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Remembering Bill Normark
"At sea a fellow comes out. Salt water is like wine, in that respect."
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research geologist Bill Normark passed quietly away on Saturday, January 12, 2008, at home with his wife, DJ, at his side, after a 7-year fight against cancer. Bill was an emeritus scientist who had retired from the USGS last October.
Bill is particularly well known for his work on the characteristics and depositional patterns of turbidite-fan deposits, including studies of the Monterey, Navy, and Hueneme Fans off central and southern California, the Laurentian Fan off eastern Canada, and the Amazon Fan off Brazil. With his closest collaborator, David J.W. Piper of the Geological Survey of Canada, Bill coauthored some 30 papers about the architecture, sediment type, and growth patterns of fan deposits, both ancient and modern. It is safe to say that turbidite fans, turbidity-current flows, and the mechanisms of moving large amounts of terrigenous sediment to the deep sea through hyperpycnal (density driven) flows formed the corethough only one partof Bill's scientific interests.
Bill was a major participant in many groundbreaking scientific discoveries, starting in the 1960s. During his graduate-student years, Bill worked with Fred Spiess of Scripps Institution of Oceanography on some of the first deep-water mapping effortsincluding Deep Tow, the first deep-towed, remotely operated vehicle for high-resolution bathymetric and magnetic mapping of the sea floorand was hired at the USGS in 1974, partly owing to this expertise. Bill's initial research for the USGS included working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)'s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on using digital unmanned, tethered vehicles for deep-sea mapping; investigating the depositional processes and resource potential of deep-sea fans; and researching marine sedimentary environments and the formation of sedimentary rocks.
In 1979, Bill was aboard the submersible Alvin at 21° north on the East Pacific Rise when the first hydrothermal black-smoker vents and chimneys were discovered. Unaware of the intense heat of the fluid (later determined to be approximately 350°C), the Alvin pilot drove through the smoke, and only afterward, when they discovered that the vent fluid had melted PVC piping holding a temperature probe, did the pilot and scientists realize that they had put themselves at risk. A scientific article reporting this discovery won Fred Spiess and his coauthors, including Bill, the 1980 Newcomb-Cleveland Prize for best paper published in the journal Science (v. 207, no. 4438, p. 1421-1433, URL http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/207/4438/1421).
Because of his sea-floor-mapping experience, Bill led the early 1980s' USGS program researching hydrothermal-mineral deposits on ocean-spreading centersprimarily on the Juan de Fuca Ridge (off Washington and Oregon) and the Gorda Ridge (off Oregon and California)in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and academia. At the same time, he fostered the Geological Survey of Canada's hydrothermal-mineral program.
During the USGS GLORIA (Geological LOng-Range Inclined Asdic) mapping program, which used sidescan sonar to map the entire U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (from U.S. coastlines out 200 nautical miles), Bill led efforts to map the sea floor around the Hawaiian Islands in 1986. Bill and various USGS colleagues, including Jim Moore and other scientists from the Volcano Hazards Team, identified gigantic submarine debris avalanchessome of the largest mass failures on Earthoff nearly all the volcanic edifices in the Hawaiian Ridge chain. The sheer scale of these failures suggests major tsunami potential, which has important implications for monitoring of the active south flank of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawai‘i.
In 1996, Bill returned to active research within what is now called the Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team, to concentrate on two general topics: (1) pathways and eventual sinks of sediment and contaminants moving from the coastal zone to the deep sea, and (2) identification of offshore hazards in southern California. His research included high-resolution stratigraphy of several California fan systems and age constraints on recent offshore fault movement and submarine landslides along California continental margins. In particular, he found widespread evidence of earthquake and tsunami hazards, including very recent deformational events at the west end of the Santa Monica Basin, large submarine slides off southern Santa Monica Bay, and active faults in the northeastern basin margin. In addition, Bill studied the size, timing, and tsunamigenic effect of a large submarine landslide off the Palos Verdes Peninsula that occurred approximately 7,500 years ago. Bill also worked on the identification of natural oil and gas seeps offshore Point Conception and in the western Santa Barbara Channel, was part of the team that discovered the first methane hydrate in offshore southern California, and found abundant evidence for shallow gas accumulations in sediment fill at the east end of Santa Monica Basin. (See related articles, "USGS Report of Methane Hydrate Off Southern California Sparks Media Interest" and "USGS Scientists Discover Gas Hydrate in Southern California During Cruise to Study Offshore Landslides, Earthquake Hazards, and Pollution" in Sound Waves.)
In the early 2000s, Bill used geophysical data collected some 20 years earlier during the hydrothermal-minerals program to determine the fate and scale of humongous late Pleistocene flood deposits in the deep sea, showing that multiple pulses of water from glacial Lake Missoula (in what is now western Montana) carried nearly 1,500 km3 of sediment out of the ancestral Columbia River mouth. Hyperpycnal flows carried the sediment along the Cascadia Channel and through an opening in the Blanco Fracture Zone. From there, much of the sediment was channeled hundreds of kilometers westward over the Tufts Abyssal Plain, but the tops of many of the flows continued southward and were diverted by the Mendocino Fracture Zone into the box-canyon topography of Escanaba Trough (southern Gorda Ridge), where the sediment was trapped after a journey of more than 1,100 km from the Columbia River mouth. (See article and map, "Bill Normark Interview: A Huge Glacial Flood that Traveled Far Beneath the Sea" in Sound Waves, December 2000/January 2001.)
Bill wanted to be remembered, in part, for his relationship with the Geological Survey of Canada, including his fostering of their hydrothermal-vents research program and the months he spent at the agency in 1998 observing its regional management structure. In a similar vein, his relationships with and mentoring of many international and local graduate students, particularly at Stanford University, were immensely important to him.
To those who knew Bill, his collaborative efforts with scientists in other USGS programs and outside the USGS, both within and external to his areas of expertise, are legendary, as is his scientific and personal generosity. An expert amateur winemaker, Bill freely shared his knowledge and his wines, and he could always suggest a great place to eat anywhere in the world. His humorous sense of the absurd and commitment to noting details gave him an unparalleled view of science and Government service.
in this issue:
Bill Normark Passes Away
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