Mike Summerfield: Darwin, Landforms and the Theory of the Earth
Professor Mike Summerfield, Edinburgh University
This is part of 'The Darwinian Legacy: Earth, Life and Mind' Seminar Series
Both during the Beagle voyage and in the years immediately following his return to Britain, Charles Darwin's scientific interests were primarily geological. He made an immediate impact with his theory of coral reef development, and much of his present, somewhat limited, reputation as an 'earth scientist' is based on this specific contribution, together with the innovative methodology used to propose his model of reef development. But the much broader conceptual framework within which this work was situated is less widely appreciated. From his early observations of landforms and rocks, and his reading of contemporaries such as Lyell, Darwin embarked on a search for a coherent theory of the Earth of which the nature and causes of uplift formed a core issue. Although eclipsed for 150 years by other priorities, recent research in the earth sciences is again focussing on the causes and patterns of crustal uplift as a component of a holistic view of how the Earth functions. In reviewing some of these recent developments, it is evident that lessons can still be learnt from Darwin's original wide-ranging research agenda, his linkage of apparently unrelated phenomena, and his methodological innovations.
Michael Summerfield is Professor of Geomorphology at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on using new geochronological techniques, especially cosmogenic isotope analysis, to quantifying long-term landscape history, and on the interplay between internal and surface processes in determining landscape evolution at large temporal and spatial scales. His publications include Geomorphology and Global Tectonics (2000). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2001.