Personal History

"Whacking great big orthopyroxene crystals" movie. Red Hill, Westland, NZ

In 1944 we had a perfectly good war going with marvellous aeroplanes to fly, glam uniforms to wear and officers, (ex Battle of Britain) one could look up to, in short, everything a young man needs. Unfortunately our cowardly enemy welshed out of the fight and our country no longer needed us and said so. We were it seemed, unnecessary, expensive and an embarrassment, and it cost a fortune in gasoline to keep aircraft flying. Our glamorous snarling planes were grounded as were we and soon we were out in the street wearing crumpled tweed jackets, with baggy grey pants and finding that no-one called you "Sir" and few were seemingly even prepared to carry out a simple order.

A few flying types started airlines and tourist flights in float planes, some went back to the total degradation of working in banks and selling unnecessary things to people who did not want them. As I rather liked the outdoors I went into forestry for a few years, but got rather appalled by the destruction of our indigenous forests, with which the Government cared not a jot as it helped employment and brought in REVENUE!.

One day I quit and was soon enrolled at Otago University, trying to do a science degree and suffering badly from writers' cramp.

A few years later I emerged with a BSc, which it appeared was too too trivial and brought no prestige whatever, so a couple of years later I had an MSc based on mapping structure and glaciers in the Southern Alps.

That summer I went off to the Antarctic with Admiral Byrd on Operation Deepfreeze One in a US Navy icebreaker, we located a base in McMurdo Sound and I went flying with the US Navy mapping in a lot of mountains which stretched a couple of thousand miles across the continent. We also did a bit of footslogging up various glaciers through those same mountains. On the way down in the icebreaker "Edisto" we quite accidentally discovered the Indo-Pacific Rise which was about 3-4000m high, I just happened to be on the bridge watching the fathometer when it started doing odd things.

Somehow I later joined the "Trans-Antarctic Expedition" and spent the next 2-3 years "on the ice". Ed Hilary went to the South Pole on tractors, our leader Bunny Fuchs crossed over from the Weddel Sea side via the South Pole in Sno-cats, while I and a handful of others enjoyed ourselves dog sledging in and out of the mountains, mapping things and bringing home a few tons of rock samples. On our off days we climbed fifty-something virgin peaks. We later found we had been the first to climb a mountain in Antarctica, (Mt Harmsworth, 10,000ft) in 1956. Mt Erebus had been climbed but is on an offshore island. When we climbed Mt Huggins in 1958 it was again the highest mountain climbed in East Antartica (about 11,400ft). There is Mt Clements Markham at 15000ft down near the Beardmore, and also Mt Kirpatrick but I do not believe at least the former has been climbed. When we finally got home in March of 1958, I walked the streets of Wellington for days, like Apsley Cherry Garard with his penguin egg, trying to find someone interested in any possible use for our ton of rock samples. The very people who sat on the committees which had made statements to the effect of how "Great Scientific Achievments" would justify the expenditure of millions, showed me the door! Finally Dick Willett, Director of the NZ Geological Survey took us under his wing but it took a year to write it all up and I began doing a PhD on rock chemistry of the Continental flood basalts.

In 1959 I went back as field leader to do a bit more mapping and sampling and dog sledged a few hundred miles down the range. This time I was not so lucky, had a crash and got flown home on a stretcher. A year later I was walking again and going on with my PhD. In 1961 we went down again to collect more dolerites, funded by the NSF, and though I limped round a bit on frostbitten feet, with the occasional aid of the odd chopper we got about quite well. We even climbed the 13,000ft Mt Lister and flew to the South Pole. When I took the medical to go down, I kept my socks on throughout and the unsuspecting doctor remained unaware of the frostbite damage which would have barred me instantly.

I went off to Canberra to do my Post Doc and learnt all about electron microprobes, X-Ray fluorescence, atomic absorption, ID, SSMS, elementary computers and a few things about differentiated sills. By way of a break I went to the Himalyas for a few months and found some great zones of biotite schist, garnet schists, cordierite schists, sillimanite schists and migmatites etc. Editors and reviewers refused to publish all this as it had not been seen before by any of the Swiss geologists who had rather dominated the area, one of my early disillusionments! A few months ago I saw a paper finally on the sillimanite-schists of the Mt Everest region, nearly forty years afterwards! Last week a book came out on the subject! I should of course at least have sent a paper off to "Nature". With Dave Green's help at ANU I analysed strongly zoned Himalyan garnets on the microprobe only to find a similar study had just been done in Canada. I should have gone ahead and published anyway, at least no one could then say there were no garnet-cordierite schists in the Himalaya.

Post-doc out of the way, we spent some time at Berkeley, and at Tulane in New Orleans and did field work in West Texas and Mexico-Guatemala and also looked over places like Yellowstone, the Absorakas and the Snake and Columbia River Basalts and some Cascade centres. As a result I learned that analysing a lot of random samples collected over an area of more than a million sq miles is a total waste of time. We then moved to Montreal, Canada as Associate prof of Geochemistry on condition they fund me a nice new automated Philips XRF spectrometer. It did not take long to find that it could crunch out so many numbers, that we needed a mini-computer to control it and to do matrix corrections, and a lot of computer power to plot it all, and to handle the database. It was I think the first computer-controlled XRF system in the world and we certainly put out a lot of data and learnt quite a bit on the oceanic ridge systems, on the island arc andesites of the Lesser Antilles, and on Peru as well as on the Archaean of Canada.

I began working with Norman D. Watkins who was Director of the Geosciences Division of the NSF who was a palaeomagnetician and who maniacally drilled every lava flow in sight on a number of island groups including the Crozet Islands in the southern Indian Ocean, Amsterdam and St Paul Islands, Kerguelen, the Cape Verdes, Fernando Noronha, the Steens Mtn flows in Southern Oregon, in Iceland and many others. I would do the geochemistry and Norm would get Larry Haskin to do REE and I would get Ramon Coy-Yll at Ecole Polytechnique to do the probe work and Norm would do the opaque minerals and the magnetics. Curiously we always found something interesting, but very little was really known of geochemistry, especially trace element geochemistry in those days and almost anything we found was breaking new ground.
We also got involved in the Deep Sea Drill project of ODP Leg 37 (with Dr "Fab" Aumento of Dalhousie), and in the Bermuda Drilling project (also with Fab) and others. We wrote about a hundred papers not one of which is now really relevant except in the historic sense. We discovered some basics such as the fact that elements like Ba, Rb Th, U showed trends more exaggerated than did simple K, and the islands were always more enriched in what I called "Residual elements" (LILE) than oceanic ridge rocks. The 3-4000 oceanic basalts we had put on file did not make much sense until Dr Bill Melson of The Smithsonian began his program of analysing only unaltered glasses, when things began to fall into place.
Few things illustrate the change in technology more than the fact that we had a party to celebrate getting a whole 4 K addition of transistor memory for the PDP-11 for only $4000 in 1972. Now I casually use a gigabyte.

There came a time when the University for political reasons began to try to dictate the skin colour, sex, social background and language spoken by my grad students, many of whom were quite brilliant but of an unacceptable racial type. It was also impressed upon me that I must be prepared to write the dissertations for students who, though politically correct in every way, were unfortunately illiterate. There was also a great deal of jealousy and manoevering because of the fact I unfortunately was given more research money than the rest of the Dept put together! As can be imagined, I soon quit, rather reluctantly as we had some bright students and one does not build up a lab like that overnight nor does one always get half a million dollars a year (modern equivilent) for research.

I worked for several years with Tectronix in computer graphics and when the 80-286 came out, began writing plotting routines similar to the ones I had written for the IBM 360, the CDC 6400, 6800 and Cyber 75 etc, in FORTRAN, but this time in Turbo Pascal. As a hobby, I always kept the GEOKEM Data Base more or less up to date. By the time the 80-386 came out we could plot more data about a hundred times faster than we could in 1975 on the Cyber 75, the biggest computer in Canada at the time and there were only four of them in the world. Then came the 80-486 and the Pentium. With the aid of some third party software we were using 1024 x 768 screen resolution by about 1988.

Attempts to write a textbook failed because by the time a second chapter was complete, the first one was out of date. By 1996 technology has advanced to the point where we could put a reasonable graph on the NET by scanning a printer drawn plot so we began which I think is the first electronic textbook in the geochemistry-petrology field.; in fact we believe it is the only complete one in the Earth sciences. By about 1997-8 "Google" was rating us as the top site in "Igneous Geochemistry" as we still are (July, 2005) relative to 120,000 others. Geokem now takes up some 2000 files, and has been read in the last three months in 110 countries. Of 2,000,000+ sites in the general field of "Geochemistry" which includes the oil and petrochemical companies, little outfits like the USGS , the Volcano Observatories and all the geochemical and petrological journals, we come top apart from a single reference site which has acquired the name "". In 1997 this name was for sale for $20,000 if we recall correctly. We were rather pleased when we passed the "Chinese Journal of Geochemistry" and the "American Geophyical Union" and had a party to celebrate

A lot of serious grad students contributed their data, often before it was published so we have kept up-to-date. We can now plot up to about 160,000 data points on an EXCEL chart or web image where we once thought a few hundred was pretty good. Two new funded databases, GEOROC which stores all continental and OIB data and PETDB which stores all oceanic – seafloor data have largely freed us from having to waste large amounts of time doing library searches. GEOROC especially have often made special compilations of data for us and in general behaved the way the scientific cooperation should operate but so seldom does. The databases currently compile the data and we make sense of it. Readers download currently up to 2000 "pages" ( = chapters) a day, 32,000 for May, 2005, maybe 3 - 400,000 a year all together and about 6 million pages, pix and diagrams a year. The site includes 450 pix and 1060 diagrams at present.

As many people have never seen a lava flow we try to keep the pix to a high standard and the ability of the latest in digital cameras suggests that the next one I see may be recorded at a short movie. I could spend a fortune revisiting sites that were photographed half a century ago and retaking them on 6 megapixels. In a second site at on Antarctica we have standardised on full screen pix, and had we any financial support at all, we would introduce these to Geokem, have copies of the more important papers, and have "Geokem" translated into several languages. At present readers are often getting their own translations, in 5 languages so far. If we could think of some neat way of parting each reader from $0.05 for each chapter or pic downloaded, we could finance the whole effort and update to full screen all the pix. So far no good ideas on how to do this have emerged!

Students from second and third world countries often lack the most elementary of textbooks but they and their professors seem to be able to get hold of a PC. Electronic library services are prohibitively expensive and the very people who need access to knowledge are being denied it. The e-mails of thanks from such communities are especially valued.

We get no financial help and the great aid of son Derek of Gunn Images is greatly appreciated by me if not by our readers.
The misnaming of thousands of the analysed rocks in the major databases is a major problem and a NORM program which can read files of 5 - 10,000 samples and dump out the CIPW NORMs is needed. We are experimenting with one called "Sinclas" by Dr Verma. Such things are now not common as non-professional people find programming in modern computer languages such as C++, Java, Visual Basic, etc too difficult. However we have adopted the language 'Python' (see as a leading contender. It can be run in interactive interpreter mode and has dynamically assigned arrays. Set up with a vector (or single dimensioned array) of almost 4,000,000,000 numbers it does not even grunt. As DOS-based Turbo-Pascal fell over with cries of anguish when a file exceed 64 Kb, this comes as quite a pleasure! Even EXCEL will not take more than 32,000 lines of data which is kind of stupid on someones part.

Part of our purpose in running "Geokem" is to explore what the textbook of the future will look like. The ready ability to show several hundred large colour pix is an obvious advantage but we often get a snooty remarks, "I prefer a book!" to which I reply, "Yes, and probably ten years out of date!". We also are trying to encourage more sophisticated use of databases and graphic presentation, not with any great success so far.

(Dr) Bernard M Gunn.

The domain below includes a little albout alpine structure and glaciology and on the petrology of the Red Hill peridotites.

A bit about Alpine New Zealand

Recently we have begun a new text as an introduction to the "Wildlife, Geology, Glaciology and Geography" of the Ross Sea region, Antarctica.

It began to seem as if, after the combined spending of the US and NZ of some $16 billion ostensibly for Antarctic "research", that remarkably little new information has become publically available. For example, the best known glacier in Antarctica is the "Beardmore" which lies on the route to the South Pole, yet there was not a single publically available pic of it in existence, and it took two months to acquire one of part of it.

The Glossopteris-Gangamopteris flora of Jurassic age is found for a thousand miles across Antarctica and in Eastern Australia, South Africa and in the Parana area, yet there are (or, were) no publically available pix. (See under "Geology: Beacon Sandstones").

We find that a full screen pic, of say, a Dry Valley with a meandering stream, is every bit as good as standing there yourself, a closeup of a coarse grained rock type or a fossil leaf imprint is as good as having it in your hand. This indicates a whole new era of teaching is dawning, but the response from people who have spent many years working there, can only be described as "grudging".

Perhaps the appellation of "Expert on Antarctic Geology" would fade if the whole world can look at it on a PC. I hope readers like our dogs and albatrosses as well as ice and rocks!

The finding of 27,500 new meteorite fragments have brought about a new look at meteorite compositions. We now have a copy of 1850 analysed ones recorded in METBASE in Germany for the ME and about 3000 for a wildly variable number of TE. However as we got nowhere with the Oceanic Crust problem until we had about 14,000 analysed glass samples, 2000 may be rather few to describe the whole solar system. A mere 400 analysed Lunar samples is likewise limiting theories on Lunar origins.

There would seem to be a lot of work to be done yet!