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Ted Irving (1927–2014)

Edward “Ted” Irving, noted for his research on paleomagnetism, passed away on 25 February 2014 in Saanichton, British Columbia, Canada. He was 86


Edward “Ted” Irving, noted for his research on paleomagnetism, passed away on 25 February 2014 in Saanichton, British Columbia, Canada. He was 86.

Ted was born in Colne, Lancashire, and began his education at Colne Grammar School, where he became Head Boy. In 1945, he was drafted and sent to the Middle East (Palestine). After his service, he attended Cambridge University, graduating in 1951, where he became a graduate student of Keith Runcorn.

At that time, John Jaeger was forming the Research School of Earth Science at the Australian National University (ANU) and asked Ted to join him to conduct paleomagnetic research. Ted jumped at the chance and was off to Australia to set up a paleomagnetics laboratory. There he met and courted the daughter of the Canadian high commissioner. They were often seen riding on a bicycle together.

I first met Ted and his new wife, Sheila, in 1957 in Newcastle on Tyne, U.K., where I was a student of Runcorn. Ted had arrived to finish writing a series of papers that had resulted from his early collaboration with his colleagues at Cambridge, in particular, Ken Creer and Runcorn, with whom he produced the first polar wandering curves.

In his study of the pre-Cambrian Torredonian sandstone of Scotland, he proved that magnetic directions could be preserved in red sandstones for long periods of time. He also documented reversals of the Earth’s magnetic field. In spite of these major breakthroughs, Ted failed his Ph.D. exam, which was a great embarrassment to Cambridge. He was later asked by Edward Bullard to submit his book on paleomagnetism (1964) for a D.Sc. instead.

I received a Fulbright grant to study with Ted in Australia and spent 1960 working with him. At the time, Ted was writing the first book in English on paleomagnetism. Ted and I wrote four papers together, beginning in 1957 and ending in 2000. The last time I spoke to Ted, he told me that my writing had improved over the years. He really didn’t like Americans tampering with the Queen’s English.

Ted was interested in crustal mobility before the development of the theory of plate tectonics, and he and the group at Cambridge used the new data from paleomagnetism that rested on the dipole field hypothesis and the statistics developed by Sir Ronald Fisher (1953) to support the continental drift hypothesis. Ted would spend much of his career on this research as well as investigating pre-Cambrian polar wander of rocks from the Canadian shield.

After the start of the plate tectonics revolution, Ted investigated the magnetic properties of ocean floor basalts. He was a fierce competitor and loved to argue about science. He left ANU after a decade and joined the research branch of the Canadian Geological Survey. He returned to England as a professor of geophysics at Leeds University. However, the Department of Sponsored Research would not support his work, so he returned to Canada and went to work at the Pacific Geoscience Center, where he conducted research on microplate motion along the Pacific border of Canada.

For his outstanding research record (205 papers), he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1973), a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1979), and a foreign member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1998). He received many awards and medals, including the Walter H. Bucher Medal from AGU (1979), the Logan Medal from the Geological Society of Canada (1979), the Wilson Medal from the Canadian Geophysical Union (1984), the Alfred Wegener Medal from the European Geosciences Union (1995), the Day Medal from the Geological Society of America (1997), and the Wollaston Medal from the Geological Society of London (2005). The Canadian government honored him by making him a member of the Order of Canada (2003).

Ted was an avid gardener who up until recently had a garden covering about 1.3 acres. He published papers on the distribution of rhododendron across Europe and America. Ted will be dearly missed by his friends and colleagues.

—Neil Donald Opdyke, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville; email: [email protected]


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