The Crafoord Prize 2002

Awarded to professor Dan McKenzie, University of Cambridge, England, “for fundamental contributions to the understanding of the Dynamics of the Lithosphere, particularly Plate Tectonics, Sedimentary Basin Formation and Mantle Melting”.

Dan McKenzie started his career by contributing to the birth of Plate Tectonics – the unifying theory explaining how and why the continents move and the oceans open and close. Later he analysed the deeper mechanisms underlying earthquakes, thus promoting their prediction. He went on to revolutionize the understanding of how sedimentary basins form. Most recently his research has provided new insights into the evolution of Mars and Venus.

The idea that the continents had all once been joined together, later to move apart, was put forward almost a century ago. The theory met with great scorn and scepticism from much of the science community. It was not until the late 1960s that the authoritative theory of Plate Tectonics was presented, with key contributions by McKenzie. This new global theory described the lithospheric plates, their composition and movements and the forces acting on them. In the boundary zones between the plates, natural forces take their toll; mountain ranges are formed, volcanoes erupt and earthquakes shake the crust. In the inner parts of the plates conditions are more calm and predictable.

During the 1970s, McKenzie concentrated on the deformation taking place in the boundary zones between the plates, especially the formation of mountain ranges. His analysis of source mechanisms of earthquakes has had profound implications for hazard risk assessment in such areas as the Eastern Mediterranean.

In more recent years, McKenzie has collaborated with NASA on the missions to Venus and Mars, analysing the surface features of the planets and the geophysical evidence for internal structure and composition. By comparing and contrasting the main characteristics of the three planets, he has been able to interpret some of the remarkable differences in their origin and evolution, e.g. providing explanations for earlier vast river canyons on Mars.


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