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Peter Ralph Hooper 1931-2012

HooperPeter Hooper was born in Edinburgh, to a Scottish mother (among the first female doctors to graduate from a Scottish university) and a Canadian father.  Peter spent his early years on his father’s large farm in Alberta, returning to Edinburgh for schooling.  He then gained his Geology degree at St Andrews, where he first evinced his life-long interest in igneous processes, stimulated by Harold Drever.  After a year of postgraduate study there he answered an advertisement for a post in the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (now the British Antarctic Survey), confessing later that he thought these Islands were in the SW Pacific! 

Nevertheless, he was recruited by the FIDS Chief Geologist, Vivian Fuchs, to set up a camp and map the geology of Anvers Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula - an igneous complex dominated by basaltic lavas and a  granodiorite batholith.  After two seasons of fieldwork (that included hosting a one-day visit by Prince Philip!) Peter returned to Britain in 1957, married Caroline (a fellow St Andrews graduate) then spent 2 years at Birmingham University, preparing his PhD on the Anvers Island work, under the supervision of Ray Adie.  He was awarded the Polar Medal in 1958.

In 1959 Peter was appointed to a lecturing post at University College, Swansea, sharing responsibility for igneous and metamorphic petrology.  One of the first tasks he was allocated by his Head of Department, renowned micropalaeontologist Frank Rhodes, was to investigate and purchase an X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer – at that time a new and relatively untried geo-analytical tool.  Peter and his geochemist colleague, Wallace Bloxam, were among the first geologists in Britain to adapt the XRF for rapid analysis of rock powders.  They also introduced the single-bead (tetraborate fusion) technique for determination of both major and minor elements, greatly speeding-up acquisition of reproducible geochemical results. 

In 1960 Peter commenced a programme of research on the Caledonian layered ultramafic complexes of the SW Finnmark-Troms region of north Norway.  Aided by a ‘galaxy of research students’ and a ‘crash-course in structural geology’ (his terms!), over a ten-year period this Swansea team successfully unravelled the complex igneous and tectonic history of this sector of the Scandinavian Caledonides.  The main results of this effort were presented at a special symposium in Cardiff (1971) and in a subsequent publication of the Norwegian Geological Survey. 

Peter spent a productive sabbatical year (1968-69) on a Fulbright Scholarship at Washington State University (Pullman), becoming acquainted with the geology of western North America and especially with the basalt fields forming the Columbia River plateau.  Peter recognised that a key to understanding the very thick Columbia River Basalts (CRB) was the identification and correlation of individual lava flows and speculated that geochemical ‘fingerprinting’ by means of XRF might help to answer this problem.  Accordingly, with Phil Rosenberg of WSU he collected multiple samples from each flow in typical sequences of lavas and brought these back to Swansea for analysis.  The geochemical results confirmed Peter’s ‘fingerprinting’ hypothesis and this technique proved to be highly effective in establishing the architecture and elucidating the genesis of the Columbia River and other flood basalt provinces. 

In 1971, eager to extend his work on the CRB, Peter accepted an invitation to become Chairman of the WSU Geology Department, where he was to remain for the rest of his professional career.  Over the next decade or so, he was able to greatly expand and enhance geochemical and petrological facilities in this Department.  With the aid of devoted technicians and enthusiastic graduate students, Peter and his colleagues accumulated and collated a vast body of detailed geochemical data from the CRB that transformed petrogenetic understanding of this huge basalt province.  In addition, the WSU labs gained a global reputation, providing rock analyses for many external bodies, including the US Department of Energy’s Hanford nuclear waste disposal site.  Subsequently, funding from NSF and other agencies enabled Peter and his colleagues to undertake petrogenetic studies of the Deccan Basalt Province of western India and of the Karoo province in southern Africa.  These researches firmly established the WSU Department as a world-leader in the study of continental flood basalt provinces and a major player in the still-ongoing debate about the role of mantle plumes/hotspots in their genesis and evolution.  At the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society.  of America in Seattle (2003) Peter was honoured for his achievements in this field. 

Peter retired officially from WSU in 1996 and returned in 1999 to England, where he and Caroline settled in Whitchurch-on-Thames.  However, he remained active in research, renewing collaboration with staff in the Open University and publishing new work up to his untimely death.  In ‘retirement’ he and Caroline built a house in close proximity to the Thames, enabling Peter to indulge other passions -- for rowing, gardening and real tennis! 

Peter’s scientific legacy is represented in his very substantial body of published work, focused on the nature and genesis of flood basalts and their associates and on the analytical techniques required to document their chemistry and mineralogy.  However, he also bequeathed a wider inheritance, shared among the very many students who benefited over the years from his clear and impeccably organised teaching and sympathetic but incisive supervision.  Many more of us will continue to cherish his rigorous intellect, his deep humanity and kindly concern for others and, not least, his wry sense of humour. 

He will be greatly missed not only by his wife Caroline, daughters Lee and Bryony and four grand-children but also by his many friends within the local and international communities. 

By Gilbert Kelling, with thanks to Caroline, Lee & Bryony