John J. Chambers Crowell

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Passed away May 13, 2015, an hour after his 98th birthday in Montecito, California. He was a world-renowned geologist and professor emeritus at University of California Santa Barbara. During World War II, with two other officers he forecast surf conditions for the Allied Invasion of Normandy.

John Crowell was born on May 12, 1917 in State College, Pennsylvania, to James White and Helen Hunt Chambers Crowell. A succession of moves took the family to Claremont, California, where John's father took a position as professor of Romance Languages at Claremont College.

After graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in geology in 1939, Crowell undertook graduate work at UCLA. While studying the geology of a part of the San Joaquin Valley, he was offered employment as a geologist with Shell Oil Company and would have followed that career path had not World War II military service serendipitously intervened.

The U.S. Army put him into intensive training as an oceanographic meteorologist with several of the world's leading meteorologists and oceanographers. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in May 1943. Crowell became a member of General Dwight D. Eisenhower's Operation Overload weather forecasting team that made the critical forecasts of sea, swell, and surf for the June 6, 1944, Normandy Invasion which earned Crowell the Bronze Star. Later in the war he was based in Ceylon preparing for the invasion of Burma and led a US Army convoy across the Ledo-Burma Road from India into China. He was working on the planned invasion Japan based at Manila, Philippines, when the war ended.

In 1946 he met and married Betty Marie Bruner of Claremont. They remained married for 61 years until she died in 2007. Their daughter Marty was born in 1951.

In 1946, Crowell obtained his MA in oceanographic meteorology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in and then his PhD in geology from UCLA in 1947, where he was a distinguished university professor for 20 years.

Crowell came to UCSB from UCLA in 1967. With Professor Preston Cloud, he founded the UCSB Environmental Studies Program. He taught courses in structural geology, field studies in tectonics, and graduate seminars in structure and tectonics at UCSB and short courses all over the world for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists' Continuing Education Program, and for many oil companies and geological societies. His graduate students literally roamed the mountains and deserts throughout the world with Crowell alongside.

Crowell's research contributions were primarily concerned with sedimentation, tectonics, paleoclimatology, and the regional geology of California. In the early and mid 1950s he published several papers dealing with the origin of submarine canyons and turbidity currents. In California and in the Alps he studied the characteristics of flysch-type sedimentation. During the 1950s and 1960s, Crowell worked out the displacement history of some of the major strike-slip faults in California, including the San Gabriel and southern stretch of the San Andreas. Crowell's work of the tectonic and sedimentation history along the San Andreas transform belt formed the basis for his seminal publication about the nature of these processes along similar tectonic belts, such as those in the Caribbean region, Southeast Asia, Australia, the North Sea region, and the Alps. His interest in downslope sliding processes, in California as well as in Europe, led him to study the origin of pebbly mudstone and to discriminate between these downslope deposits and those laid down by continental glaciers. In the late 1960s this interest led Crowell to investigate the record of ancient glaciations in Europe, North American, and on all the Gondwanan continents in the Southern Hemisphere and to work out the history and causes of continental glaciation through geologic time.

Among Crowell's many honors were membership in the US National Academy of Sciences, fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fulbright Award to Austria, a Guggenheim Scholarship to Switzerland, the Penrose Medal, the Career Contribution Award from the Geological Society of America, and an honorary doctorate from the University Louvain, Belgium. As recently as 2013 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award, SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology.)

Crowell was preceded in death by his wife Betty Marie Bruner Crowell (2007) and sister Helen Hunt Chambers Crowell (2013.) He is survived by his only child, Martha Crowell Bobroskie, granddaughter, Alisha McCormack, grandson, John Bobroskie, great grandchildren; Molly and Sterling McCormack, all of Santa Cruz, California.

The family wishes to thank the staff, caregivers and the residents of Casa Dorinda, Montecito, for making a home for "The Professor." He loved and appreciated all of you and passed peacefully at his home of 24 years.

John Crowell's Memorial Service will take place in the Music Room at Casa Dorinda, Montecito, on Saturday, June 27, at 3:00 P.M.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the continuing John Crowell Lecture Fund at U.C.S.B. Contact Kate Lima: Earth Science Dept. 805 893-4688


Published in The Santa Barbara News-Press Online Edition from May 24 to May 28, 2015
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