Here is a description of the power of transform fault models, excerpted from a piece I wrote in 2001, remembering those amazing times.
For the summer of 1965, ... I applied for and got
an internship at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. I admit, I was drawn
primarily by the romance of the sea and ships. I didn't know enough to realize that
the marine scientists were about to unleash a revolution upon the geo-world. When
I saw a number of the Woods Hole staff preparing for an Upper Mantle Committee meeting
in Ottawa, Canada, I asked my mentor, Bracket Hersey, if I could go too. He said
"Sure. Why not?" and found me travel funds. The meeting was concentrated on the
geophysics of the oceans and the various mysteries therein. The list of sessions
included all the right things: mid-ocean ridges and rifts, fracture zones, trenches
and island arcs, magnetic stripes. They knew what needed explaining, just not quite
how to do it. Most of the major players in this small field were there and I greatly
enjoyed meeting them and putting their faces and their quirkinesses to their names.
The whole meeting was exciting, but the presentation that made the biggest impression
on me was the one by J. Tuzo Wilson, about transform faults. Tuzo was a wonderful
showman with a great twinkle in his eye. After he had explained his idea, he passed
out paper diagrams with two mid-ocean ridges connected by a transform fault. It said
"cut here", "fold here", "pull here". We all laughed, and I felt embarrassed
(kindergarten games at this august scientific meeting?), but I took the paper back to
the privacy of my hotel room and cut and folded and pulled and, wow: the light bulbs
really went on in my brain. The simple geometry of the transform faults with their
fracture zones holds the key to the geometry of formation of all the ocean basins -
right there in that little piece of paper. I've been handing out versions of that
diagram to students ever since, and urging them, after they stop laughing, to cut,
fold and pull.
Tuzo's presentation covered the material in Wilson,
J. Tuzo, 1965, A new class of faults and their bearing on continental drift,
Nature, v. 207, no. 4995, p 343-347.
Atwater, Tanya, 2001, Chapter 15: When the Plate Tectonic
Revolution Met Western North America, pages 243-263 in Plate Tectonics, An Insider's
History of the Modern Theory of the Earth, Naomi Oreskes, ed., Westview Press,