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Vincent Courtillot

Vincent Courtillot
Vincent Courtillot

The 2012 Arthur Holmes Medal & Honorary Membership is awarded to Vincent Courtillot for seminal contributions to geomagnetism and the geodynamics of mantle hotspots.

Like Arthur Holmes, Vincent Courtillot is a brilliant, integrative, and visionary thinker whose work has had great influence across the Earth Sciences. His work has offered original solutions to a wide range of fundamental, longstanding problems in the solid-earth geosciences. Examples of his contributions include discovery of sharp accelerations (“jerks”) in the secular variation of the earth’s magnetic field, and demonstration that they emanate from the core, are global in extent, can be used to set an upper bound on the electrical conductivity of the mantle, and are manifestations of rapid changes in convection at the top of the core; application of paleomagnetism to solve important tectonic problems, including elucidating the spreading history of the Afar region and Gulf of Aden, quantification of the history of India’s collision with and indentation of Asia, sharpening our understanding of the amalgamation of the North and South China cratonal blocks, and pivotal syntheses of apparent polar wander curves for the major continents, true polar wander, and the hotspot reference frame; the linkage between major mass extinctions in the geological record and large flood-basalt eruptions, which due to his work are now widely viewed as a dominant cause of mass extinctions; the question of whether volcanic hotspots are caused by deep-seated mantle plumes and their connection to episodic convective instability at the bottom of the mantle. Courtillot’s work on some of the most important issues in earth science of our time is characterized by originality, deep and broad scholarship, and quantitative data collection and analysis, and as a result, it has profoundly influenced our science.

Video of the Arthur Holmes Medal Lecture given at the EGU General Assembly 2012.