Public Release: 

Mysteries behind Earth's continental puzzle examined at UH symposium

Kevin Burke, noted plate tectonics geoscientist, honored for contributions

University of Houston

HOUSTON, Nov. 9, 2004 - To celebrate one of the early pioneers in plate tectonics - the concept that explains the evolving puzzle of the movements of the Earth's continents - the University of Houston's Department of Geosciences is hosting a symposium on the subject Nov. 12-15.

In honor of UH Geosciences Professor Kevin Burke's 75th birthday, the university's four-day symposium - "Plate Tectonics, Plumes and Planetary Lithospheres" - will be held at the UH Hilton Hotel. Co-sponsored by The Lunar Planetary Institute, The Houston Geological Society and UH Geosciences Alumni Association, the event will feature many of Burke's friends and long-time colleagues as keynote speakers, including notable members from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Carnegie Institution, the National Science Foundation and major oil companies. More than 60 talks will be given by scientists from several countries, in addition to abstract and poster presentations by UH students and faculty.

"Burke has been contributing scientific articles for the last 54 years, which is pretty amazing," said John F. Casey, UH chairman of geosciences and organizer of the symposium. "In the late '60s and early '70s, the big theory that came about in geosciences was plate tectonics, and Burke was on the ground floor of that revolution, contributing a host of ideas to the early work that helped to test that theory and its implication for continental geology."

Introduced nearly 40 years ago and revolutionizing scientists' understanding of the Earth's geography and formation, the theory of plate tectonics explains that our planet's outermost layer is fragmented into a dozen or more large and small plates that move relative to one another as they ride on top of hotter and more mobile material, shifting over time. In particular, the Wilson Cycle theorizes that most mountain belts are formed by the opening and closure of ocean basins.

An expert on the tectonics of Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, as well as in the geology of rifts and the geological implications of the Wilson Cycle, Burke is still trying to solve mysteries dating back billions of years that tell the stories of the continents and the oceans beneath. Current applications of such research shed light upon climate changes, meteorite impacts and catastrophic volcanic episodes. How this affects planetary geology, including recent Mars rover results, also will be discussed at the conference. The NASA Mars Voyager presentation will be open to the public in UH's Science and Research One Building in room 116 at 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 13.

An internationally respected geoscientist, Burke will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Geological Society of America a week before the UH symposium. The American Association for the Advancement of Science also recently awarded him the distinction of Fellow for these fundamental contributions to geosciences in interpreting the Earth's history through plate tectonics and the cycles of ocean basin openings and closings.


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