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Douglas James Shearman, 1918-2003

Douglas James Shearman was born in Isleworth on 2 July 1918. During the Second World War he served as a radio operator on a minesweeper on the Arctic convoys to Russia, spending epic hours chipping ice off radio aerials. His interest in geology was triggered by meeting a soldier and a terebratulid in the Dover NAAFI canteen. After the war he studied geology at Chelsea Polytechnic, noted in its day for producing graduates of high calibre and eccentricity. From there he moved to Imperial College where he was to spend the rest of his professional life. Research for a PhD demonstrated that the en echelon offset of the West Country granites was due to a series of lateral tears in the Earth's crust. It was typical of Shearman that this work was never written up, either as a thesis, or for wider publication. This habit of solving one geological problem and leaving it unpublished to move on to another typified his career.

In the early 1960s Shearman led a series of expeditions to the Trucial Coast (United Arab Emirates). In those days the site now occupied by Abu Dhabi city was sun-baked salt marsh that extended for several kilometres from land to sea. Abu Dhabi airport was a bamboo hut and a windsock. Shearman and his team carried out a series of topographic, sedimentological and geochemical surveys across the sabkha, as the salt marsh was termed in Arabic. This work demonstrated that as the salt marsh built out seawards, evaporite minerals displaced and replaced earlier lime sediments. He then studied ancient evaporites in England and Canada. His conclusion that not only modern, but also ancient, evaporites should really be termed "replacementites" was revolutionary. He disseminated his theory through extensive lectures around the world, with only a handful of publications. This was no mean feat as the 'evaporating-dish' mechanism was an article of geological faith, especially in Germany.

Acceptance of his theory was followed by recognition. Shearman was awarded a DSc and then a personal Chair by the University of London (1978). He was Visiting Professor at universities around the world. He received various medals and honours from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the Geological Society of Canada, and the Geological Society of London. The latter society elected him an Honorary Fellow, an extremely rare distinction, and awarded him the Wollaston Medal, its highest honour, in 1997.

At Imperial College Shearman was an inspiring teacher. His lectures seldom covered the authorised syllabus, being devoted entirely to his beloved evaporites. But his teaching caused good students to study for themselves, an ancient and now discredited idea. His total publication list would scarcely do credit to a modern PhD, but he only wrote a paper when he felt that he had something of worth to publicise - another old-fashioned idea. Modern academics are expected to find the money to pay for their own salaries and those of their administrative overseers. In today's academic world Shearman’s negligible research income, lethargic publication rate and eccentric teaching would have had him pensioned off as soon as possible.

Though he formally retired in 1983 he continued at Imperial College as a Senior Research Fellow well into his seventies. His research latterly involved field trips to the Rocky Mountains and west Greenland, where he studied the weird minerals of Icka fjord.

An account of Shearman's academic achievements tells little of his character. He was unforgettable, eccentric, charming, frustrating to administrators who required forms filled in. Generations of students worshipped him. He had a special soft spot for overseas students who he referred to fondly to as the "Medes and Persians". Shearman had a puckish sense of humour, a delight in practical jokes, and an ability to attract unforeseen events. When wrongly convicted of some Naval misdemeanour he was set to paint the ship’s funnel. This he did - complete with black swastika. The Israeli army shot up his tent when he was working for the UN looking for water in Jordan. Fortunately he was out at the time. He is survived by his wife Maureen Pugsley, and their three children.

He died on 14 May 2003, aged 84.

Dick Selley