William R. Dickinson 1931-2015: Biographical Memoir


Spencer, Jon

William R. Dickinson was a prolific writer and synthesizer who contributed greatly to a remarkably diverse set of geological sub-disciplines between the time of the plate-tectonics revolution of the late 1960s and his death at 83 in 2015. Known to friends and colleagues as “Bill,” Dickinson is best known for his identification of relationships between sandstone petrology and tectonic setting and for classifying sedimentary basins by plate-tectonic context. His early contributions included recognition of a relationship between magma chemistry and depth to subduction zones in magmatic arcs. Following the plate-tectonics revolution, he and his students, first at Stanford and later at the University of Arizona, were especially effective at identifying and characterizing regional depositional systems and associated tectonic environments. After he retired in 1991 he worked with George Gehrels at the University of Arizona to determine Phanerozoic sand sources and dispersal paths for North American sandstone units based on uranium-lead (U-Pb) geochronologic analysis of zircon sand grains. Bill also wrote many synthesis papers concerning tectonic evolution of various parts of southwestern North America and on issues of global tectonics. Following a field season of geologic mapping in Fiji in 1965 he began working with archaeologists to trace the sources of prehistoric pottery based on the mineralogy of sands contained in the pottery clay. He collaborated with archaeologists for almost 50 years, resulting in a large number
of publications.

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William R. Dickinson. Photo provided by the Dickinson estate.

Publication Listing

National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs