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Michael Brooks 1936-2017

hkk;joDistinguished geophysicist and tireless advocate of geoscience education who revitalised Cardiff University’s Department of Geology.

Professor Michael (Mike) Brooks graduated in BSc Geology and obtained a PhD in 1960 at Birmingham University on the interpretation of gravity and magnetic surveys of the Malvern Hills.  He was first employed by the BGS then took up a lecturing post at UC Swansea in 1964*. Mike was appointed Professor of Geology at UC Cardiff and Head of Geology Department in 1977.


Mike took on the task of modernising the Cardiff Geology Department in all aspects of teaching and research. The Department became a research leader in palaeomagnetism, seismic exploration, structural geology and environmental geophysics.  During his tenure as Head of Department, Mike saw through a period of radical changes; the University mergers of UCC/UWIST and Departments of Geology and MINEX. He also managed the government-driven merger of Cardiff and Swansea Geology and Ocean Sciences Departments to form the basis of present School of Earth & Ocean Sciences.  

Throughout this period of great change, Mike sustained his research interests and publications. He was passionate in applying geophysics to explore the South West of the UK, utilizing the seismic waves produced by the rock blasts of quarries in the region to better understand the SW region’s deep geological structure. Other research interests included the plate tectonics of the eastern Mediterranean region where he undertook numerous research cruises.


Mike’s other passion was updating geoscience education, developing new teaching programmes to reflect the research revolution. He employed the BSc Geophysics students to help with research fieldwork, a true pioneer of ‘research-led’ teaching. Mike taught a flagship first year module on the Structure of Earth and geophysics modules in Years 2 and 3. He was passionate about taking students out into the field to learn key skills hands-on. His co-authored applied geophysics textbook with Phil Kearey has been highly successful.  Mike ran outreach events and INSET courses to assist primary schools with the delivery of Earth science in the National Curriculum.  Mike took early retirement from Cardiff in 1993.


Mike was active in the Geological Society of London, serving on Council as a Vice-President, on Specialist Groups, Publications, Editorial Board, Chairman of the Joint Education Committee and part-time Geological Society Education and Training Officer (1994–2001).  Mike played a major part in setting up the accreditation scheme for geoscience degree courses which continues to ensure that minimum days and standards of field work training are preserved by degree programmes. Mike worked with the WJEC for 25 years on GCSE and A-level Geology assessment, serving as Chairs of Examiners and Curriculum Review Groups.  Mike also served on many NERC committees and working groups.

As a man with enormous energy and vision, Mike was an enthusiastic friend and mentor to many. Many students remember his lectures delivered off the cuff writing frenetically on a whiteboard with only 35mm slides to act as illustrations. His total enthusiasm for applied geophysics research and teaching inspired many of his students to pursue life-long careers in the subject.  Our thoughts lie with his wife Cathie and his children.  Michael Brooks BSc PhD FGS FRAS C. Geol.

Dr Peter Brabham C.Geol

  • A longer biography follows Editor

* The date printed in Geoscientist 28.02 March 2018 erroneously stated 1967.  This correction made (Prof. John C W Cope pers. comm) 28 March 2018.  Editor

Mike Brooks 1936-2017

Mike was born to a railway family in Crewe in 1936 and graduated from Birmingham University where he obtained his PhD in 1960. His professional career began as a geophysicist in the Geological Survey of Great Britain. He moved into academia as a lecturer in Swansea, before being appointed Professor of Geology and Head of the Cardiff Department in 1977, taking early retirement in 1993.

In 1977 Mike faced a major task of modernising the Cardiff Department in regard to teaching, research and equipment at a time of increasing financial cut-backs.  He introduced a degree in Geophysics jointly taught with Physics and Mineral Exploitation, he expanded the numbers of research and undergraduate students, oversaw the immense administrative upheavals of several departmental mergers and the accompanying adjustments and expansion of space to allow these mergers to be accomplished.  He volunteered the Geology Department to introduce a modular system of teaching and examination in 1993, one year before Cardiff as a whole adopted it.

In addition to University duties he served on many Natural Environment Research Council committees and working groups.  He served as Chair of the South Wales Geologists’ Association Group from 1972–4.  He was active in the Geological Society of London: on Council, Vice-President, Specialist Groups, Publications, Editorial Board, but most of all  as Chair of the Joint Education Committee of the Society and the Institution of Geologists.  Eventually, after retirement, he became part-time Geological Society Education & Training Officer from 1994 to 2001.

Mike had extensive professional involvement  in geological education and training at all levels.  His co-authored university textbook on Geophysical Exploration was highly successful and went into three editions and it was translated into several foreign language editions.  At schools level, he was associated with the Welsh Joint Education Committee for 25 years in connection with GCSE and AS/A Geology assessment, serving variously as Chair of Examiners and Co-Chair of Curriculum Review Groups.  In 1991 he brought together a wide group of geological organisations in Wales to arrange a highly successful Welsh Geology Week that involved an extensive programme of talks, events and school competitions throughout the Principality.  He served as Chair of Section C (Geology) at the British Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Loughborough in 1994.

Mike’s research involved geophysical investigations of both deep and near surface geological structure.  Work on the deep crustal geology in areas of present-day earth movements, such as Greece and western Turkey became more active, but local work still continued .  His work in marine areas required many NERC-funded research cruises in the Aegean and Ionian Seas as on government research ships Shackleton, Discovery and Charles Darwin and he actively collaborated with scientists in the University of Patras, the University of Tessaloniki , the University of Belgrade and the University of Paris. 

He was remarkable for being able to maintain a very active research programme, win the external funds to sustain it and meticulously publish the results, while still carrying the full load as a Head of Department and Professor, including much external examining, during a time of unprecedented change in Cardiff and increasing Government intervention in Higher Education.  His occupancy of the Chair was a time of unparalleled success and expansion for the Cardiff Department.  Mike took early retirement in 1993 and was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus.

  • (Text read and approved by Mike Brooks - based on a biography by Cardiff colleague Professor Bernard Leake, and supplied by Cathie Brooks)


  • There follows a tribute in the form of a letter from Fotini Maltezou, one of Mike's Greek PhD students.  Editor.

Dear Mike,                                                                                                   Athens,   October 1, 2017

You are so much alive for me!

You have been a great teacher, mentor and a human figure with a tremendous influence on my life.

And this was obvious from the first time we met. I visited you from Southampton to seek guidance for my geophysical research project but you proved to be a lot more. You helped me to broaden my horizons as a researcher, to analyze and compose information of significance, and seek the answers which contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms of the Earth and benefit our economy and lives. You taught me by example, and not from the comfort of your seat as a professor. You were always eager to help and advise.

I remember the sight of your office at the end of the ‘day’ every time I visited you. We used to open geological maps and large geophysical maps and printouts for comparison. By laying them all over, even down on the floor, they ended up covering the largest part of the room. “It is the nature of our work to fold and unfold maps throughout our lives” you used to say. At the same time you would agree or disagree with the computations and prompt me to explore new study areas and employ new techniques to improve results. You would welcome everything new and innovative and encourage me to develop networking activities and exchange of ideas with peers of similar and other disciplines. This multidisciplinary approach proved valuable to me throughout my career and in many fields of activity.

Thanks to you Mike the Earth has become the magic word for me and I have since tried to develop a rather global understanding of its processes, master the methods which reveal the exploration focus areas, but at the same time respect the environment with its many modern challenges such as climate change, which endangers its powerful ecosystems and our planet as a whole, more than ever today.

You have always been a friendly figure and, beyond your role as a supervisor, we gradually developed family relationships and concern for our family members on both sides. And this continues until today. I am so grateful for the concern you and Cathie expressed every time me and my family were facing a difficult or unpredictable situation in Greece. 

When I talked to you on the phone two weeks ago, you were still the positive and optimistic Mike that I know, and so grateful for Cathie’s continuous loving care. Your son and one of your grandsons were visiting you at home at that time.

My conversations with you and Cathie covered broad areas of interest. Apart from exploration activities in the UK, Greece, and elsewhere in the world, we talked about education, politics, the financial crisis in Greece and, lately, about Brexit. 

You are a personality with unique cultural characteristics and broad horizons. I almost shared your enthusiasm every time you returned from a trip around the world with Cathie, having reached new frontiers of the Earth. By now you might be exploring new planets but unfortunately we have no means of sharing your news.

You are a special blend of a scientist and human. I will always miss your spiritual temper.

Thank you Mike!