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Peter Baker, 1937 – 2008

Colleagues will be saddened to hear of the untimely death, just short of his 71st birthday, of Peter Baker - formerly Professor of Igneous Petrology in the School of Earth Sciences (now Earth & Environment), University of Leeds.

After graduating in Geology from Sheffield University in 1960, Peter Baker became a DPhil research student and then research fellow at Oxford University. He was appointed to a lectureship at the University of Leeds in 1969 and made a reader in 1976. Two years later, he moved to Nottingham University as Professor of Geology and Head of Department. In 1989, following the Earth Sciences Review, which resulted in the closure of several smaller geology departments, he returned to Leeds. He retired from the University in 1998.

Peter’s research was directed largely towards the volcanoes and volcanic rocks of island arcs and oceanic islands, extending from eruptive mechanisms to the geochemistry of their lavas and evaluation of hazards. His DPhil thesis was on the geological development and potential hazards of Mt Misery (now Liamuiga) volcano on the West Indian island of St Kitts. He continued to work for some time in the Lesser Antilles, notably on the islands of St Vincent, Montserrat and Saba. In the meantime, when the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha erupted in 1961 and the population was evacuated, he took part in an investigation of the event as a member of a Royal Society expedition. He also participated in several expeditions to the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands with the British Antarctic Survey, the Royal Navy, the Chilean Navy and Argentine Navy.

Perhaps his most significant contributions came from work in the South Sandwich Islands, which remain the type example of a primitive oceanic island-arc. A lava specimen from Cook Island in the South Sandwich group created interest in the late 1990s as being the nearest terrestrial equivalent to some of the boulders analysed during the Pathfinder mission to Mars. He spent three fieldwork seasons on Deception Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, where a series of volcanic eruptions over the period 1968-70 destroyed the British and Chilean scientific stations. In the Andes, he worked on Ojos del Salado, the highest active volcano in the world and in 1976 was a member of a UK-Chile-Argentine expedition to the southern Andes and Patagonia.

Peter Baker made the first detailed geological map of Easter Island, publishing on its volcanic history, petrology and geoarchaeology. He also worked on the Juan Fernandez Islands, which lie between Easter Island and Chile. In 1969 he was a member of the Cook Bicentenary Expedition to Tonga, organised by the Royal Society of New Zealand. With research students, he worked on Mt Etna, and on volcanoes in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Egypt. Following his return to Leeds, he was a shipboard scientist on two Ocean Drilling Program legs, one in the vicinity of the New Hebrides island arc and the other in the Mid-Pacific Mountains between Hawaii and the Marshall Islands. He also worked in southern Iceland on the 934 AD Eldgja fissure eruption that produced the largest lava flow in historic times.

From 1975 to 1983, Peter Baker was Secretary-General of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) and served on a number of related national committees. In 1982-83 he was Vice-President of the Geological Society of London and he was on the editorial board of the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research from its inception in 1976. At Leeds he was for several years a Chair of Appointing Committees. He also served for periods as Dean of Science, and as Chair of both Senate Research Degrees Committee and the University Progress Committee.

Following his return to Leeds, Peter played a full and rich part in both departmental and university life. Unfailingly courteous and obliging, willing to take on the most unpopular jobs and see them through to success, he was a constant source of wise counsel across a wide range of matters; many colleagues had occasion to be grateful for his good sense and good grace.

Marjorie Wilson