Chapter 2

Publishing plate tectonics

“The reaction was astonishing.”


McKenzie and ParkerParkerBob Parker (1942-present) joined Madingley Rise as a PhD student in 1963, alongside McKenzie; they shared an office and had the same supervisor, Teddy Bullard. Parker was working on the propagation of the electromagnetic field from the ionosphere into the Earth, which demanded an understanding of the oceans. Parker went to IGPP Scripps for post-doctoral research and there he and McKenzie worked out the paving stone model of rigid plates rotating on a sphere about axes. Parker had produced a flexible computer programme to draw maps and he helped McKenzie incorporate earthquake first motions around the edges of the plates as instantaneous velocity vectors, a crucial step in the arguments of McKenzie and Parker 1967. sent their paper to Nature and heard nothing more about it. “Very clearly, when I posted it, I said to myself ‘yes, that’s going to cause me to be elected to the Royal Society!’ which was an arrogant thing to say,” acknowledges McKenzie. “But I was perfectly well aware of how important this was going to be. The reaction was astonishing. I went from being an unknown graduate student to somebody who was one of the people everybody invited to their conference – and paid their way – within a year. …I reckoned scientists didn’t get this sort of opportunity very often, perhaps once in their life, so I should really work hard and get on with it, and see how far this all went. So I was too busy to be conceited and absolutely went hell for leather; I knew it was going to be competitive.”

Copy letter from McKenzie to the editor of ‘Nature’ submitting a paper for publication [McKenzie, D & R L Parker, “The North Pacific: an example of tectonics on a sphere”, Nature, 216: 1276-1280, (1967)] and urging that it be published without delay, 10 November 1967.