Classic, semi-classic, semi-crazy, and otherwise worth-reading publications in the Earth Sciences: another evolving list

A few weeks ago I decided to try to assemble an eclectic list of classic, semi-classic, infamous, strangely influential, prescient, and/or crazy-but-worth-reading papers in the Earth Sciences.  I sent out a tweet to ask others for suggestions: Which books started an entire field? Which papers from the 1970s have illustrations that still showed up in dozens of talks at this year’s AGU? Which monographs translated from Norwegian are fundamentally badass? In other words, what are the papers that as Earth scientists that you and I really ought to read?

I received some great suggestions from @marslakes, @aboutgeology, and @seismolucy, which I have included below. And I also came across some fantastic lists of classic geology papers that others have already assembled:

It’s clear that compiling a well-annotated list of all the great papers in our field is a huge task, and will take time (which at present I am short on). So my plan is to do a terrible, haphazard job at first, and then to gradually add to my list as time permits. My partial list is below. There are a few duplicates with the lists posted above. I am still looking for papers to file under “infamous”… email or tweet at me with suggestions.

Magmatic processes

What is happening inside magma chambers: Hildreth, Wes, and Stephen Moorbath. “Crustal contributions to arc magmatism in the Andes of central Chile.” Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 98.4 (1988): 455-489.

The feedbacks that limit the climatic effects of large explosive eruptions: Pinto, Joseph P., Richard P. Turco, and Owen B. Toon. “Self‐limiting physical and chemical effects in volcanic eruption clouds.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres (1984–2012) 94.D8 (1989): 11165-11174.

What it sounds like inside a pyroclastic density current: Perret, Frank Alvord. The Eruption of Mt. Pelée 1929-1932. No. 458. Carnegie institution of Washington, 1935

Early Earth

Faint young sun paradox: Sagan, Carl, and George Mullen. “Earth and Mars: Evolution of atmospheres and surface temperatures.” Science 177.4043 (1972): 52-56.

Thermal catastrophe on the early Earth: Richter, Frank M. “Models for the Archean thermal regime.” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 73.2 (1985): 350-360.


Gilbert’s theory of Earthquakes: Gilbert, Grove Karl. “A theory of the earthquakes of the Great Basin, with a practical application.” American Journal of Science 157 (1884): 49-53.

Subduction zones are low-angle thrusts: Plafker, George. “Tectonic Deformation Associated with the 1964 Alaska Earthquake The earthquake of 27 March 1964 resulted in observable crustal deformation of unprecedented areal extent.” Science 148.3678 (1965): 1675-1687.

Planetary science

Age of meteorites and the Earth: Patterson, Claire. “Age of meteorites and the earth.” Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 10.4 (1956): 230-237.

The solar nebula: Hoyle, F. “The origin of the solar nebula.” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 1 (1960): 28.

The Earth-moon system: Canup, Robin M., and Erik Asphaug. “Origin of the Moon in a giant impact near the end of the Earth’s formation.” Nature 412.6848 (2001): 708-712.


A topographic signature of life? Dietrich, William E., and J. Taylor Perron. “The search for a topographic signature of life.” Nature 439.7075 (2006): 411-418.

Continuous observations of ‘rock delivery activity’ in Spitsbergen (i.e. person living in a hut for several summers in Svalbard, this is what he sees): Åkerman, H. Jonas. “Notes on talus morphology and processes in Spitsbergen.” Geografiska Annaler. Series A. Physical Geography (1984): 267-284.

Plate tectonics

Obviously lots of classic papers.  I haven’t yet had time to add them all here… But I am guessing you are familiar with many of the true classics already.

However, if you haven’t read this recent monograph that questions everything you thought you knew about Cordilleran geology, it’s worth a look: Hildebrand, Robert S. “Did westward subduction cause Cretaceous–Tertiary orogeny in the North American Cordillera?.” Geological Society of America Special Papers 457 (2009): 1-71.

History of geology

@aboutgeology recommends The Dark Side of the Earth, which can be purchased for only 42 cents + shipping on Amazon.


Particularly interesting geology stories from 2014

Scientific American recently published a list of their top geology stories of 2014. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes featured prominently. I have my own list of Earth science stories I found interesting in 2014. My [entirely subjective, 91% arbitrary] list is less hazard-oriented, more esoteric, and naturally still features a volcanic eruption.


1. Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa. People have been trying to figure this out for years. It turns out that the rocks are not really sliding, so much as they are sailing–carried along by “windowpanes” of ice during spring thaw. Here’s the paper in PLoS One. And here is a video.

2. Waves on Titan’s hydrocarbon seas. The surfaces of the methane-rich lakes and seas scattered around Titan’s polar regions have seemed preternaturally smooth. Now, as spring unfurls in Titan’s northern hemisphere, Cassini scientists may have detected 1.5 cm waves on Kraken Mare. Along with a mysterious island.

IMG_07773. Is the Earth mostly flat (in the context of global denudation)? Back in 2013, Willenbring et al. published an article in Geology that suggested steep slopes contributed less than expected to global denudation rates–with implications for how CO2 drawdown occurs during weathering. There was an initial comment and reply, and in 2014 the discussion grew richer. A follow-up article by Larsen et al. suggested that coarse topographic data bias estimates of slope towards lower values, and that the steepest regions do contribute disproportionately to global denudation.

4. Isostasy, erosion, and topography. Why are the Sierra Nevada mountains high? Braun et al. suggest a counter-intuitive explanation: isostatic rebound may actually cause the densest rocks to attain the highest elevations within a landscape.

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5. Holuhraun eruption. Many people’s attention has sort of moved on, but as of today, Holuhraun is still erupting. It is now the largest effusive eruption in Iceland since Laki, and though its mass flux has declined since the beginning of the eruption, in November the flux of magma from Holuhraun was still greater than the flow of water in the Thames RiverAnd you can watch it live on a webcam.