adopted a sectional structure that allows individual sections to function as semi-autonomous entities.

University of Toronto university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The University of Toronto is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, located on the grounds that surround Queen's Park. It was founded by royal charter in 1827 as King's College, the first institution of higher learning in the colony of Upper Canada. Originally controlled by the Church of England, the university assumed the present name in 1850 upon becoming a secular institution. As a collegiate university, it comprises eleven colleges, which differ in character and history, each with substantial autonomy on financial and institutional affairs. It has two satellite campuses in Scarborough and Mississauga.

He is one of the 2016 inductees into Legends Row: Mississauga Walk of Fame. [9]

Legends Row: Mississauga Walk of Fame is the City of Mississauga's walk of fame.


Wilson was an avid traveller and took a large number of photographs during his travels to many destinations, including European countries, parts of the then USSR, China, the southern Pacific, Africa, and to both polar regions. Although many of his photos are geological—details of rocks and their structures or panoramas of large formations—the bulk of his photos are of the places, activities and people that he saw on his travels: landscapes, city views, monuments, sites, instruments, vehicles, flora and fauna, occupations and people.

Selected publications

See also

Related Research Articles

Plate tectonics The scientific theory that describes the large-scale motions of Earths lithosphere

Plate tectonics is a scientific theory describing the large-scale motion of seven large plates and the movements of a larger number of smaller plates of the Earth's lithosphere, since tectonic processes began on Earth between 3 and 3.5 billion years ago. The model builds on the concept of continental drift, an idea developed during the first decades of the 20th century. The geoscientific community accepted plate-tectonic theory after seafloor spreading was validated in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Transform fault A plate boundary where the motion is predominantly horizontal

A transform fault or transform boundary is a plate boundary where the motion is predominantly horizontal. It ends abruptly and is connected to another transform, a spreading ridge, or a subduction zone.

Island arc arc-shaped archipelago

Island arcs are long chains of active volcanoes with intense seismic activity found along convergent tectonic plate boundaries. Most island arcs originate on oceanic crust and have resulted from the descent of the lithosphere into the mantle along the subduction zone. They are the principal way by which continental growth is achieved.

Harry Hammond Hess was a geologist and a United States Navy officer in World War II.

Great Glen Fault Geological fault in Scotland

The Great Glen Fault is a long strike-slip fault that runs through its namesake the Great Glen in Scotland.

Dan Peter McKenzie 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 mathematical principles of plate tectonics on a sphere, and his early work on mantle convection created the modern discussion of planetary interiors.

Frederick John Vine FRS is an English marine geologist and geophysicist. He made key contributions to the theory of plate tectonics, helping to show that the seafloor spreads from mid-ocean ridges with a symmetrical pattern of magnetic reversals in the basalt rocks on either side.

W. Jason Morgan American geophysicist

William Jason Morgan is an American geophysicist who has made seminal contributions to the theory of plate tectonics and geodynamics. He retired as the Knox Taylor Professor emeritus of geology and professor of geosciences at Princeton University. He currently serves as a visiting scholar in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University.

The expanding Earth or growing Earth hypothesis asserts that the position and relative movement of continents is at least partially due to the volume of Earth increasing. Conversely, geophysical global cooling was the hypothesis that various features could be explained by Earth contracting.

Mantle convection The slow creeping motion of Earths solid silicate mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat from the interior to the planets surface


Edward A. "Ted" Irving, was a geologist and scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada. His studies of paleomagnetism provided the first physical evidence of the theory of continental drift. His efforts contributed to our understanding of how mountain ranges, climate, and life have changed over the past millions of years.

Tanya Atwater is a professor emeritus, American geophysicist and marine geologist, who specializes in plate tectonics, in particular the evolution of the San Andreas Fault plate boundary. Her work focused on the creation of computer-animated multimedia products and presentations depicting the histories of tectonic plates.

(Stanley) Keith Runcorn was a British physicist whose paleomagnetic reconstruction of the relative motions of Europe and America revived the theory of continental drift and was a major contribution to plate tectonics.

Vine–Matthews–Morley hypothesis The first key scientific test of the seafloor spreading theory of continental drift and plate tectonics.

The Vine–Matthews–Morley hypothesis, also known as the Morley–Vine–Matthews hypothesis, was the first key scientific test of the seafloor spreading theory of continental drift and plate tectonics.

The evolution of tectonophysics is closely linked to the history of the continental drift and plate tectonics hypotheses. The continental drift/ Airy-Heiskanen isostasy hypothesis had many flaws and scarce data. The fixist/ Pratt-Hayford isostasy, the contracting Earth and the expanding Earth concepts had many flaws as well.

Jack Oliver (scientist) American scientist

John "Jack" Ertle Oliver was an American scientist. Oliver, who earned his PhD. at Columbia University in 1953, studied earthquakes and ultimately provided seismic evidence supporting plate tectonics. In the 1960s, Oliver and his former graduate student, Bryan Isacks, set up seismographic stations in the South Pacific to record earthquake activity, and the data collected led to the insight that part of the ocean floor was being pushed downward.

The evolution of tectonophysics is closely linked to the history of the continental drift and plate tectonics hypotheses. The continental drift/ Airy-Heiskanen isostasy hypothesis had many flaws and scarce data. The fixist/ Pratt-Hayford isostasy, the contracting Earth and the expanding Earth concepts had many flaws as well.

Derek Keir has been an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Southampton since 2015. In 2013 he received the Bullerwell Lecture award from the British Geophysical Association (BGA) for significant contributions to geophysics.

The Plate Tectonics Revolution was the scientific and cultural change which developed from the acceptance of the plate tectonics theory. The event was a paradigm shift and scientific revolution.


  1. 1 2 Garland, G. D. (1995). "John Tuzo Wilson. 24 October 1908-15 April 1993". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society . 41: 534–552. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1995.0032.
  2. "John Tuzo Wilson, a man who moved mountains". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. 51: xvii. 2014. Bibcode:2014CaJES..51D..17W. doi:10.1139/cjes-2013-0175.
  3. "Geochemistry and origin of volcanic rocks from Tuzo Wilson and Bowie seamounts, northeast Pacific Ocean". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. NRC Research Press. 22 (11): 1609–17. 1985. Bibcode:1985CaJES..22.1609C. doi:10.1139/e85-170.
  4. Eyles, Nick and Andrew Miall, Canada Rocks: The Geologic Journey, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2007, p. 38 ISBN   978-1-55041-860-6.
  5. "Order of Canada citation". Governor General of Canada.
  6. "John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on February 28, 2015. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  7. "Gold Medal". Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
  8. "John Tuzo Wilson" (PDF). obituary. Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Academic offices
Preceded by
John S. Proctor
Chancellor of York University
Succeeded by
Larry Clarke
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
Henry Duckworth
President of the Royal Society of Canada
Succeeded by
Guy Sylvestre