Celebrating the life and achievements of Jon C. Boothroyd
This last week, the Department of Geosciences lost one of its most important faculty members, Professor Emeritus Jon C. Boothroyd, 77, veteran of a 35+ -year career in the Department of Geosciences (GEO), actively teaching, mentoring, and researching. Jon described himself as a Quaternary geologist – but under that were covered sedimentologist, coastal geologist, and geomorphologist. He taught core curricula and electives within GEO including co-writing one the earliest textbooks in Environmental Geology.
Jon was a local boy; hailing from Laconia, New Hampshire, he joined the Department in 1975 (it was then called the Department of Geology), fresh from ground-breaking Ph.D. work along the southern coast of Alaska. There, he and a few other colleagues “discovered” humid fans. Fans had been geomorphic features associated with deserts, and here was a whole new type of fan in damp, rainy, southern Alaska. Most relevant for New England, the features that he saw currently in southern Alaska were all over the northeast as the remnants of Pleistocene and early Holocene deglaciation. He wrote several now-classic, and still-cited papers on this work.
For many years, Jon was the go-to guy for beaches and beach processes in the Ocean State. Upon his arrival in the department, Jon immediately instituted a beach-profiling program. The idea was to understand and model cycles of beach erosion and deposition. That profiling program is still running to this day, and constitutes a unique longitudinal database recording cyclical beach sedimentary processes. As result of this program and other studies along the eastern seaboard, he developed an important model of beach evolution. Given this expertise, it was almost inevitable that later in his career he became actively involved with the RI Coastal Resources Management Council, ultimately applying the results of his and his students’ beach research to write the regulations for beach use and conservation.
Jon deeply involved students in his research projects. He had many Master’s students and when University regulations finally permitted to him to offer Ph.D’s., he rapidly acquire several of those as well. Ultimately, he trained multiple generations of environmental geologists, managers, and academics that today are all over NE
(mainly). As a teacher, Jon ran now-legendary field trips to coal deposits of Kentucky and Pennsylvania, to the macrotidal regimes in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, and to the sandy beaches and dunes of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. His plain-spoken, incisive, precise way of expressing himself was a model of clarity.
Geology may truly be said to have been Jon’s life, and he was a relentless force. From maintaining and conserving the State’s beaches, to understanding the (pre)history and development of wetlands, to providing a paleoenvironmental context for RI archaeology, to reconstructing the Pleistocene record of New England deglaciation, to being “the geologist” in the RI Natural History Survey, to serving for many years as Rhode Island’s State Geologist, he was active, highly -visible, and a credit to our Department and to the University. It is almost certain that he was (and is) the best-known geologist within the Ocean State.
People who knew him will doubtless remark on the things left out of this brief note. Active as he was, it is inevitable that some of his accomplishments get overlooked here. But larger than life, he leaves big hole – one that will not quickly or readily be filled.