2019 GSA International Distinguished Career Award

Presented to Paul J. Fox

Paul J. Fox

Paul J. Fox
Texas A&M University


Citation by Robert Detrick

Paul J. (Jeff) Fox has long been at the forefront of research on the structure and tectonics of transform faults and fracture zones and for 13 years served as leader of the international Ocean Drilling Program and its successor, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. In a series of papers on transform fault tectonics and mid-ocean ridges published in Nature, the Journal of Geophysical Research, the Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Geology and Marine Geophysical Researches, Jeff and his co-authors developed detailed and testable models for the processes that occur at transform fault plate boundaries, and how these processes affect the accretion of oceanic crust along mid-ocean ridges. In his fieldwork at the Oceanographer, Garrett, Clipperton and Tamayo transform faults, Jeff pioneered the use of a wide range of tools, including submersibles, to investigate their morphology, tectonics, and petrology at a variety of spatial scales. He identified the "thermal edge effect" that large transform faults have on adjacent ridge segments, and described its impact on the structure, morphology and geochemistry of the oceanic lithosphere along those segments. The advent of high-resolution swath mapping systems allowed Jeff and his collaborators (most notably Ken Macdonald) to further refine our very simplified view of the shape and structure of the mid-ocean ridge system. These studies, which demonstrated that there exists a hierarchy of segmentation along mid-ocean ridges, are central to our current understanding of ocean crustal formation.  Jeff’s models, which draw upon investigations of ophiolites, petrology and geophysics, have stimulated an entire generation of researchers ranging from seismologists to geochemists who have carried out a very successful series of investigations to test his sometimes controversial ideas.

Jeff has also played a leadership role in guiding the direction of marine scientific research at the national and international level through his service on various committees and panels. Whether as Chair of the Lithosphere Panel of ODP, a member of the ALVIN Review Committee, one of the chief architects of the RIDGE program, or editor of the Ocean Sciences Section of EOS, Jeff is known for his scientific vision, integrity and fairness. In 1995, he put aside his own science to serve the international geoscience community as Director of Science Operations for the Ocean Drilling Program, and then, between 2003 and 2008, as Director of Science Services for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. Jeff brought leadership and vision to ODP and IODP, and his own deep commitment to delivering the highest quality science, while ensuring participation and involvement of scientists from more than 20 different countries around the world.

The passion with which Jeff pursues his science and advocates for marine geological research in the national and international arenas, and the eloquence with which he presents his ideas, have inspired a generation of researchers who have followed him. For his fundamental scientific contributions to our understanding of the structure and tectonics of oceanic transform faults and fracture zones, and for his unselfish and extraordinary service to the international geoscience community, Dr. Paul J. Fox is a worthy recipient of the Geological Society of America’s International Distinguished Career Award.


Response by Paul J. Fox

I am humbled and honored to have received this award and I am grateful to those colleagues who supported my candidacy.

It seems obvious to me that I would not have been a candidate for the Distinguished Career award from the GSA, GSA Foundation and the GSA International, if not for my 13 years as Director of Science Operations for the Ocean Drilling Program (1995-2003) and then followed by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (2003-2008) located at Texas A&M. This scientific drilling initiative is now more than 50 years old and presently is a scientific enterprise involving the support of 23 countries. It is the largest and longest-lived international earth science initiative. Now called the International Ocean Discovery Program, the project utilizes drilling technology to harvest the record of Earth’s history written with great clarity in the rocks and sediments that floor the global ocean. This capability is our “Hubble Telescope” allowing scientists to read the record of Earth’s deep time. The long list of scientific revelations made by more than a thousand investigators from the participating countries over the last half century have sustained the Program through thick and thin. However, the Program never would have survived the challenges of taking a dynamically positioned drilling ship to sea, as well as supporting shipboard laboratories equipped and designed to carry out sophisticated scientific analyses, if it was not for the resolute, skilled and dedicated Texas A&M staff that have created and maintained this sophisticated scientific infrastructure for more than 30 years. It was my honor to work with these people for 13 years and the successes that we had during this period are very much to their credit. I express my deepest gratitude. I would not be a recipient of this award, if not for them.

I never would have been offered the Directorship of Science Operations at Texas A&M if my career as a marine geologist/geophysicist had not been considered worthy. My academic path was not linear, nor was a positive outcome assured. I was the beneficiary of numerous friends and colleagues who provided insightful guidance, collaboration and countenance at every academic step along the way. Thank you to one and all. Finally, my wife, Janet and my son, Kevin, have been stalwart in their support of my endeavors for which I am forever in their debt.