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Samual Warren Carey, 1912-2002

Emeritus Professor Samuel Warren Carey, foundation Professor of Geology at the University of Tasmania (1946-1976) died in Hobart, Tasmania on 20 March 2002, aged 90 years. He was an excellent geologist in the broadest sense, an outstanding geological educator and an inspirational and stimulating researcher and proponent of the ‘continental drift’ hypothesis for global tectonics prior to its general acceptance in the late 1960s and early 70s. He was an Honorary Life Fellow of the Geological Society of London, Geological Society of Australia and Geological Society of America, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, the Indian National Science Academy, and an Officer of the Order of Australia.

A student of Professor Edgeworth David and of University of Sydney, he was influenced by the work of Wegener, Du Toit and Arthur Holmes. Following graduation, his early work was in petroleum exploration in Papua New Guinea where he used field and structural geological methods to demonstrate large-scale horizontal movement of continental crust. Through the 1940s, following distinguished war service in Papua New Guinea, he extended his analysis of geological and geophysical observations to the global scale, culminating in the influential publication (1958) A Tectonic Approach to Continental Drift published in the Proceedings of the Continental Drift Symposium (Hobart 1956). This was followed by a very influential lecture tour in USA and UK in 1960.

Carey’s role was to be a long way ahead of the crowd. He drew on the insights of Wegener, du Toit and Holmes in building on to them with remarkable syntheses of global geology, and in influencing other leaders of his time - particularly Harry Hess, Edward Bullard, John Jaeger, Ted Irving and Bob Dietz. He bridged between geology and geophysics so that geophysical approaches were applied firstly to test and then lead the continental drift, sea-floor spreading and plate tectonic concepts.

Sam Carey emphasised fluid behaviour of crystalline materials in tectonic processes. Long before plate tectonics and in the absence of the detailed seafloor mapping he analysed global tectonics in terms of rotation and translation of ‘rigid’ continental blocks. He recognised and used the descriptive term "hot-spots" and coined a name (‘nematath’) for their traces and roles in joining previously adjacent continental margins. His continental re-assemblies had to be based on knowledge of continental geology. He saw the potential of palaeomagnetism and used it to test and to modify his reconstructions, particularly those that went back beyond the late Palaeozoic.
His construction of a whole revolutionary terminology for the embryonic plate tectonics failed (sphenochasms, rhombochasms, nemataths, orotaths have mostly not survived although "orocline" has some usage). His own thinking moved from mantle convection as the driver of continental drift, to advocacy of earth expansion as the explanation for continental displacements.

The legacy of Sam Carey’s work includes the School of Earth Sciences at University of Tasmania, which remains among the top three or four of Australia’s Earth science departments for teaching and research. Equally, it includes the large numbers of leaders in their profession who were his students and were highly motivated by him. His published work includes the proceedings of six symposia that he convened (‘Glacial Sedimentation’, ‘Continental Drift’, ‘Genesis of the Lyell Schists’, ‘Dolerite’, Syntaphral Tectonics’ and ‘The Expanding Earth’) published by University of Tasmania. He is author of The Expanding Earth (Elsevier), Theories of Earth and Universe (Stanford University Press) and Earth, Universe and Cosmos (University of Tasmania).

He received the BSc degree from University of Sydney (1931), MSc (1934) and DSc (1939), the latter for his thesis entitled The tectonic evolution of New Guinea and Melanesia. He received Honorary Doctorates from University of Papua New Guinea and Urbino (Italy). As well as the Honorary Fellowships mentioned previously, he was awarded the Clarke Medal of the Royal Society of NSW, the Johnston Medal of the Royal Society of Tasmania, the Browne Medal of the Geological Society of Australia, the Gondwanaland Gold Medal of the Geological Society of India, the Weeks Gold Medal of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association and the Gold Medal of the Australian Society of Exploration Geophysicists. The receipt of honours from both the academic and applied sectors of the Earth science community is testimony to the importance and impact of his leadership.

Samuel Warren Carey married Austral Robson in 1940 and they have four children (Tegwen, Harley, Robin and David), seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Through his post-war participation in Legacy, Sam Carey took on a mentoring role to many other families.

Sam Carey is remembered with respect and gratitude— the scientific world is enhanced by his contributions

David H Green