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Ronald William Girdler, 1930 - 2001

Ron Girdler died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Durham, UK, on October 19, 2001. A leading member of the generation of post-war British geophysicists, his career spanned the beginnings of plate tectonics to the routine use of global, satellite-based investigation techniques.

Ron graduated from Reading University (1955) having studied mathematics, chemistry and geology. He won a Shell Studentship to Cambridge University, where he studied under Sir Edward Bullard and was awarded a PhD (1958) for research on the Red Sea and the anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility in rocks. In 1958 he took up a postdoctoral position at Columbia University, in the then Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory.

A year later he began a lifelong association with the University of Durham by taking an ICI Fellowship in Geophysics there. He soon became a resident Tutor at Grey College, Durham, a position he held until his death. He was the quintessential British academic, loved by his tutees, devoted to research and teaching, and participating fully in College life.

All his life, Ron was fascinated by the culture and people of Japan, where he was a frequent visitor and had many colleagues and friends. This love was well known in Durham. All Ron’s visitors would be pressed to take green tea, and he was a strong supporter of the Oriental Museum.

In 1963 Ron was appointed Lecturer at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, in Keith Runcorn’s pioneering Department of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. He was Deputy Head of Department (1976-86) and retired (1995) with a Personal Chair in Geophysics. Thereafter Ron remained active in academic affairs. He continued as tutor at Grey College, and was awarded an Honorary Chair (1999) at Durham’s Department of Geological Sciences, where he attended a seminar just a few days before his death.

Ron’s early Red Sea work led to his major career interest - the East African rifts and adjacent young Red Sea and Gulf of Aden ocean basins. He contributed to seafloor spreading theory, suggesting (in 1959 - several years before the famous Vine & Matthews paper) that some ocean floor rocks may be reversely magnetised, and (in 1962) describing the initiation of continental drift and ocean floor formation. He recruited a succession of research students to study the region, documenting its development from earliest continental extension to full sea-floor spreading. Ron supervised over 35 research students, many of whom went on to leading positions - including at least three professors.

In the 1970s Ron became increasingly frustrated by research funding in Britain, and though he continued publishing on the Red Sea, he spent more time in the United States - particularly at NASA. There he studied large-scale continental magnetic anomalies and other evidence of large astroblemes.

Ron published over 120 papers and was a life-long Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and Member of the American Geophysical Union. He had recently been elected Fellow of the AGU, which was to be formally bestowed in December 2001.

Ron had no close family, but is greatly mourned by his many friends and colleagues across the world.

Roger Searle