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Richter, 2018


G.K. Gilbert: A Life in Science for the Commonstock (Invited)

Richter, Daniel deB. (2018)
American Geophysical Union 2018 Fall Meeting, Washington, DC, 10-14 Dec 2018  


In August 1906, G.K. Gilbert published a piece in Popular Science on the beginnings of the large scientific investigation of the San Francisco earthquake. Many of his photos and analyses would become part of the comprehensive 1908 report known as the Lawson or Lawson-Reid report. Gilbert was a first-rate scientist but was also convinced in the importance of good relations between the public and scientists. In an 1883 piece in the Salt Lake City Tribune, Gilbert described how the Wasach Mountains were being uplifted “little by little” along a fault, and that the city had a serious earthquake risk. Controversial at the time, Gilbert's analysis has been highly regarded ever since. In W.C. Mendenhall’s Gilbert memorial essay, Mendenhall marveled at Gilbert’s wide intellectual scope and provided 25 topics on which Gilbert had written. Surprisingly, earthquakes were not on the list, a notable absence that R.E. Wallace (1980) more than remedied with his brilliant review of Gilbert’s work on faults, scarps, and earthquakes. Reading Gilbert’s work on its own, one is impressed by Gilbert as writer and by his grasp for deep seated forces and structures. Gilbert's understanding that Earth’s crust has both strength and elasticity was well developed and was strongly supported by his crustal rebound estimates that were based on his measurements of ancient shoreline elevations of the long-drained Lake Bonneville. But one is also impressed by his mind and personality. Gilbert was intuitively able to solve puzzles, to screen significant from trivial details, to combine deduction and induction, and to formulate new concepts -- often by sharing his data and ideas as "the commonstock" with colleagues such as Dutton, Powell, and probably those on the Lawson-Reid report as well.


Richter, Daniel deB. (2018): GK Gilbert: A Life in Science for the Commonstock (Invited). American Geophysical Union 2018 Fall Meeting, Washington, DC, 10-14 Dec 2018.

This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.