The Lavoisier Group 2008 Forum The Solar System and Earth's Climate

Rhodes Fairbridge: A Pioneer of Climate Change

Ewan Tyler

It was hearing Richard Mackay and Cliff Ollier talk about Rhodes Fairbridge, that made me realise that I was trained in a much earlier time frame. I was one of Rhodes' students from 1946 -1949, my four years as an undergraduate at the University of W.A. It was also his first four years as a lecturer in the Department of Geology. Rhodes was from the beginning, always larger than life, albeit to the annoyance of his peers. He had a small red car, and a wife not much older than we school leavers of the year the war ended. They were popular among us.

He lectured us in what I would now call the soft rock subjects. Rex Prider did the hard rock topics such as petrology and mineralogy. For me, and my subsequent career, this was a good combination of lecturing skills. One of Rhodes topics was geotectonics, which was big picture geology. This dealt with mountain building, island arcs, the rise and fall of sea levels, ice ages and climate change, using a text book " The Pulse of the Earth", by Umbgrove, a Dutch author from Delft University

As students, amongst other things, we worked on Western Australia sea levels, and wave cut platforms around the Swan River, the mouth of the Murchison River, and Garden and Rottnest Islands. We, the young bloods of the Geology Department, would go off with the girls of Zoology, to use our plane tabling skills to map the reefs and various rock cut platforms. It was great science!

Rhodes introduced us to oil geology, and the possibilities of oil pools in the Perth Basin, and indeed, all the way up the coast following the Darling Fault to Exmouth Gulf. I imagine he predicted what became the Rough Range oil discovery of 1953.

I left for Africa, having completed my honours year, in 1949, and never saw Rhodes again. In my own long career I have used extensively what Rex Prider taught me about
mineral deposits, kimberlites, diamonds, and how to use mineralogy. However, it was Rhodes' thinking that I relied on for the big picture, something which also has been important for me.

I realise now that Rhodes continued to puzzle over the challenges raised in Umbgrove's book, throughout his long and distinguished career, right up to the time of his death. I still have "The Pulse of the Earth" on my book shelves, and will always remember Rhodes as a fun man at a barbeque, and his vast range of bawdy bar room songs that he taught me.

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