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Peter Alfred Ziegler 1928-2013

ZieglerOutstanding regional geologist whose work integrated tectonics, basin evolution, stratigraphy and petroleum geology

Peter Ziegler Hon. FGS, died 19 July 2013, aged 84.  An outstanding regional geologist, his work spanned large parts of the globe, most notably Western and Central Europe and the North Atlantic Region, and influenced companies, governments and universities almost equally.

He was born in Wintherthur, Switzerland on 2 November 1928.  He completed his PhD at the University of Zurich in 1955 and joined Shell Canada in 1958, where he was involved in exploring the Cordilleran foothills of British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Yukon, and the Alberta Devonian reef play.

In 1970 he transferred to Shell International in the Netherlands when his involvement in Northwest Europe, for which he will be chiefly remembered, began.  A long series of papers on the geology of Northwest Europe culminated in the publication by Shell of the Geological Atlas of Western and Central Europe, (1982, considerably expanded in 1990) - a benchmark publication integrating tectonics, basin evolution, stratigraphy and petroleum geology. 

This work provided the foundation for the development of Northwest Europe into one of the world’s foremost hydrocarbon provinces. Ziegler’s regional syntheses provided an early shared framework that allowed petroleum geoscientists, not only in Shell but in other oil companies and in academia, to build on a common understanding, with the result that Northwest Europe is now one of the best documented hydrocarbon provinces in the world. This is in no small degree due to his pioneering work, which has provided an example, and set standards, for similar studies elsewhere.

Subsequently he produced two equally impressive publications on the Evolution of the Arctic-North Atlantic and the Western Tethys (1988) and the Evolution of Eurasia (1989).

All who worked with him appreciated his wealth of geological knowledge, freely shared; he was also a mentor and inspiration to many younger geologists.  What is not generally realised is that, although fully supported by Shell, much of the work for his publications was done in his own time, while holding down a demanding and high profile “day-job”. 

He retired from Shell in 1988 but continued a very active geological career, publishing widely in international journals and thematic volumes on the processes controlling extensional and compressional intraplate tectonics and on the evolution of the lithosphere.  In 1992 he was appointed Honorary Lecturer at the University of Basel and in 1996 as Titular Professor for Global Geology.

He was elected Fellow of the Geological Society in 1978 and made Honorary Fellow in 1983.  In 1988 he received the William Smith Medal and in 1992 gave the William Smith Lecture on Plate-moving mechanisms: their relative importance.  He was also honoured by the AAPG, the Belgian Geological Society, the Royal Geological and Mining Society of the Netherlands, the Geological Society of Glasgow, the Geosciences Union, the German Geological Society and the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.

He will be remembered by all his friends and colleagues as a very gifted, highly motivated and truly inspirational geologist.

by Howard Johnson, Bruce Levell and John Parker