Kelemen Receives 2004 N. L. Bowen Award

Peter B. Kelemen received the Bowen Award, presented by the Volcanology, Geochemistry, and Petrology Section at the 2004 Fall Meeting in San Francisco, California, last December. The unabridged versions of this citation and response are available at


kelemen_peterTonight we are here to honor Peter Kelemen, a leader in our field. Peter has led by the single-minded pursuit of a big idea: Virtually everything in VGP is pertinent to or can be explained by reactions between migrating magma and the rocks through which they pass.

I wondered some time ago from where this passion derived. It seems that as a young man, Peter, like many young searchers, went to India and pondered the meaning of life, in Peter’s case while doing geological fieldwork. The vision struck while Peter was sitting on an outcrop of mantle peridotite in the Himalayas. There were all these rocks, tens of kilometers thick, with dikes passing through them. How could the magma possibly traverse such long distances without being fundamentally modified by the materials through which they pass? And how could they then not leave a record of their passage?

Armed with this vision, Peter headed to graduate school. Since that time, Peter has investigated melt-rock interaction with amazing breadth and depth, through a combination of careful fieldwork, quantitative chemical modeling, and investigation of the fluid dynamic instabilities associated with migrating magma. He showed us that the ubiquitous “dunite channels” in exposed peridotites were the remnant tracks of migrating magma. This recognition has led to a wide range of subsequent developments in fields that include ophiolite field studies, the fluid dynamics of melt migration, the chemical consequences of melt migration, and U-series disequilibria.

To investigate these problems, Peter was also walking over the ocean crust, and he decided to turn his attention to the physical aspects of its origin by carefully looking at the structures and chemical compositions of the gabbroic layers. This work led to papers that definitively laid to rest competing models for the physical construction of the ocean crust. Through his highly interactive style, Peter has developed far beyond melt-rock interaction. He has related seismic velocity to chemical compositions and identified the physical aspects of delamination of continental lithosphere. He has emerged as a leader of large field programs on land and at sea.

One of the favorite phrases I remember from graduate school is Gil Hanson’s comment that “there are no bad problems, only bad scientists.” Peter exemplifies the positive aspects of this perspective. It was not necessarily that his vision of mantle-melt interaction was prescient. But Peter pursued this problem with such vigor that he has in many ways redefined our field. It led him to write papers in geophysics, geochemistry, fluid mechanics, seismology, and tectonics, to lead ambitious field programs, to do experiments, and to direct theses in theoretical geodynamics. Out of all these interactions has come a host of scientific advances, new problems to explore beyond melt/rock interaction, and the need for all of us when interpreting our data to consider the consequences of the inevitable reactions that take place during transport.

Friends and colleagues, please welcome Peter Kelemen, a scientist who has redefined the way we think, and one of the most productive and influential contributors to our field in the past five years.

Charlie Langmuir, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


As a graduate student, I imagined that I was engaged in a scientific discussion with Norman Bowen, so it feels like the pinnacle of success to be associated with Bowen in this way.

I have a habit of seeking out father figures such as Bowen. I have an excellent real father, who is here tonight. A refugee from both Hungarian Nazis and Communists, but a lover of European culture, my father taught me by example never to join any political groups, but to appreciate what the world has to offer.

In 1980, mapping in the Himalaya, I saw felsic intrusions cutting peridotite. I was inspired with a vision: Reaction between felsic magmas and the mantle would solve the “andesite problem” posed by Bowen and Fenner! I didn’t realize that if there still was an andesite problem in 1980, it was that there were too many solutions.

Bernard Evans is The Expert on peridotite metamorphism, so I went to Seattle. There I found many father figures, including Mark Ghiorso and Stu McCallum as well as Bernard. At the University of Washington, I could develop my “andesite inspiration” without confronting other hypotheses directly. When I emerged, I had something of my own.

Also in 1980, I joined a company specializing in “extreme terrain mineral exploration.” My longstanding business partner, Geoff Radford, lived simply to do every job right. If he said yes to something, he was totally committed. I have tried to emulate this.

For brevity, I am now going to thank people in clumps. Including Geoff Radford, the first is the tough clump. Always honest, Peter Molnar and Dan McKenzie were not formal mentors, but have been simultaneously exemplary, terrifying, and encouraging. I once told Dan that I thought most scientists don’t live up to their potential. Dan replied, “Not you! You’re an overachiever!” Nobu Shimizu belongs here, with Charlie Langmuir. Adolphe Nicolas, who exemplifies the application of field geology to geodynamics, is a fierce but generous critic of my work.

Foremost among the supportive clump are Stan Hart and Mike Purdy. Steve Holbrook, Jack Whitehead, Marc Parmentier, Marc Spiegelman, Einat Aharonov, Jun Korenaga, Mike Braun, and Matthew Jull are geophysicists who patiently helped me. Geochemist Ken Sims overlooks my ignorance of what an activity ratio really is. Gene Yogodzinski pretends to forget that I have never actually been to the Aleutians. And Henry Dick—Tough? Supportive? Fratricidal? We are all siblings in Henry’s dysfunctional family.

Last but not least, I thank Greg Hirth. We’ve done the best of projects together, deploying the Giant Tripod and BOLO, the Blimp for Onland Oceanography. Greg is neither intimidating nor intimidated. He follows his famous father’s footsteps, but doesn’t feel overshadowed. There’s virtue in exploring new worlds, even if they are thickly inhabited and new only to us. Today Greg and I presented work on earthquakes. Neither of us is burdened with an extensive knowledge of this topic, and there are many specialists. But it’s new to us, and perhaps we will find something that is new to them.

Peter Kelemen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass.