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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Prof Ken McCaffrey

Wilson, R. W., Houseman, G. A., Buiter, S. J. H., McCaffrey, K. J. W. & Doré, A. G. (2019). Fifty years of the Wilson Cycle concept in plate tectonics: an overview. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 470(1): 1-17.

Author(s) from Durham


It is now more than 50 years since Tuzo Wilson published his paper asking ‘Did the Atlantic close and then re-open?’. This led to the ‘Wilson Cycle’ concept in which the repeated opening and closing of ocean basins along old orogenic belts is a key process in the assembly and breakup of supercontinents. This implied that the processes of rifting and mountain building somehow pre-conditioned and weakened the lithosphere in these regions, making them susceptible to strain localization during future deformation episodes. Here we provide a retrospective look at the development of the concept, how it has evolved over the past five decades, current thinking and future focus areas. The Wilson Cycle has proved enormously important to the theory and practice of geology and underlies much of what we know about the geological evolution of the Earth and its lithosphere. The concept will no doubt continue to be developed as we gain more understanding of the physical processes that control mantle convection and plate tectonics, and as more data become available from currently less accessible regions.