Drummond Hoyle Matthews

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Drummond Hoyle Matthews (born February 5, 1931 , † July 20, 1997 ) was a British marine geologist and geophysicist who made decisive contributions to the theory of plate tectonics . His research showed - as well as the Briton Frederick Vine and the Canadian Lawrence Morley - that differences in the magnetic properties of the rocks of the oceanic crust with that of Harry Hammond Hess developed in 1962 theory of seafloor spreading ( seafloor spreading ) are compatible, and helped Hess' theory finally to scientific recognition. In 1989 he received the highest honor from the Geological Society of London , the Wollaston Medal .


Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift initially received little scientific recognition due to the lack of a plausible driving mechanism for the process. In the 1950s, extensive survey trips to map the ocean floor revealed an extensive system of interconnected mid-ocean ridges , everywhere characterized by high heat flux and significant seismic activity. Hess hypothesized that new oceanic crust was formed on the oceanic ridges by extrusion of magma from the earth's mantle , and that convection currents in the mantle continually removed the newly formed oceanic crust from the ridge, creating ocean basins and drifting continents apart.

As a scientist at King's College , Cambridge , Matthews surveyed an ocean ridge in the north-western Indian Ocean in 1962 . The researchers were able to detect a pattern of parallel, stripe-shaped magnetic anomalies , almost strictly symmetrical on either side of the back. The most likely explanation of these anomalies was the assumption, which was not yet proven at the time, that the earth's magnetic field has reversed itself several times in the course of the earth's history ( pole shift or pole reversal of the earth's magnetic field). The mineral magnetite , which is abundant in the oceanic crust, shows the direction of the simultaneously prevailing magnetic field through the orientation of the magnetite crystals ( paleomagnetism ) obtained during the solidification of the magma . The parallel stripe anomalies found by Matthews and his colleagues would arise naturally in a crust diverging from the back by the mechanism proposed by Hess.

Matthews and his student, Frederick Vine, published these lines of thought in their 1963 article Magnetic Anomalies over Ocean Ridges in the journal Nature . Subsequently, the continental drift theory became increasingly influential, and further confirmations for the theory were discovered. The anomalies could also be detected on other oceanic ridges and correlated with one another over long distances. The confirmation of the repeated pole reversal of the earth's magnetic field a few years later was not only proof of the theory of Matthews and Vine, but also allowed the establishment of a geological time scale for estimating the spreading speed on mid-ocean ridges. In this way, the contribution of the two proved essential to the development and recognition of the theory of plate tectonics. For this they received the Balzan Prize in 1981 .


  • FJ Vine, D. Matthews: Magnetic anomalies over oceanic ridges . In: Laura Garwin, Tim Lincoln (eds.): A century of Nature: twenty-one discoveries that changed science and the world . University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2003, ISBN 0-226-28415-8 , pp. 138–144 , doi : 10.1038 / 199947a0 ( reading sample in Google book search - first edition: 1963, reprint: Originally published in: Nature. Volume 199, No. 4897, September 7, 1963, pp. 947-953).


  • Robert S. White: Drummond Hoyle Matthews. 5 February 1931-20 July 1997. In: Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. Volume 45, (Nov., 1999), pp. 277-294 ( rsbm.royalsocietypublishing.org PDF; 7.7 MB)
  • Dan McKenzie : Seafloor magnetism and drifting continents . In: Laura Garwin, Tim Lincoln (eds.): A century of Nature: twenty-one discoveries that changed science and the world . University of Chicago Press, 2003, ISBN 978-0-226-28415-6 (Presentation of Vine and Matthews' theory as viewed in 2003).

Individual evidence

  1. Wollaston Medal . The Geological Society of London , archived from the original on August 19, 2010 ; accessed on January 23, 2016 (English, original website no longer available).
  2. ^ FJ Vine, D Matthews: Magnetic anomalies over oceanic ridges . In: Nature . 199, September 7, 1963, p. 947. doi : 10.1038 / 199947a0 . Retrieved January 16, 2011.
  3. ^ D. McKenzie, D. Matthews, F. Vine - Balzan Prize Geology. Retrieved January 22, 2020 .