Coe Receives 2007 Gilbert Award

Robert S. Coe received the 2007 William Gilbert Award at the 2007 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes outstanding and unselfish work in magnetism of Earth materials and of the Earth and planets.


coe_robert-sLike everyone in this room, I suspect, I am very pleased that our section has chosen to honor Rob Coe with the William Gilbert Award for some four decades of scientific achievement, leadership, and good cheer in the field of geomagnetism and paleomagnetism. There is time to mention just a few of the highlights of Rob’s (ongoing!) scientific career. Rob has contributed immensely to the technique, originally developed by the Thelliers, used to infer the strength of the ancient geomagnetic field from the magnetizations of rocks. As one author of the many letters of support put it, Rob’s pioneering papers on the double-heating paleointensity technique “set the direction of the entire field of paleomagnetism and must be counted in the top ten list of paleomagnetic papers ever written.” Rob and an international team of colleagues have studied the Steens Mountain lavas—likely the best volcanic record of a geomagnetic polarity reversal on Earth—to produce a detailed account of intensity variation, directional rebounds, and impulsive field change occurring at (perhaps!) degrees per day sorts of rates. Most recently, Rob and Gary Glatzmaier demonstrated from geodynamo simulations that lateral variations in lower mantle temperature may well give rise to paleomagnetic observables, such as preferred paths for transitional poles or changes in reversal frequency. Rob has made his mark in tectonics problems as well, through paleomagnetic studies of displaced terranes in localities stretching from Papua New Guinea to Alaska, from Kazakhstan to California. His paleomagnetic work in Asia led to, among other things, a model for the accretion of the north and south China blocks to Siberia, published in Nature in 1987 and still widely accepted. In addition to his scientific contributions, Rob has been generous in his service to the Earth sciences community. He has served on numerous national and international committees and panels and been an editor for the JGG and JGR. He was president of the Geomagnetism and Paleomagnetism (GP) section at a time when there some uncertainty about the status of small sections such as ours in the Union’s structure. Rob’s strong advocacy at AGU Council meetings helped GP to thrive and remain autonomous.

Along with all of the above, it is Rob’s infectious enjoyment of all things GP, his successful mentoring of young researchers, and his pleasant and accessible nature that make him such a worthy candidate for GP’s Gilbert Award. It is with great pleasure, Rob, that we, the GP section, present to you the 2007 Gilbert Award.

Scott W. Bogue, Occidental College, Los Angeles, Calif.


Thank you, Scott, and all of my students and many colleagues who have helped make scientific research so interesting and enjoyable. Receiving an award named for William Gilbert is especially meaningful to me, as he is a personal hero and his contributions to fields as disparate as medicine and magnetism epitomize the spirit of broad inquiry that characterizes our GP section. The privilege of working in a science founded on discoveries by scientists such as Gilbert, Gauss, and Néel has been both an inspiring and humbling experience. I was fortunate to encounter great teachers and mentors, such as Francis Birch, whose undergraduate course introduced me to how physics helps us understand Earth; John Verhoogen, whose extraordinary intellect and lucidity inspired me in graduate school and remains an inspiration today; Allan Cox and Richard Doell, who communicated the exhilaration of pure research during the race to develop the geomagnetic polarity timescale; and Mervyn Paterson, who opened my eyes to sophisticated experimental techniques in a completely different area of research. My good fortune continued when I was hired at UC Santa Cruz by Aaron Waters, whose astuteness in laying the foundation of our department fostered the stimulating, collegial environment that has kept me happily in Earth science at Santa Cruz for my entire career. During this time I have enjoyed incredible freedom to explore a wide range of subjects, all curiosity-driven and a couple of them justifiably deemed esoteric. A great pleasure has been witnessing some of these areas, such as paleointensity and Asian tectonics, take off and be carried farther forward by younger colleagues and students than I would have thought possible.

I spent most of my undergraduate years learning chemistry and physics, but love of the outdoors and a roommate in geology gradually turned me toward studying the Earth. At first I was most attracted to examining natural processes for their own sake. It took a number of years to become persuaded that we mere mortals could develop a significant understanding of how our planet has operated and the broad sweep of geologic history. This is still what I find most remarkable and fascinating about our science: peering into the past using the rock record, lab and numerical experiments, imagination, and reason to retrieve insights about the Earth from the depths of time.

Robert S. Coe, University of California, Santa Cruz