The Hall

Lawrence Morley 1920–2013

At the outbreak of the Second World War, I was studying Physics and Geology at the University of Toronto. I put my studies on hold to serve as a radar operator with the Royal Canadian Navy. After the war, I returned to university, and soon put my wartime experience to work. I adapted submarine technology so it could be used to search for mineral deposits from the air. In 1950 and 1952, I added a master’s, then a doctoral degree to my resume.

The following year, I became the Geological Survey of Canada’s first Geophysicist. I eventually served as the organization’s Director, a position that I held for 17 years. During this time, we developed novel magnetic instruments for surveying Canada’s vast landscape and resources by air.

In the early 1960s, most geological knowledge was still based on the false assumption that the Earth’s continents do not move. Geologists were having difficulty explaining magnetic anomalies found on the ocean floor. I theorized that as the ocean floor spreads, it reveals new rock which is continually imprinted with the planet’s magnetic field. When Earth’s magnetic field reverses, a reversed magnetic imprint is left on newly-formed rock. My findings and explanation, combined with similar work by Fred Vine and Drummond Matthews of England, became known as the Morley-Vine-Matthews hypothesis. This concept provided the basis for current theories about continental drift and plate tectonics—changing the way geoscientists view the Earth.

I learned about remote sensing in the mid 1960s. This technology can be used to produce detailed maps of Earth’s surface, helpful in studying everything from agriculture, to geology, to ice flows. In 1971, I founded and became the first president of the Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing. At first we used airplanes, and later RADARSAT satellites, making Canada a world leader in remote sensing.

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