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Dewey, John F. (1937- ) British Tectonicist, Structural Geologist John F. Dewey is regarded as one of the founders of the modern plate tectonic paradigm and one of the earliest scientists to apply the plate tectonic model to ancient mountain belts such as the Appalachians. He is also well known for his pioneering work on plate kinematics and using principles of plate kinematics on a sphere to understand complex geological problems. After helping to offer explanations of the Appalachian Mountain belt in terms of plate tectonics, Dewey later expanded his studies to a global scale. He presented plate tectonic concepts in a kinematic framework, clearly describing many phenomena for the first time.
John Dewey grew up in London during World War II, and excelled in athletics, especially boxing, rugby, cricket, gymnastics, high jump, and javelin. Although he was good at sports, he realized he could not make a profession out of it, and when he turned 16 he found another passion—geology. Dewey was inspired by his great uncle, Henry Dewey, a British government geologist, and he convinced his housemaster at Bancroft's School (Essex, United Kingdom) to let him pursue geology as a career. The headmaster at his school, John Hayward, was also an amateur geologist and encouraged Dewey in his studies, which eventually led to Dewey's receiving a first-class degree in geology from Queen Mary's College, University of London, in 1957. He next received a Ph.D. in geology from the University of London in 1960. After this Dewey turned down many opportunities for careers in the oil and mining industry, deciding instead to pursue an academic career, taking a job as a lecturer at the University of Manchester, then at the Cambridge University.
In the late 1960s the field of geology entered a revolution with the new theory of plate tectonics. Dewey was fascinated by the developments and in 1967 took a three-month sabbatical position at the Lamont Geological Observatory in New York City, where he studied the Appalachian/Caledonian mountain belt and began to apply the principles of plate tectonics to this ancient orogenic belt. While seeing the plate tectonic and kinematic model develop, in part from his colleagues at Lamont, Dewey became one of the early pioneers to apply the same principles to old mountain belts, using the Appalachian-Caledonian belt as the prime example. Dewey and his colleagues John Bird and, later, Kevin Burke recognized that the Appalachians and other mountain belts preserved a history of ocean opening and closing, a cycle they termed the Wilson Cycle, after the Canadian geologist J. Tuzo Wilson, one of the pioneers of the plate tectonic model in the oceans. Dewey stayed in America, taking a position at the State University of New York at Albany, where he remained until the mid-1980s. During that time the university became one of the world's leading research institutions for plate tectonics and its applications to old mountain belts, with numerous faculty and students studying the Appalachians, Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Asia, and Precambrian mountain belts of the world.
After 12 years in Albany Dewey moved back to England to become chair of the department of geological sciences at Durham, then moved to become chair of the earth sciences at the University of Oxford. Finally, he left the old society geological network in England and accepted the position of professor of geology at the University of California at Davis in 2001. He was inducted as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2005.
Dewey's basic interests and knowledge remain structural geology and tectonics, from the small-scale materials science of deformed rocks to the large-scale origin of topography and structures. Some of his ongoing field-based research is on the rock fabrics and structures of transpression and transtension, especially in California, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, and Newfoundland. Evolving interests include the neotectonics of California and Nevada and the relationship between faulting, topography, and sediment provenance, yield, and distribution. Derivative interests are the geohazards of volcanoes, earthquakes, and landslides.
See also continental drift; North American geology; plate tectonics.
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