Richard P. Von Herzen

1998 Maurice Ewing Medal Winner

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass.

Richard P. Von Herzen was awarded the 1998 Maurice Ewing Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on December 8, 1998, in San Francisco, California. The medal recognizes significant original contributions to understanding physical, geophysical, and geological processes in the ocean; significant original contributions to scientific ocean engineering, technology, and instrumentation; and/or outstanding service to marine sciences. This medal is presented jointly by the U.S. Navy and AGU.


“It is my great pleasure and honor to present the citation for Richard P. Von Herzen, winner of the 1998 Maurice Ewing Medal of the American Geophysical Union.

“Dick is undoubtedly the world’s greatest researcher in the field of marine heat flow today, and he has made many great contributions to the understanding of Earth’s thermal structure and to the technology needed for doing heat flow research. Let me share just a few comments from other scientists with you: `Dick has virtually established marine heat flow as a credible (and extremely useful) subdiscipline of marine geophysics’; `Dick has done for heat transfer in the ocean basins what Maurice Ewing did for seismic studies of the oceanic lithosphere’; `I can think of no one more deserving of the Ewing Medal than Dick Von Herzen.’ I agree completely with these assessments.

“Dick earned his B.S. in geophysics at the California Institute of Technology in 1952, his M.A. in geological sciences at Harvard in 1956, and his Ph.D. in marine geophysics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1960. He worked for Scripps as a research geophysicist until he moved to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1973. Except for a brief diversion as Deputy Director of the Office of Oceanography, UNESCO, in Paris (1964-1966), Dick has devoted his 40-year-plus research career to the fundamental understanding of geothermal processes in the ocean basins. Dick has sailed on about 40 expeditions in essentially every oceanic region of the world, including the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean, Antarctic, and Red Seas, and lakes in Africa, Switzerland, and Oregon. For 15 of these, he served as chief scientist. His targets have included spreading centers, basins, swells, and the margins of the oceans. He has written some 125 scientific papers, including several superb state-of-the-art reviews. He was made Fellow of the AGU in 1986.

“I have known Dick since 1961, when he invited me to join his first major heat flow cruise—the RISEPAC Expedition aboard SCRIPPS’ R/V Spencer F. Baird. I had just made the first three heat flow measurements in the Japan Trench and was delighted to join the cruise. I learned a great deal from Dick, who had already made pioneering measurements in the eastern Pacific, following the work of Edward Bullard, Art Maxwell, and Roger Revelle, and had established that the East Pacific Rise was a region of anomalously high heat flow. We confirmed the high heat flow on the crest of the East Pacific Rise, but we also found that heat flow becomes curiously low in a wide area of the flank of the Rise. Analysis and interpretation of these data after the cruise was also a memorable experience. My profound admiration of Dick began then and has persisted to today. In hindsight, the low heat flow in the flank area was a prelude to the discovery, largely to be attributed to our common friend Clive Lister, of the true nature of mid-ocean ridge heat flow, namely, that it indicates hydrothermal circulation in young oceanic crust.

“Dick’s discoveries and contributions have been many since those early RISEPAC days. The existence and wave length of hydrothermal circulation was proven by the closely spaced measurements at and around the Galapagos spreading center in the early 1970s by Dick and his colleagues D. Williams, J. Sclater, and R. Anderson. His global overview with D. Williams, published in 1974, led to the revolution of our basic concept on the apparent equivalency of continental and oceanic heat flow. His work on heat flow of the Hawaiian and Bermuda swells, geothermal measurements in Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSPD) holes, and detailed investigation of the trans-Atlantic Geotraverse (TAG) hydrothermal mound are a few of his additional important contributions.

“These contributions are linked to and made possible by Dick’s equally important development of new instrumentation. Early in his career, Dick substantially improved the so-called Bullard-type heat flow probe, making it a practical tool. With Art Maxwell, he invented the now standard needle probe method for sediment thermal conductivity measurements. Probably his greatest invention was the digitally recording and telemetering multiple penetration heat flow probe. In the early stages of marine heat flow work, there were basically two types of probe: the Bullard-type, which used steel pipes containing temperature sensors, and the Ewing-type, which used outrigger sensors attached to a piston core barrel. Shipboard handling was easier with the Bullard-type probe, but it bent at each penetration and a sediment core had to be taken separately, whereas the Ewing-type could take a core and measure the temperature gradient in one operation, and the thick core barrel did not bend easily. Dick combined the virtues of both probes and developed electronics for long-time recording and real-time acoustic telemetering of data, resulting in a probe that can make multiple penetrations and measurements with each lowering. This literally revolutionized marine heat flow work, and the Von Herzen probe is now widely used.

“Other instrumental innovations include an in situ thermal conductivity measuring device and heat flow measuring systems for DSV Alvin and DSDP holes. For the DSDP device, mechanical strength to withstand the rough handling in drilling was a big problem. For Leg 60 in the Marianas, we developed a fully solid state electronic system without any moving parts, which proved to be dependable for the first time. Later Dick improved it, making it much smaller, so it could be fitted within the coring shoe of the piston coring equipment deployed inside the drill pipe. It is now the standard tool. Personally, I enjoyed seeing a case in which Americans made a miniature of something developed in Japan.

“Dick is both an extremely careful, industrious, and persevering researcher who is armored with clear physical insight and an extremely kind and thoughtful individual to work with. The impressive list of his publications amply shows that he has been cooperating with many international scientists, including those from potentially rival institutions like the late Marcus Langseth, Roy Hyndman, and John Sclater, to name a few.

“I wish to end my citation to Dick with a quote from Roger Anderson in the Journal of Geophysical Research, February 10, 1983: `For years and years of unselfish dedication to science, and with a wish of many, many more, the authors of this special issue extend their sincere thanks to you, Dick.’

—SEIYA UYEDA, RIKEN (Institute of Physical and Chemical Research), International Frontier Program on Earthquake Research at Earthquake Prediction Research Center, Tokai University, Tokyo, Japan


“I am most grateful to Seiya Uyeda for the kind words in his citation and to all those involved in my selection for the Ewing Medal in 1998. Since my astonishment upon being informed nearly a year ago, I have found the experience of researching those who have received it previously to be most humbling. In my case, there are simply too many people (professors, colleagues, administrators, students, engineers, technicians, and family members) who were essential for the accomplishments represented by this particular honor to include in this brief response. The few named below are examples of many others who have helped me greatly.

“First, it seems important to acknowledge two close colleagues who may also have been in the thoughts of the nominating committee in their considerations of geophysical subdisciplines for this award. They are Clive Lister and Mark Langseth, vigorous and innovative geophysical scientists who were largely involved with marine geothermal research for much of their professional lives but who unfortunately died prematurely, near the peaks of their respective careers. At the same time that we were mutual competitors for research funding in the United States, I was stimulated by many of their ideas and analyses in my own research efforts. In one example, noted by Seiya in his citation, Clive’s careful data acquisition and analysis of geothermal measurements on the Juan de Fuca ridge, which led him to the hypothesis of widespread hydrothermal circulation in the ocean crust, also explained many of the very low heat flow values that we obtained earlier on the flanks of the east Pacific rise. This important process was quantified and modeled on the basis of the spatial distributions of detailed values obtained by other colleagues and myself at the Galapagos spreading center, and by Mark Langseth, Keir Becker, Earl Davis, and many others elsewhere on actively spreading ridges.

“Hot spots became natural targets for geothermal investigations after their initial geophysical analysis by various colleagues placed them in a plate tectonics framework and showed that most were the result of mantle upwellings, rather than crustal thickening. Although the initial study of the Hawaiian swell, stimulated greatly by the modeling of Tom Crough and Bob Detrick, was interpreted as primarily a thermal effect, additional measurements and modeling (including data from a cruise last year) suggest that the geothermal signature may be small or nonexistent. This may be a result of the relatively fast moving plate over the hot spot and/or slow but pervasive crustal hydrothermal circulation that redistributes any additional heat flux laterally, or other unknown perturbations. Measurements on other oceanic hot spots indicate that the geothermal effects may be larger for those that are relatively stationary or slow moving with respect to the overlying plate. However, the accuracy and spatial distribution of the geothermal data leave much to be desired, and the continuing development of new methodologies present many opportunities for motivated researchers to improve our understanding of these important geophysical phenomena. Also largely unexplained is why the locus of surface magma production is so narrowly confined in comparison with the swell widths themselves, perhaps analogous to a similar observation at spreading ridges, which may only be resolved by multidisciplinary investigations.

“With the initial opportunity given to me by Russ Raitt as my Ph.D. advisor, my focus on developing geothermal measurement instrumentation was stimulated in the 1950s by its relative absence in the emerging arena of ocean exploration. In addition, I had the fortune to be preceded at Scripps Institution of Oceanography by the theoretical and instrument design innovations in this field made by Teddy Bullard, Roger Revelle, and Art Maxwell. My initial contributions were relatively minor modifications to make the existing equipment more easily serviceable in the sometimes difficult marine environment. Like Mark, Clive, and others of my era, I was also most fortunate to be able to ride the wave crest of increasing budgets and emphasis for science in general, and oceanography in particular, at that time. My initial research support frequently consisted of small bootlegs on other researchers’ existing grants and contracts. Despite the long cruises on small ships that then characterized life at sea, it was a great satisfaction to try and sometimes be successful in developing instrumentation to measure geophysically relevant parameters in an environment where it had not been done before. Unfortunately, we are unable to make continuous measurements of the geothermal flux like magnetic or gravity field measurements: the pogo (multiple) probe method is our best approximation. However, we are partially compensated by the relative ease of marine heat flow measurements in comparison with those on continents. Most recently, I have been fortunate to be asked by colleagues to help advise on development of techniques to make marine geothermal measurements with an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which hopefully may fill some data gaps in the world oceans that are difficult to measure from ships.

“Finally, I wish to comment on some impressions of Maurice Ewing. From my viewpoint as a Scripps graduate student, perhaps it is understandable that the accomplishments he and his associates achieved at Lamont-Doherty were not always being hailed from the rooftops of a rival institution, but we continually encountered them in the literature. Regretfully, I only interacted with him a few times after I joined Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the mid-1960s. It is clear that he ran a `tight ship,’ in several senses of that phrase, but the result was valuable geophysical data on a worldwide scale that are still some of the most useful that exist for many marine areas. I also benefited from his perspective and cooperation when our research efforts became larger than one institution could accomplish, (for example, the beginnings of ocean drilling in the late 1960s and my participation in Leg 3 that helped to validate the seafloor spreading hypothesis). It is my great privilege to be honored today by this AGU Medal that represents his pioneering dedication to excellence in marine geophysical research.”

—RICHARD P. VON HERZEN, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass.