Geology & Geophysics Tribute

Arvid M. Johnson (1938–2018)

A trailblazer in geomechanics using physical processes.

By , Ze’ev Reches, Gary Holzhausen, and Ken Neavel

Arvid M. Johnson was a pioneer in geomechanics, focusing first and foremost on understanding the underlying physical processes responsible for rock deformation and its resulting structures. He wrote an influential textbook, Physical Processes in Geology, which was published in 1970 by Freeman, Cooper. In his own words, the book was in response to a need at the time, introducing “methods of applying mechanics to the solution of geological problems.” Arvid also authored Styles of Folding: Mechanics and Mechanisms of Folding of Natural Elastic Materials, published in 1977 by Elsevier, primarily a collection of eight papers on the subject. Together with his students, Arvid published many benchmark papers on debris flow, landslides, and magmatic intrusions. In all these books and papers, he passionately developed a method for studying and analyzing rock deformation.

Town Geologist

Arvid was born on 12 August 1938 in Stevenson, Wash. He graduated from Wy’East High School in Odell, Ore., in 1956 and married his high school sweetheart, Deanna Dunn, in 1958.

He went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from the University of Oregon in Eugene and a Ph.D. specializing in engineering geology from Pennsylvania State University in University Park in 1965. After his schooling, Arvid and his wife moved to Palo Alto, Calif., where he became a tenured professor of geology at Stanford University.

As a young Stanford faculty member, Arvid split his time between reinventing geomechanics and practicing engineering geology as town geologist of nearby Portola Valley. He felt that the former was for his spirit and fun and the latter was for his responsibility to the community where he lived.

Influenced by their adviser’s split identity, a majority of the 90 or so graduate students whom Arvid trained focused on structural geology and geomechanics, but a sizable percentage pursued engineering geology. During his 13 years at Stanford, Arvid established one of the world’s pioneering seminars on the subject of geomechanics.

In 1971, Arvid was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1978, he was appointed a professor at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. After 11 years there, he moved again, this time to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., where he was a tenured professor and, for a short time, the head of his department. He retired in 2006.

Compassionate Adviser

Throughout his career, Arvid’s dedication to his students was incredible. He would seldom answer his office phone, letting it ring forever because he thought his priorities were his students first and his research second. Callers would wait forever!

Arvid stayed involved with his students, participated in their fieldwork, and followed their progress after their graduation. The photograph above was taken while he was hiking down the snow-covered Tanner Trail in the Grand Canyon to help one of his graduate students. For his students, Arvid was willing to camp in their field areas, even though he despised “sleeping on the rocks.” He would often have one or more of his children in tow on these field trips. Perhaps that is why one of his sons, Kaj Johnson, also became a prominent geoscientist and is keeping the family tradition alive as an active member of AGU’s Tectonophysics section.

Arvid was a first-generation American with Swedish parents, and he felt strongly connected to his Swedish heritage. This attachment to familial roots was something he encouraged in his students, urging those from outside the United States to return home after their graduation.

As much as Arvid doted on his students, they in turn strove to emulate him. Today, however, he might be considered a bad example for his graduate students in one curious way: He loved to smoke a pipe, and many of his protégés also found the lure of the pipe to be irresistible.

Fond Remembrances

Arvid died in Indianapolis, Ind., on 11 May 2018 at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife, Deanna; four children, Kaj, Jenna, Nils, and Karla; and 12 grandchildren.

Arvid’s science, philosophy, discussions, and the Christmas parties at his family home—with plenty of the traditional Swedish beverage glogg to go around—are strong memories for his friends and family. Arvid was a generous and unique person as well as a talented and inspiring scientist. He will be missed.

—Atilla Aydin ([email protected]), Stanford University, Calif.; Ze’ev Reches, University of Oklahoma, Norman; Gary Holzhausen, Salinas, Calif.; and Ken Neavel, Austin Texas

Citation: Aydin, A., Z. Reches, G. Holzhausen, and K. Neavel (2019), Arvid M. Johnson (1938–2018), Eos, 100, Published on 24 January 2019.
Text © 2019. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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