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Geoscientist Online

50 Years of the Wilson Cycle Concept in Plate Tectonics

Wilson cycleOver fifty years ago, the eminent Canadian geophysicist John Tuzo Wilson published his seminal paper in Nature posing the question ‘Did the Atlantic close and then re-open?’ This work provided a synthesis of the geological history represented by the rocks of the Atlantic region, from the distribution and changes in rock types, fossil faunal realms, deformation styles and geometry, mountain building episodes, palaeomagnetism and palaeoclimatic evidence preserved in both the eastern and western sectors of the region. Wilson’s hypothesis argued that an ocean basin has a lifespan with several defined stages from opening, through development, to final closing and the destruction of the basin.

This work led to the conceptual framework of the ‘Wilson Cycle’: the repeated periodic opening and closing of ocean basins along old orogenic belts as a key process in the assembly and breakup of supercontinents. The Wilson Cycle concept has proved immensely important to both geoscientific theory and practice and has fundamentally influenced our overall contextual view of the geological evolution of the Earth and its lithosphere, providing significant insight and understanding of the physical processes that control mantle convection and plate tectonics. 

Written in the established GSL Special Publications series format, the 20 papers presented in this volume includes both thematic and review papers covering various aspects of the Wilson Cycle concept. Introduced with a contextual overview paper, the research contributions are arranged into six thematic sections: (1) the Classic Wilson versus Supercontinent Cycles, (2) Mantle Dynamics in the Wilson Cycle, (3)Tectonic Inheritance in the Lithosphere, (4) Revisiting Tuzo’s question on the Atlantic, (5) Opening and Closing of Oceans, and (6) Cratonic Basins and their place in the Wilson Cycle.

The volume provides an excellent synthesis of the historical context and current research efforts within the field. All contributions are well written and edited, concisely laid out with clear and appropriate figures, photographs and data tables. Many are presented in colour and enhance the understanding of the textual details. The volume is a comprehensive contribution and the editors are to be congratulated. A recommended read and authoritative reference work.

Reviewed by Mark Griffin

FIFTY YEARS OF THE WILSON CYCLE CONCEPT IN PLATE TECTONICS, R.W. Wilson, G.A. Houseman, K.J.W. McCaffrey, A.G. Doré and S.J.H. Buiter (editors). Geological Society of London Special Publication No 424. 2019. Geological Society of London. ISBN 978-1-78620-383-0. ISSN 0305-8719. Hbk. 490 pp. List Price: £140.00, www.geolsoc.org.uk.