Edward A. Irving

Edward A. "Ted" Irving, CM FRSC FRS (27 May 1927 25 February 2014) was a geologist and scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada. His studies of paleomagnetism provided the first physical evidence of the theory of continental drift. His efforts contributed to our understanding of how mountain ranges, climate, and life have changed over the past millions of years.[3][7]

Ted Irving
Edward A. Irving

(1927-05-27)27 May 1927[1]
Died25 February 2014(2014-02-25) (aged 86)[1]
ResidenceSidney, British Columbia, Canada
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge (BA, PhD)
Spouse(s)Sheila (née Irwin) [2]
ChildrenKate, Susan, Martin, George[2]
Scientific career
InstitutionsGeological Survey of Canada, Pacific Geosciences Center
InfluencesPatrick Blackett,[5] Keith Runcorn, Ronald Fisher[6]


Irving was born and raised in Colne in the Pennine Hills of east Lancashire, England. In 1945, he was conscripted into the British Army. Irving served in the Middle East infantry. In 1948, he began studying geology at the University of Cambridge and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1951. He spent the next year at Cambridge as a research assistant with Keith Runcorn in the geology and geophysics department before entering the graduate program.[7]

When Irving started his graduate studies, the history of the Earth's magnetic field was known for the few centuries since the first magnetic observatories had been established. With fellow students Ken Creer and Jan Hospers, he looked to extend this record back in time. Irving used a magnetometer,[5] recently designed by Patrick Blackett, to analyze the magnetic directions imparted to rocks by their iron minerals. He found large discrepancies between the directions of the present magnetic field direction and those recorded in Precambrian rock in the highlands of Scotland. He surmised the only explanation could be that Scotland had shifted relative to the geomagnetic pole. Irving also determined that India had moved northward by 6000 km and rotated by more than 30°. These results confirmed the predictions Alfred Wegener had put forth in his theory of continental drift in 1912.[7][8]:146147

In 1954, Irving attempted to obtain a PhD for his graduate work. Unfortunately the field was so new that his doctoral examiners were not familiar enough with the subject matter to recognize his research achievements. They refused to give him the degree.[9]:4142 Not having a PhD did not stop him from obtaining a position as a research fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra.


For the next ten years Irving studied Australia's ancient latitudes and published around 30 papers. He was able to demonstrate the continent's southward movement since the Permian period. In 1965, he submitted some of his papers to Cambridge and obtained a ScD, the highest earned degree at the time.[7]

Irving met his wife Sheila while in Australia. She was a Canadian citizen. In 1964, they moved to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and Irving began work as a research officer for Dominion Observatory with the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys. In 1966, Irving returned to England to teach geophysics at the University of Leeds. He returned to Ottawa in 1967 to work as a research scientist in the Earth Physics Branch of the Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources. In 1981, Irving moved to Sidney, British Columbia, to establish a paleomagnetism laboratory at the Pacific Geoscience Centre with the Earth Physics Branch. The branch would later be incorporated into the Geological Survey of Canada. He mapped the movements of Vancouver Island and other parts of the Cordillera that have moved sideways and rotated relative to the Precambrian Canadian Shield.[7]

In 2005, Irving was semi-retired, investigating the nature of the geomagnetic field in the Precambrian to understand how the crust was being deformed and how the latitudes varied. He and his wife Sheila had four children.[7] He died during the night of 24 February 2014 in Saanich, British Columbia.[1]

Selected works

Irving published a total of 205 papers,[6] including:

  • (January 1956). "Palaeomagnetic and palaeoclimatological aspects of polar wandering". Geofisica Pura e Applicata. 33 (1): 23–41. Bibcode:1956GeoPA..33...23I. doi:10.1007/BF02629944.
  • ; Parry, L. G. (May 1963). "The Magnetism of some Permian Rocks from New South Wales". Geophysical Journal International. 7 (4): 395–411. Bibcode:1963GeoJ....7..395I. doi:10.1111/j.1365-246X.1963.tb07084.x.
  • (24 November 1977). "Drift of the major continental blocks since the Devonian". Nature. 270 (5635): 304–309. Bibcode:1977Natur.270..304I. doi:10.1038/270304a0.
  • (March 1979). "Paleopoles and paleolatitudes of North America and speculations about displaced terrains". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. 16 (3): 669–694. Bibcode:1979CaJES..16..669I. doi:10.1139/e79-065.
  • ; Irving, G. A. (July 1982). "Apparent polar wander paths carboniferous through cenozoic and the assembly of Gondwana". Geophysical Surveys. 5 (2): 141–188. Bibcode:1982GeoSu...5..141I. doi:10.1007/BF01453983.
  • ; Woodsworth, G. J.; Wynne, P. J.; Morrison, A. (1985). "Paleomagnetic evidence for displacement from the south of the Coast Plutonic Complex, British Columbia". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. 22 (4): 584–598. Bibcode:1985CaJES..22..584I. doi:10.1139/e85-058.

In addition, he published the first book on paleomagnetism:[2]

Honors and awards

Irving was awarded the Gondwanaland Gold Medal by the Mining, Geological, and Metallurgical Society of India,[7] the Logan Medal by the Geological Association of Canada (1975),[10] the Walter H. Bucher Medal by the American Geophysical Union (1979),[11] the J. Tuzo Wilson Medal by the Canadian Geophysical Union (1984),[12] the Arthur L. Day Medal by the Geological Society of America (1997),[13] and the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society of London (2005).[6] He was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC) in 1973 and of the Royal Society of London (FRS) in 1979.[3][14] In 1998 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and in 2003 invited to be a Member of the Order of Canada.[15][16][17] He received an honorary degree from the University of Victoria in 1999.[18]


  1. "Edward (Ted) Irving". Times Colonist. 1 March 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  2. Enkin, Randy. "Dr Edward Irving FRS: 1927-2014 (1952, Earth Sciences & Geology)". Trinity Hall Cambridge. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  3. Hyndman, Roy (2015). "Edward Irving FRSC CM. 27 May 1927 — 25 February 2014". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 61: 183–201. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2015.0004. ISSN 0080-4606.
  4. "2005 Awards: Citations, Replies". History. The Geological Society. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  5. Nye, M. J. (2002). "PORTRAITS OF SCIENCE: 'The Most Versatile Physicist of His Generation'". Science. 296 (5565): 49–50. doi:10.1126/science.1069837. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 11935005.
  6. Opdyke, Neil Donald (27 May 2014). "Ted Irving (1927-2014)". Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union. 95 (21): 175. Bibcode:2014EOSTr..95..175O. doi:10.1002/2014EO210003.
  7. Davis, T. H. (8 February 2005). "Inaugural Article: Biography of Edward Irving". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (6): 1819–1820. Bibcode:2005PNAS..102.1819D. doi:10.1073/pnas.0407301101. PMC 548532. PMID 15684059.
  8. LeGrand, H. E. (1990). Drifting continents and shifting theories : the modern revolution in geology and scientific change (Reprinted ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0-521-31105-2.
  9. Merrill, Ronald T. (2010). Our magnetic Earth : the science of geomagnetism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-52050-6.
  10. "GAC National Medals & Awards: Logan Medal". Geological Association of Canada. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  11. "1979 Walter H. Bucher Medal Winner: Edward Irving". American Geophysical Union. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  12. "J. Tuzo Wilson Medal". Canadian Geophysical Union. Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  13. "Arthur L. Day Medal". Past Award & Medal Recipients. The Geological Society of America. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  14. "Fellows". The Royal Society. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  15. "Irving, Edward". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  16. "Order of Canada: Edward (Ted) Irving, C.M., Sc.D., D.Sc. (Hon.), F.R.S". It's an Honour. The Governor General of Canada. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  17. Yorath, Chris (2003). "Ted Irving Awarded OofC" (PDF). Geolog. 32 (1): 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  18. "Convocation '99: Honorary degree recipients". The Ring. University of Victoria. Retrieved 13 March 2012.

Further reading

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