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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Professor Martin H.P. Bott, MA (Cantab), PhD (Cantab), FRS

(29 October 2018)

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Professor Martin Bott on the 20th October; a highly regarded and much-loved member of the Department of Earth Sciences until his retirement, in 1988, to an emeritus but still research active role that lasted a further 30 years up until his death at the age of 92.

Martin started out on his geophysical path with both a degree and PhD from Magdalene College, Cambridge. His PhD in 1954, supervised by Brian Harland and conducted in parallel with fellow student David Masson-Smith, was on “The deep structure of Northumberland and Co Durham – a geophysical study of the granites in relation to crustal structure”. This proved to be a topic that would maintain his interest, and to which he would repeatedly return throughout his career. Most recently, in May, Martin published a paper in the Journal of the Yorkshire Geological Society with Rick Smith, one of his many PhD students, that discusses ore mineralisation by hydrothermal fluid flow in the Weardale granite – a topic now of considerable interest to the mobile communications technology and geothermal power generation industries.

His work with Masson-Smith on the gravity survey over Northern England revealed low-density anomalies consistent with granites, at that time thought to be the source of the Pennine mineralisation, and which so fascinated Kingsley Dunham. This interest attracted Martin to Durham to work with Dunham in 1954 as the Turner & Newall Research Fellow, with an appointment to Lecturer in Geophysics following in 1956, Reader in 1963 and ultimately Professor in 1966; 32 years of continuous service to the University punctuated only by sabbatical terms spent at Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University and in New Zealand.

Although Martin’s theories on the origin of the Weardale granite were controversial at the time, they were proved to be correct by the drilling of the Rookhope borehole, behind which Martin was a driving force. The core is still widely researched and now forms part of the national collection housed by the British Geological Survey, such is its importance. Over the years, numerous theories have been proposed for the mode of granite emplacement and source of the heat, many of which Martin was certain did not fit with observations. His recent paper drew together all the evidence that unequivocally shows that the heat source, and consequently the driver for the mineralisation, was convecting geothermal cells and not conduction as many others proposed.

Martin’s entire research career was founded in the potential fields – analysing gravity and magnetic anomalies of the UK and abroad (Rockall, Faroes, Cyprus, Alps, South Greenland, Lesser Antilles, Jan Mayen, Easter Island) – and formed the basis of his many collaborations. Later he turned his hand to numerical modelling of crustal faulting, lithospheric deformation and continental break-up, which also included a venture into the marine world. Many of us will fondly recall the tales of his adventures on the John Murray and other research vessels, undertaking deep crustal imaging beneath the UK using explosives as seismic sources. The horrible weather, the huge seas, the seemingly endless sea sickness and John Murray, being a repurposed no-frills fishing boat, spontaneously jumping into full astern.

His wealth of knowledge resulted in the highly regarded text book “Interior of the Earth”, published in 1970, upon which many geophysicists cut their teeth and, ultimately, 104 citable papers; the highest cited being “The use of digital computing methods for direct gravity interpretation of sedimentary basins” – a prophet of how the field would evolve over the coming decades, and a paper that is still often cited.

Martin was awarded the highest accolade, and rare amongst Earth Scientists, of being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1976. He was also awarded the Geological Society of London’s Wollaston Medal in 1992; the highest award the Society bestows on those who have had a significant influence on their fields by a substantial body of work. Past recipients include Smith, Darwin, Jeffreys, Bullard, Wilson, McKenzie and Matthews – all titans of step-change thinking in the Earth Sciences, and a marker of the respect with which Martin was held.

Martin supervised numerous PhD students, many went on themselves to become world leaders of industry and academic disciplines – Kusznir, Westbrook, Watts, Armour and too many others to name them all individually. All, though, cite his outstanding supervision, and his sound advice and guidance. Martin’s daughter followed in his footsteps becoming a seismologist at the California Geological Survey, with father and daughter jointly publishing a paper, in 2004, on the Cenozoic uplift and earthquake belt of mainland Britain.

After retirement Martin continued to come and work in the department on an almost daily basis. He was an avid walker, demonstrated not only by his daily hikes from his home in Shincliffe to the department, but also by completing all the Scottish Munros (then 284 mountains over 3000’), the English and Welsh Nuttalls (446 over 2000’) and the Lake District Wainwrights (214). To date, only 6305 others have recorded summiting all Munros – Martin was 2884th to finish, completing in 2002 when 76 – the last 100 often discussed as a retirement project.

Martin was a committed Christian which was not a challenge to his science, rather he sought to explain how Christianity and Science can be complementary. He undertook many speaking engagements within the University and city and was on the Editorial Board of Christians in Science.

A kind and gentle man, a gentleman, generous of spirit, with time for everyone – Martin will be greatly missed by all who knew him. We celebrate Martin’s life and we send our condolences to his wife, Joyce, his children Andrew, Nicholas and Jacqueline and his grandchildren.

Martin Bott