Chapter 3

Fundamental research, applied


“I wasn’t really very interested in extensional basins,” says McKenzie. “That was what everyone else was doing. I was interested in continental tectonics…. This work wasn’t originally applied research, it’s about as pure as you could get. And that idea has probably saved something like $5 billion in exploration costs because they now have a notion what they are doing.” His model provided a solution to an intractable problem for oil company geologists, through fundamental research to understand the processes at work. “Once you understand something, you can then apply it.”

Page from the printout calculating subsidence after initial extension, modelled at Lamont, 30 November 1977, from the working file for the papers McKenzie, D, “Some remarks on the development of sedimentary basins”, ‘Earth and Planetary Science Letters’, vol 40 (1978), pp25-32 and Jarvis, G T & D McKenzie, “Sedimentary basin formation with finite extension rates”, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 48: 42-52, (1980).