September 6, 2007 -- Dr. Kent Condie was awarded a DSc (Honoris Causa) from the University of Pretoria on September 6, 2007. Prof C. W. I. Pistorius, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Council of the University of Pretoria, stated, "This is in recognition of the significant contributions you made to global geosciences. The Council decided to honour you as a leading thinker and innovator in the greenstone belt studies, mantle plumes and super plumes. Your involvement with the University of Pretoria is also recognized. On behalf of the University, I extend to you my heartiest congratulations on this exceptional achievement."
Below is the biographical sketch presented during the ceremony.
Kent Condie was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, on 28 November 1936. He graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1959, followed by a Master's in 1960, and obtained his PhD from the University of California, San Diego in 1965, with a thesis entitled "Petrology and geochemistry of the late Precambrian rocks of the northeastern Great Basin."
He first taught at Washington University, from 1964 -1970, before moving to New Mexico Tech in Socorro in 1970, where he is still very active as a Professor of Geochemistry.
The name of Kent Condie has for long been synonymous, in the international geological fraternity, with a leading thinker and innovator in the fields of geochemistry, Precambrian geological evolution, Precambrian plate tectonics, and most recently, mantle plumes and superplumes.
Kent Condie has long been a prominent and prolific author, particularly of single-authored books on Precambrian geological evolution, He began in 1976, with his first title, Plate Tectonics and Crustal Evolution, with three subsequent editions. This continually updated book has long been a standard work of reference for senior postgraduate students and professionals in the Earth sciences. Several other single-authored or singly-edited books have emanated from his pen: Archean Greenstone Belts (1981); Proterozoic Crustal Evolution (1992); Archean Crustal Evolution (1994); Mantle Plumes and their Record in Earth History (2001); Earth as an Evolving Planetary System (2005). Two further books were co-authored with others: Origin and Evolution of Earth: Principles of Historical Geology (1998); Archean Geodynamics and Environment (2006). Each of these books has, in turn, become a standard work of reference in their respective fields.
The broad compass of these books is astonishing, with the major focus being within the field of the overall evolution of planet Earth within an evolving solar system, with an ever-changing atmosphere-biosphere affecting geochemistry of the resultant rocks. Condie's expertise has always spanned all geological levels, from processes deep within the Earth, at the crust-mantle boundary, right through to surflcial events, and everything in between. His fourth book on mantle plumes has revolutionised modern geodynamic thinking, Mantle plumes/superplumes are now considered by most geologists to represent events from deep within Earth's mantle, of a scale large enough to enforce interaction with the famous plate tectonic paradigm.
Professor Condie's books are complemented by a total of 165 papers in recognised ISI-rated publications, most in top-rated Earth science journals, and over 120 conference contributions. The 41 different journals in which he has published reflect his expertise across geological science -- from palaeontology, through sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, to igneous rocks, geochemistry, plate tectonics and economic geology. His works include two papers in Science, one in Nature and another in the American Journal of Science.
The sheer scale of Condie's publications and contributions to the full spectrum of
the discipline of geology is simply astounding, and they continue right up to the
present despite his approaching seventieth birthday. Much of his work has emanated
from South Africa's famous, and the world's oldest Precambrian craton, Kaapvaal, and
his interactions with South African scientists have been numerous.
In view of the really significant contributions which Professor Condie has made to global geoscience for more than forty years, the award of an honorary DSc from the University of Pretoria is a fitting reward for someone of truly prestigious international standing.
Acceptance Speech by Kent Condie for Graduation Ceremony, University of Pretoria, South Africa, Sept. 6, 2007
It is a great honor to be here tonight and to be a recipient of an honorary doctorate degree from such a prestigious university as the University of Pretoria. Although my decision to enter geology began in 1955 when I entered the geology program at the University of Utah, my first real encounter with research began when I enrolled in the PhD program at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in the fall of 1960. I had decided oceanography was my thing. I remember my first encounter with the ocean on a retired U. S. Navy ship known as the “Black Douglas”. I was one of several grad students in the ship’s lab watching a chemical experiment in which the reactants in a beaker were turning green. At the same time we were hitting large waves off San Diego harbor and I began to turn the same color as reactants in the beaker. I spent the rest of the journey leaning over the side of the ship. With this experience I realized that oceanography might not really be my thing after all.
It wasn’t long until Nobel Laureate Harold Urey talked with me about a possible thesis dealing with the origin of the Moon. This was in the pre-Apollo days, and Urey had some strong opinions about the Moon, many of which proved to be wrong when we finally set foot on the moon and analyzed rocks from its surface. In any case, I decided against a lunar thesis, I really wanted to bang on an outcrop with a hammer and get my own samples. Harold Urey, however, taught me to think big, an attribute that proved very important later in my studies of old Earth rocks. It was at this point that I decided to work with Al Engel, who really got me interested in old rocks and the potential they had for learning about the early part of Earth history. While at Scripps, I interacted with Rama Murthy who taught me the value of a precise chemical analysis and how much work was required to obtain such an analysis. This proved extremely valuable to me as I began to chemically analyze old rocks. And then there was Harmon Craig who showed me that putting 20 hours a week on a single geochemical problem in his graduate class could indeed be rewarding, provided you approached it with the right frame of mind.
When I stepped off the plane at Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg in early June of 1973, I had no idea that I was beginning a scientific encounter with Africa that would last the rest of my career. It turned out the much of the earliest part of Earth’s history was somehow preserved in Southern Africa. I had met Tom Clifford from the University of Witwatersrand at a meeting in the United States, and his enthusiasm for studying old rocks in southern Africa convinced me that I really needed to go the Africa. This encounter together with a successful research grant from the U. S. National Science Foundation brought me to the Barberton Mountain Land here in South Africa, where we have 3.5 billion-year-old greenstones. Greenstones are altered volcanic rocks, usually erupted on the ocean floor. It was here in the company of Morris Viljoen (who had recently finished a PhD thesis in the area) that I really became interested in old greenstones. I remember our first visit to the Komati River gorge to examine a new type of greenstone that Morris had discovered during his thesis research (later named komatiite). Tom Clifford had told me some ghastly stories about bilharzia and warned me not to come in contact with African stream or lake waters. I was panic stricken when Morris began to hop from one slippery rock to another along the Komati River, and I told him that I would be happy looking at the komatiites along the side of the canyon.
We now know that the rather dull-looking black to green volcanic rocks in greenstone belts contain answers to many important questions as to how planet Earth has evolved and why it is so different from Venus and Mars. In the company of Carl Anhaeusser (at the Economic Geology Research Unit in Johannesburg), I learned what to look for in the field and to meticulously collect important data from often poorly exposed outcrops. Since these rocks are variably altered and metamorphosed, we had to show that at least some elements didn’t move around during these secondary processes, if we were to use the chemical compositions to learn more about the sources and tectonic settings of the original volcanics. Morris Viljoen and I collected a suite of volcanics showing variable degrees of alteration to test element mobility and jointly published a paper on the subject. As we learned more about greenstones, both from Africa and other continents, it became clear that they contained a record of the early tectonic history of our planet, and it was our great challenge to learn how to extract this information. Greenstones, for instance, tell us that modern plate tectonics began by three billion years ago on this planet. In fact, the existence of plate tectonics and water on Earth provide the essentials for higher forms of life to exist here. In the early 1970s I saw a need for a textbook on the early part of Earth’s history, and in 1976 Pergamon Press published the first edition of “Plate Tectonics and Crustal Evolution”. The book has gone through five editions, the last of which appeared in 2005, attesting to how rapidly we are acquiring new scientific data about the early history of the Earth.
You can’t do geological work in Africa without encountering big game animals. I remember one such encounter I had with an elephant in Zimbabwe in 1973. The park ranger at Hwange National Park warned me upon entering the park that I needed to stay in my Volkswagon beetle. But, how could I examine and collect rocks in the beetle? One day I was examining some granite, and an elephant came upon me, since I was obviously in his territory. Suddenly he charged, breaking trees while rapidly closing the distance between us. I learned three things from this experience: first, the ranger knew what he was talking about; second, it was probably better to study rocks outside of game parks, and third, I could reach a running speed of 20 kph from a standing position in 5 seconds flat.
I became so engrossed with the study of greenstones that I returned to southern Africa in 1976 with my family for a sabbatical leave at the University of Witwatersrand. At this time I was also becoming interested in how and when supercontinents began to form. I’m sure to inspire me, Tom Clifford (who was chairman of the geology department) assigned me to a very small office with a very large picture of Alexander Du Toit hanging over the desk. Du Toit, of course, was a South African geologist who championed continental drift long before it became widely accepted. Over the years, it became clear that not only volcanics, but also sedimentary and granitic rocks retained important information on our planet’s early history. Don Hunter, who later moved to the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg, introduced me to the vast array of granitic rocks in southern Africa and showed me how these rocks could be very important to studying the early evolution of the Earth’s crust. He and I collaborated on my first paper on Archean granitic rocks from southern Africa. Old sedimentary rocks came into the picture for me in the mid-1980s, when together with two of my PhD students, Dave Wronkiewicz and Clay Crow, we began an extensive geochemical study of the Transvaal Supergroup in this part of South Africa. From changes in the composition of shales with stratigraphic height, we were able to make inferences about the composition of the earliest continental crust in southern Africa. The shales, which I keep in a storage shed at New Mexico Tech, have been the subject of several specialized studies, and even today I am often contacted by other scientists for samples. Most recently we have been working with Pat Eriksson here the University of Pretoria on isotopic changes with time in 2.5 billion-year-old limestones in the Transvaal succession.
In the mid 1990s, while working with Kirsty Tomlinson in the western Superior Province in Canada, we discovered some unusual greenstones with compositions very different from modern island arcs. They had the composition of young oceanic plateau basalts, like basalts from the Ontong Java plateau in the South Pacific, which is the product of mantle plume magmatism. (Mantle plumes are hot blobs that rise from deep in the mantle to the base of the plates). This discovery led us to the exciting idea that these ancient greenstones may help us to track the role of mantle plumes in the geologic past. To make a long story short, many basalts with compositions similar oceanic plateau type basalts have been found in greenstones older that 2.5 billion years, suggesting that mantle plumes may have been more abundant then than now. This idea led to still another book, “Mantle Plumes and Their Record in Earth History”, published by Cambridge University Press in 2001.
Now I would like to speak to all the science and engineering students who are receiving degrees here tonight. As you begin on your scientific careers, I would like to suggest three guideposts for success: First is to set goals both in your scientific endeavors and in your personal lives. Setting goals without working to attain those goals will not lead to success, however. Goals without work is like dreaming, and work without goals is drudgery and boring. Leaders from industry, business, and government say that it is easy to find graduates who can do what they are told, but difficult to find those who know what to do without being told. Computers and other machines are not creative or imaginative, they are simply tools, and tools do not work until placed in the hands of skilled and imaginative people.
A second guidepost is to show appreciation for those that help you along the way. I hope you will not forget the friends you have made here at the university, and especially those friends that lifted you up, when you were down. Many people have helped you to reach this point in life. Express thanks to them. Especially thank those professors who have planted the seeds of learning and curiosity in your minds, and have introduced you to the skills and knowledge you need to succeed. Yours is now the opportunity to build, to lift, and to inspire others. Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. This is how we grow. Strive to be tolerant and considerate of other racial and ethnic groups, and extend service to those who need service.
And the third guidepost, always seek the truth and strive for high moral and ethical standards, both in your professional work and with those family and friends with whom you interact. Your university experience has taught you how to find truth about things as they are and as they were. Especially in geology, we are challenged to find truth in the “as they were” category. Continually test your ideas and models against new data, and be willing to change as new information becomes available.
I would like to thank all of those with whom I have interacted with over the years, both in southern Africa and elsewhere: colleagues at New Mexico Tech and at other universities who have helped me appreciate the numerous channels from which we can gather scientific data; the post-docs, visiting professors and graduate students who have come to New Mexico Tech to work with me. From them I have gained greater insight into complex questions and have been inspired by imaginative ideas. And finally, I appreciate greatly my wife Carolyn, who is here tonight. She has supported me over the years despite the many months I have had to spend away from home.
Lastly I want to thank Pat Eriksson from the geology department who submitted my name for consideration for this honored degree. I thank all of those who have made this possible.