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Alan Eben Mackenzie Nairn, 1927-2007

Alan Nairn’s memorial is his geological contributions as an author of many papers in the literature that range from Paleomagnetism to regional stratigraphy. His recent research focused on the stratigraphy of the Middle East with a plethora of papers. His most important work, written with Abdulrahman Alsharhan, is the Sedimentary Basins and Petroleum Geology of the Middle East, published by Elsevier in 1997. He also helped found the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology and Palaeoecology and from 1973 to 1997 was an editor of the eight volumes on The Ocean Basins and Margins published by Plenum that described the world’s major oceans including: southern and northern Atlantic; Gulf of Mexico; Mediterranean; Arctic; Indian, Pacific and Tethys oceans. He also was an editor of volume one of the Phanerozoic Geology of the World and other texts tied to stratigraphy.

Alan Nairn’s professional career and world view derived from a mixture of "Highland Scot" frugality and hard work (through his mother), and wanderlust (from his seafaring father, who was frequently away from home). Primary responsibility for Alan’s intellectual stimulation therefore fell to his mother. He entered Durham University for his BSc in 1951.

Alan devoted most of his professional life to the advancement of the science and profession of geology. He was a teacher, researcher author, lecturer, disseminator of geological concepts and ideas and proponent of both palaeomagnetism and the geology of ocean basins. Later, as a lead scientist in the newly established Earth Sciences and Resources Institute at the University of South Carolina, Alan assumed responsibility for the quality of the prodigious number of publications, theses and dissertations which the research at ESRI-SC produced. It was a position that he filled with great skill and dignity, and he was respected and greatly admired by everyone who came in contact with the “Gentle Geordie Giant.”

It was quite common to see his desk covered with at least a dozen manuscripts in various stages of completion. He never missed a deadline, and every student and Research Faculty member he worked with had the full benefit of his towering intellect and his gentle persona. Working full time in the university’s Geology Department, he began studying part time for a PhD in English Literature and completed all of the requirements except the dissertation, a measure of his wide ranging interests.

Two years of National Service in the RAF preceded his stay at Durham where he was supported by a Shell Scholarship in Geology. He earned his PhD in 1954 from the University of Glasgow supported by a Shell postgraduate studentship. The years 1954 through 1966 saw Alan at several universities: as Research Assistant in Paleomagnetism, Department of Geodesy and Geophysics, Cambridge; Senior Research Assistant and Turner Newall Fellow in the Department of Physics, King’s College, University of Newcastle; Lecturer in both Geology and Physics at Newcastle; Visiting Professor at Bonn, Germany, and British Council visiting scientist in Krakow, Poland, and Bordeaux, France.

Alan was visiting professor at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio in 1963 where he returned in 1966 as Associate Professor, and later Full Professor. The move to Cleveland made it possible for him to take a professorship at the University of South Carolina in 1973, which opened a new chapter in his professional life. As a guest lecturer at West Virginia University, Alan came into contact with the man who later recruited him for the University of South Carolina. In 1976, the Earth Sciences and Resources Institute at the University received its charter and Alan was provided with new opportunities in his professional life.

Alan is survived by his widow Camille and six children: Dermaid, Alexander, Dana, Alena, Scott and Dave Sharp. Born 9.9.1927 (Newcastle upon Tyne); died 14.01.2007 (Allendale, South Carolina).

Christopher G. StC Kendall and William R Stanley

Eric Robinson adds:

Alan was a product of Gateshead Grammar School, close to his home in Low Fell. The school had one of the few recognised teachers of geology - a Mr Lamb. Alan returned from the services in 1954 to King's College, as a member of the research school of the late Keith Runcorn, a physicist from Cambridge, who launched into the growing field (no pun intended) of palaeomagnetism. His colleagues there were Creer and Opdyke, who did so much to reinvigorate continental drift through recording palaeolatitudes and set the scene for plate tectonics.

Alan organised a NATO Conference in Newcastle in 1955 on Continental Drift and Palaeoclimate. From this springboard, he transferred to the United States. His broadest contribution to overall geology must be his editing of three thick volumes on the Oceans (1973-97, Plenum). He was also a mean rugby player!