Two Veteran Oceanographers Named AAAS Fellows

November 25, 2013

In 2003, Arnold Gordon led an oceanographic expedition to Antarctica’s Ross Sea.


Two longtime oceanographers at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Arnold Gordon and Walter Pitman, have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and will be formally recognized at the association’s annual meeting in Chicago in February. AAAS is honoring Pitman for his "pivotal role in the development and acceptance of the theory of plate tectonics" and Gordon, for his "pioneering, novel contributions to understanding ocean circulation, the role of the ocean in climate variability, and leadership in international collaboration in ocean sciences."  
Gordon earned his Ph.D. in oceanography from Columbia in 1965 and today heads Lamont’s Division of Ocean and Climate Physics. Over the last 50 years, he has collected data from the coldest and warmest waters on earth, mapping out the movement of conveyor-like currents around the globe. Among his previous honors, Gordon received the 2013 Prince Albert 1 Medal for outstanding contributions to oceanography from the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean; in 1999, the Maurice Ewing Medal for outstanding service to the marine sciences from the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and in 1984, the Henry Bryant Bigelow Medal for those who make “significant inquiries into the phenomena of the sea” from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In sediments from the Black Sea, Walter Pitman (left) and William Ryan have found evidence for a massive flood 7,500 years ago.


Pitman earned his Ph.D. in oceanography from Columbia in 1967, a pivotal time in the earth sciences when the theory of plate tectonics was offering a new explanation for the regeneration of Earth’s crust and how continents collide and break apart. By measuring magnetic anomalies on the seafloor, Pitman played an important role in linking the upwelling of magma at plate boundaries to the formation of new crust in a process known as seafloor spreading. The concept of seafloor spreading underpinned plate tectonics theory, explaining why most earthquakes occur in places where plates are pulling apart or colliding with, and sliding past, each other.

Later in his career, Pitman and his colleague, William Ryan, a marine geologist at Lamont-Doherty, developed evidence from marine sediments that the Mediterranean Sea rose and flooded the narrow Bosporus Straits around 7,500 years ago, turning what was once a freshwater lake into the large and salty Black Sea. In their 1999 book, Noah’s Flood, the scientists hypothesize that the Biblical tale may have been inspired by this catastrophic flood that washed away farms and human settlements. Among his previous honors, Pitman in 2005 received the Maurice Ewing Medal from AGU; in 2000, the Vetlesen Prize for achievement leading to a clearer understanding of the Earth, its history and relation to the universe, and in 1998, the Alexander Agassiz Medal for original contributions in oceanography from the National Academy of Sciences.

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