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Celebrating Ramsay’s Rock Folds and Fractures

This new volume of J.G. Ramsay's Folding and Fracturing of Rocks, edited by Bond and Lebit, offers 14 case studies related to rock folding, fracturing and strain from the UK, USA, Greece, the Dead Sea and China.
This article appeared in Vol. 17, No. 4 - 2020

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Celebrating Ramsay’s Rock Folds and Fractures

Folding and Fracturing of Rocks: 50 Years of Research since the Seminal Textbook of J.G. Ramsay Edited by C.E. Bond and H.D. Lebit Geological Society, London, Special Publication 487, 2020). Every branch of geology probably has two founders: the first one usually lived and worked in the 18th or 19th century and laid down the foundations while the second one pioneered the modern version of the discipline. John Graham Ramsay, born in 1931 in England, is the father of modern structural geology. (My favorite candidate for the first father in this field is the Austrian geologist Eduard Suess, 1831–1914, but opinions in this matter vary.) 

Ramsay graduated from Imperial College, London with a Ph.D. in 1954 and, after military service, in 1957 he returned to Imperial College where he became a professor in 1966. The following year he published Folding and Fracturing of Rocks (McGraw-Hill, 1967), which to this day remains a seminal work in strain analysis of rocks and geologic formations. Ramsay left Imperial for Leeds in 1973 and then moved to ETH at Zurich in 1977, succeeding the legendary geologist Augusto Gansser (1910–2012). After retiring in 1992, Ramsay moved to France where he still resides and enjoys playing at cello concerts (he has talents in music and poetry as well).

Ramsay has been given a number of prestigious awards. In 2017, a special session was held at the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, honoring the 50 years since the publication of Folding and Fracturing of Rocks; Ramsay also attended the session. Contributions to this occasion resulted in the publication by the Geological Society, London of a new volume discussing the research undertaken since Ramsay’s original publication, edited by the meeting’s conveners Clare Bond (Aberdeen) and Hermann Lebit (Houston). The volume consists of 17 articles, including an introductory chapter by the editors. 

Highly Original Work

Ramsay trained a large number of students; some of the most eminent structural geologists of our time were among them. Two of his students from the 1960s, Susan Treagus and Peter Hudleston, share their memories of being taught by him in Chapter 2 of the new volume. In Chapter 3, Richard Lisle, Fernando Bastida and Jesus Aller survey how Ramsay’s 1967 book still tops the list of structural geology books published in the past five decades in terms of citation and influence. This book, in 568 pages, was reprinted in 2004 (Blackburn Press). 

Two features set Ramsay’s book apart from many other structural geology textbooks. Firstly, it applied mathematics to rock strain; and secondly, it was highly original, and not simply a synthesis of previous works.

Ramsay also wrote a three-volume textbook entitled The Techniques of Modern Structural Geology (Academic Press, now out of print), totaling 1,061 pages. It comprises Volume 1, Strain Analysis (with M. Huber, 1983); Volume 2, Folds and Fractures (1987, with M. Huber); and Volume 3, Applications of Continuum Mechanics (2000, with R. Lisle). The only other geologist who has synthesized and written so much in structural geology and tectonics was Eduard Suess, author of the four volumes of Das Antlitz der Erde (The Face of the Earth), written between 1885 and 1901. Ramsay has conducted research in a number of mountain belts including the Scottish Highlands (his Ph.D. area), the Alps and the Himalayas. In fact, I first met Ramsay at a Himalayan conference in Switzerland in 1996, to which both Gansser and Ramsay attended and gave talks; both of them emphasized the importance of field work, observation and mapping in structural geology. I also learned that Ramsay has a talent for cooking!

This new volume, edited by Bond and Lebit, also offers 14 theoretical or field case studies related to rock folding, fracturing and strain. These field case studies mostly come from the UK and the USA, but there is also a paper each from Greece, the Dead Sea and China. 

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