Biography and Research Narrative,
Ken C. Macdonald
Background and Education:
Born beneath the Golden Gate at the Presidio in San Francisco in 1947, I went to elementary, junior high and high schools in San Francisco area; all three were located on active traces of the San Andreas Fault system (Hayward Fault). As an undergraduate Regents Scholar at U.C. Berkeley in Engineering Sciences during the tumultuous sixties [1966-1970], I took a week-end field geology course as an elective. The visiting professor taught the course in such a way that we discussed and saw at first hand the effects of plate tectonics in the Franciscan complex in the mornings, and sampled the fine wines of Napa and Sonoma counties in the afternoons. This experience combined with my love of the ocean and scuba-diving diverted my interests away from considerations of graduate work in engineering, medicine or business and toward oceanography.
Armed with an NSF graduate fellowship, I decided to pursue graduate studies in marine geophysics in the then new MIT-Woods Hole Joint Program in Oceanography.
My wanderlust found me on many expeditions, including seagoing voyages to Australia, New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tahiti, Galapagos, the Red Sea and the Azores. For my dissertation I participated in a deep-tow expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge led by Bruce Luyendyk (then at Woods Hole) and Fred Spiess (at Scripps). Since I was working with deep-tow data from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I found myself wintering in La Jolla to work with Fred Spiess and Bob Parker, thus escaping the hellish winters on Cape Cod. The summers were great as I was living on a cabin cruiser I purchased for $400 which was anchored ½ mile south of Woods Hole in a veritable floating village of seafarers. I was prepared to continue my summers on Cape Cod, winters in La Jolla migration pattern indefinitely, but, alas, the dean at MIT was not (especially once he noticed I had been without a PhD advisor for 2 years; Luyendyk, my advisor, had left Woods Hole for UCSB and Atwater had just arrived at MIT, in time to sign off on my dissertation).
Frantically trying to finish my PhD in the three months I had left before funding ran out, I had not taken the time to look for a job. I was saved by the generosity of Cecil Green (founder of Texas Instruments) who funded my first post-Ph.D. job as Green Scholar at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics in 1975 where I could continue my association with Scripps and U.C. I had four very fruitful and enjoyable years at Scripps before U.C. Santa Barbara lured me away with an offer of a tenured faculty position in 1979. I was concerned that seagoing geophysics at UCSB might be difficult since we have no ship, but I found that my colleagues at Scripps and Woods Hole were open to continued collaboration. I also forged a fruitful research partnership with Jeff Fox at University of Rhode Island, the world's expert on oceanic transform faults. As a result, the last 30 years at UCSB have been rich with exciting research opportunities and excellent graduate students. In 1984 I married former Scripps graduate student, Rachel Haymon, who is Professor in the same department where I am now Professor Emeritus.
In the department I worked as Chair of the Graduate Admissions Committee for nearly 20 years trying to enlarge and invigorate our graduate program. I enjoyed teaching the large Introduction to Oceanography class for ~ 20 years; also Introduction to Geophysics, Marine Geophysics and Earth System Science. I taught the first seagoing field course, "Field Studies in Marine Geophysics" in 1981 and continued that effort for over twenty years. Typically 10-15 undergraduates and 3-6 graduate students joined me on seagoing expeditions (funded by National Science Foundation or Office of Naval Research) for 1-2 months as a part of this 12 unit course. I was active in the Marine Sciences Institute and worked to recruit its new director at that time, Jim Kennett, a distinguished member of our department. I was also the first sommelier for the departmental wine collection (donated by alum Rich Migues), a task I reluctantly gave up when I retired in 2007.
Over the last 35 years I have focused primarily on the mid-ocean ridge, the most active geologic feature on the planet, using whatever geophysical or geological tools I could employ to study the tectonics of this complex system. I have been fortunate enough to participate in some of the first fine-scale explorations of the ridge, using swath-mapping sonars, remotely controlled vehicles and manned-submersibles. I have contributed to a number of important discoveries and advances in understanding ocean ridge systems including: the fundamental segmentation of mid-ocean ridges and the significance of ridge-axis discontinuities including overlapping spreading centers and propagating rifts; the processes responsible for the creation and deformation of oceanic crust particularly through the study of marine magnetic anomalies and quantitative geomorphology; and the importance of hydrothermal vent systems to the heat balance of the ridge. I was co-chief scientist [with Fred Spiess] of the expedition that discovered the first "black smoker" vents on the East Pacific Rise, sharing the 1980 Newcomb-Cleveland Medal and Prize of American Association for the Advancement of Science for that discovery. I have had the thrill of over 50 dives in the submersible ALVIN to depths exceeding 8,000 feet. During my ~30 years in the department, I enjoyed working closely with Researchers Doug Wilson and Steve Miller, and faculty members Rachel Haymon, Cliff Hopson, Bruce Luyendyk, Tanya Atwater and Mike Fuller.
So much is still not known that I look forward to many more exciting discoveries and insights in the future as we continue to explore the mid-ocean ridge. I have enjoyed sharing the excitement of these insights with my students and the general public.
In retrospect I see that my living condition is embedded in plate tectonics; I continue to live on the same transform plate boundary system on which I was born and raised [the San Andreas], I spend my summers in a cabin over a major subduction zone [in the Cascade mountains], and I work on divergent plate boundaries, mid-ocean ridges.
In my new status as Professor Emeritus I continue to conduct research on mid-ocean ridges and lecture on occasion, but more time has been devoted to my other passions: windsurfing, fly-fishing, and supporting environmental organizations. I also work as a Naturalist for the Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary.
Some Popular Publications and Releases:
Macdonald, K.C. and B.P. Luyendyk, The crest of the East Pacific Rise, Scientific American 244:100-117, 1981.
Macdonald, K.C., Mid-ocean ridges: Fine scale tectonic, volcanic and hydrothermal processes within the plate boundary zone, Ann. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 10:155-190, 1982.
Haymon, R.M. and K.C. Macdonald, The geology of deep-sea hot springs, American Scientist 73:441-450, 1985.
Macdonald, K.C. and P.J. Fox, The mid-ocean ridge, Scientific American 262:72-79, 1990.
N.Y. Times, "Rumbling up from the ocean floor, a vast volcano cluster is found", Feb. 14, 1993.
Macdonald, K.C., D.S. Scheirer, S. Carbotte and P.J. Fox, It's only topography, GSA Today [Jan, Feb 93 issues], 1993.
PBS New Explorer series, "The Secrets of Underwater Volcanoes", first broadcast 8 p.m. EST, Nov. 23, 1994; frequent reruns on Discover Channel.
"The Deep" Esquire Magazine April, 1994.
Haymon, R.M., E.T. Baker, J.A. Resing, S.M. White, K.C. Macdonald, Galapagos Team, Hunting for Hydrothermal Vents Along the Galapagos Spreading Center, Oceanography, v.20, p. 100-107, 2007.
Full list of publications