The legacy and impact of the life of William "Strata" Smith
Tue, Jun 5th 2018
William Smith is best known for his great geological map which took fourteen years to produce and was published in 1815. However, what is less well appreciated is his lasting legacy that has underpinned the natural science of geology, in crafting and defining the sub-discipline of stratigraphy (the correlation and ordering of stratified rocks), and establish that of bio-stratigraphy – the correlation of rocks by the use of their fossil content. Through the exploitation of these natural relationships in understanding the ordering of the strata and predicting where economic coal formations might be encountered below the surface, applied geology was born, and the Industrial Revolution was fuelled. Generations of university students throughout the world have been required to interpret geological maps and construct their own with a cross-section revealing the underlying relationships of the strata. Back in the laboratory students must recognise fossils, and assign them to a geological period or interpret a passed geological environment. The intermit relationship between stratified sedimentary rocks, the fossil content, and how it is represented on a geological map can be traced back to the innovative work of William Smith undertaken during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
Owen Green has worked in the Earth Science Department at the University of Oxford since 1989. Initially helping to establish the Palaeobiology Laboratories, and for the past 10 years as Manager of the Geo-facilities laboratories. Research contributions include re-examining the world’s oldest (3.5 billion years old) putative microfossils from the Archaean of Western Australia, and the study of the last shallow marine carbonate-platform deposits of the Tethyan Ocean recorded in rocks from the NW Himalayas 50.5 million years ago as India crashed into Asia. He authored the book A manual of Practical Laboratory and Field Techniques in Palaeobiology (published in 2001), and is currently writing a book on the preparation of geological microscope thin sections for the Royal Microscopical Society. He is the current Chair of the Oxfordshire Geology Trust, the geo-conservation charity promoting geology to the general public.