Other Notable Deaths


July 12, 2009


Early researcher of plate tectonics

George G. Shor Jr., the geophysicist whose studies of the ocean floor helped lay the foundation for the theory of tectonic plates and continental drift, died July 3 at his home in San Diego of complications following a series of strokes.

He helped develop the nation's fleet of ocean-going research vessels, was a principal in the abortive Project Mohole to drill a hole deep into the Earth, and played a key role in creating the California Sea Grant program, which funds marine and coastal research.

"He mentored students ashore and at sea, but his strength was teaching people geophysics at sea," said geologist Robert L. Fisher, a professor emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where Dr. Shor spent most of his career.

Dr. Shor joined Scripps in 1953 at the beginning of what researchers have dubbed the golden age of oceanography, in which research vessels from Scripps, Columbia University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Cambridge University plied the oceans, trailing magnetometers and other sophisticated instruments to detect the overall structure of the ocean floor and anomalies beneath it. He began his work in the Gulf of Alaska, a region whose geologic history was little known, then led expeditions into the Indian Ocean.

During the International Geophysical Year in 1957 and 1958, he led expeditions to the Southeast Pacific. His work and that of others eventually led to the conclusion that the planet's continents reside on massive tectonic plates that are adrift on the ocean of volcanic magma far below the Earth's surface, pulling apart in some areas to create deep trenches in the ocean and jamming together in others to create massive mountain ranges.

Near the end of his career, he coordinated the activities of Scripps' research fleet, scheduling their voyages and allocating resources. He also helped create and served on the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, which coordinates operations of research ships the world over.

In the 1950s, he joined Project Mohole, which was designed to retrieve a sample of material from the Earth's mantle by drilling through the Mohorovicic discontinuity, which resides as much as three miles under the ocean floor and up to 25 miles below the surface of continents. Dr. Shor and Scripps geophysicist Russell W. Raitt identified the best site to drill the hole, off the coast of Hawaii, but the project was canceled because of cost overruns and poor management.

George Gershon Shor Jr. was born June 8, 1923, in New York City. He attended the California Institute of Technology, where he was part of a program that trained students to be sailors. Upon his graduation in 1944 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he served as an electronics and communications officer on a Navy troop ship in the Pacific. He retired from the Navy Reserve as a commander in 1983.

Shor is survived by his wife of 59 years, Elizabeth Noble Shor; two sons, Alexander of Honolulu and Donald of Dixon, Calif.; a daughter, Carolyn Large of Dixon; and seven grandchildren.

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