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.