Warren B. Hamilton

Background Bibliography Research Photo Gallery


Warren B. Hamilton
Distinguished Senior Scientist
Department of Geophysics, Colorado School of Mines
Golden, Colorado 80401

E-mail: whamilto@mines.edu
Born, Los Angeles, 1925; married 1947; 3 children, 6 grandchildren


Tectonics; evolution of crust and mantle; geodynamics; Venus


  • Anderson, D.L., and W.B. Hamilton, 2008, Zombie science & geoscience, 3p., as posted on website www.mantleplumes.org in Dec., 2008. (Plumes and other mythical beasts.) For pdf, click here.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2007, Earth’s first two billion years—the era of internally mobile crust: Geol. Soc. America Memoir 200, p. 233-296. (No plate tectonics. The key is very early separation of mafic global protocrust.) For pdf, click here.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2007, Driving mechanism and 3-D circulation of plate tectonics: Geol. Soc. America Special Paper 433, p. 1-25. (Plate tectonics is driven by cooling from the top, and circulation is largely or wholly limited to the upper mantle.) For pdf, click here.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2007, An alternative Venus: Geol. Soc. America Special Paper 430, p. 879-914. (The surface of Venus records primarily impacts older than 3.8 Ga and marine sedimentation, not young magmatism. Complements, and only in small part supercedes, 2005 paper.) For pdf, click here.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2005, Plumeless Venus preserves an ancient impact-accretionary surface: Geol. Soc. America Spec. Paper 388, p. 781-814. For pdf, click here.


  • University of California at Los Angeles 1943-45. BA, Naval Science + Geology, 1945.
  • UCLA 1946-47.
  • University of Southern California, 1947-48. MSc, Geology, 1949.
  • UCLA 1948-51. PhD, Geology, 1951.


  • 1943-46. U.S. Navy active duty; Cadet, then Ensign (deck officer on aircraft carrier).
  • 1948-51. UCLA, Instructor, part-time.
  • 1951-52. University of Oklahoma, Assistant Professor.
  • 1952-94. U.S. Geological Survey, Geologist to "Supergrade 4" Senior Scientist, in regional geology, then geophysics, branches. Retired, 1995.
  • 1995-96. U.S. Geological Survey, Pecora Fellow (emeritus position).
  • 1996-continuing. Department of Geophysics, Colorado School of Mines, Distinguished Senior Scientist.

Visiting Professorships

  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, fall 1968.
  • California Institute of Technology, spring 1973.
  • University of California at San Diego, spring 1979.
  • Yale University, fall 1980.
  • University of Amsterdam and Free University of Amsterdam (joint appointment), Netherlands, spring 1981.

Other Temporary Positions

  • Senior Exchange Scientist to USSR, National Academy of Sciences, 1967.
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences Plate Tectonics Delegation to China, 1979.
  • Adjunct Professor, Louisiana State University, 1998-2002.
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Wyoming, 2000-continuing.

Invited Lectureships

  • 30+ lecture series (including many prestigious lectureships; e.g., Regents’ Lectureships at three University of California campuses) and short courses around the world, 1982-2002.
  • 400 lectures (including many keynotes and endowed lectureships, but not including volunteered talks) around the world, 1953-2008.


  • Distinguished Service Medal, 1981, U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • Honorary Fellow, Geological Society of London, elected 1983.
  • Distinguished Lecturer, 1983-84, American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
  • Honorary Member, Colorado Scientific Society, elected 1985.
  • Fellow, Geological Society of America.
  • Fellow, Geological Assocation of Canada.
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences, elected 1989.
  • Penrose Medal, Geological Society of America’s highest award, 1989.
  • Alumnus of the Year, 2004, UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences.
  • Structural Geology and Tectonics Career Achievement award, 2007,
    Geological Society of America.


(Selected from >200 articles, monographs, and maps, >100 of them refereed, exclusive of abstracts. Copies of many are available upon request.)

  • Hamilton, W.B., 1956, Variations in plutons of granitic rocks of the Huntington Lake area of the Sierra Nevada, California: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 67, 1585‑1598.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1956, Precambrian rocks of Wichita and Arbuckle Mountains, Oklahoma: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 67, 1319-1330.
  • Hamilton, W.B., and G.J. Neuerburg, 1956, Olivine‑sanidine trachybasalt from the Sierra Nevada, California: Amer. Mineral., 41, 851‑873.
  • Sherlock, D.G., and W.B. Hamilton, 1958, Geology of the north half of the Mount Abbot quadrangle, Sierra Nevada, California: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 69, 1245‑1268 + map.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1960, Form of the Sudbury lopolith: Canadian Mineralogist, 6, 437‑447.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1960, Silicic differentiates of lopoliths: 21st Internat. Geol. Congress, Report, pt. 13, p. 59‑67.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1960, Late Cenozoic tectonics and volcanism of the Yellowstone region, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho: Billings Geol. Soc. Guidebook 11, p. 92‑105.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1961, Origin of the Gulf of California: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 72, 1307-1318.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1961, Geology of the Richardson Cove and Jones Cove quadrangles, Tennessee: USGS Prof. Paper 349‑A, 55 p. + map.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1961, Description of the basement rocks [of northeast Tennessee and northwest North Carolina], in P.B. King and H.W. Ferguson, Geology of northeasternmost Tennessee: USGS Prof. Paper 311, p. 13‑27.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1962, Late Cenozoic structure of west‑central Idaho: Geol. Soc.America Bull., 72, 511‑516.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1963, Metamorphism in the Riggins region, western Idaho: USGS Prof. Paper 436, 95 p. + map.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1963, Columbia River basalt in the Riggins quadrangle, western Idaho: USGS Bull. 1141-L, 37 p. + map.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1963, Overlapping of late Mesozoic orogens in western Idaho: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 76, 779‑788.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1963, Antarctic tectonics and continental drift: Soc. Econ. Paleontol. Mineral. Spec. Pub. 10, p. 74‑93.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1963, Geology of the Fountain Run quadrangle, Kentucky‑Tennessee: USGS Map GQ‑254, 1:24,000.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1964, The origin of high‑alumina basalt, andesite, and dacite magmas: Science, 146, 635‑637.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1964, Geologic map of the Big Maria Mountains NE quadrangle, California: USGS Map GQ-350, 1:24,000.
  • Myers, W.B., and W.B. Hamilton, 1964, Deformation accompanying the Hegben Lake earthquake of August 17, 1959: USGS Prof. Paper 435, p. 55‑98 + maps, plates.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1964, Volcanic rocks of the West Yellowstone and Madison Junction quadrangles, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho: USGS Prof. Paper 435, p. 209-221.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1965, Diabase sheets of the Taylor Glacier region, Victoria Land, Antarctica: USGS Prof. Paper 456‑B, 71 p. + map.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1965, Geology and petrogenesis of the Island Park caldera of rhyolite and basalt, eastern Idaho: USGS Prof. Paper 504-C, 37 p. + map.
  • Hamilton, W.B., and Mountjoy, W., 1965, Alkali content of alpine ultramafic rocks: Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 29, 661‑671.
  • Hamilton, W.B., and L.C. Pakiser, 1965, Geologic and crustal cross section of the United States along the 37th parallel: USGS Map I‑448.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1966, Origin of the volcanic rocks of eugeosynclines and island arcs: Canada Geol. Survey Paper 66‑15, p. 348‑356.
  • Hamilton, W.B., l966, Formation of the Scotia and Caribbean Arcs: Canada Geol. Survey Paper 66‑15, p. 178‑187.
  • Hamilton, W.B., and W.B. Myers, 1966, Cenozoic tectonics of the western United States: Rev. Geophys., 4, 509‑549.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1967, Tectonics of Antarctica: Tectonophysics, 4, 555‑568.
  • Hamilton, W.B., and D. Krinsley, 1967, Upper Paleozoic glacial deposits of South Africa and southern Australia: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 78, 783‑800.
  • Hamilton, W.B., and W.B. Myers, 1967, The nature of batholiths: USGS Prof. Paper 554‑C, 30 p.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1968, Cenozoic climatic change and its cause: Amer. Meteorol. Soc. Monographs, 8, 30, 128‑133.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1969, Reconnaissance geologic map of the Riggins quadrangle, west-central Idaho: USGS Map I‑579, 1:125,000.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1969, The volcanic central Andes—A model for the Cretaceous batholiths and tectonics of North America: Oregon Dept. Geol. Mineral Industries, Bull. 65, p. 175‑184.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1969, Mesozoic California and the underflow of Pacific mantle: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 80, 2409‑2430.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1970, The Uralides and the motion of the Russian and Siberian platforms: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 81, 2553‑2576.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1970, Bushveld complex—product of impacts?: Geol. Soc. South Africa, Spec. Pub. 1, p. 367‑379.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1971, Recognition on space photographs of structural elements of Baja California: USGS Prof. Paper 718, 26 p.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1972, The Hallett volcanic province, Antarctica: USGS Prof. Paper 456‑C, 62 p.
  • Cater, F.W., D.M. Pinckney, W.B. Hamilton, et al., 1973, Mineral resources of the Idaho Primitive Area and vicinity, Idaho: USGS Bull. 1304, 431 p. + plates.
  • Hamilton, W.B., and Myers, W.B., 1974, The nature of the Boulder batholith of Montana: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 85, 365‑378.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1974, Sedimentary basins of the Indonesian region: USGS Map I-875B, 1:5,000,000.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1974, Earthquake map of the Indonesian region: USGS Map I-875C, 1:5,000,000.
  • Richter, D.H., W.N. Sharp, J.T. Dutro, Jr., and W.B. Hamilton, 1977, Geologic map of parts of the Mt. Hayes A‑1 and A‑2 quadrangles, Alaska: USGS Map I‑1031, 1:63,360.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1977, Subduction in the Indonesian region: Amer. Geophys. Union Maurice Ewing Series, v. 1, p. 15-31.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1978, Mesozoic tectonics of the western United States: Soc. Econ. Paleontol. Mineral., Pacific Sec., Paleogeography Symposium 2, p. 33‑70.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1978, Tectonic Map of the Indonesian region: USGS Map I‑875‑D, 1:5,000,000.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1979, Tectonics of the Indonesian region: USGS Prof. Paper 1078, 345 p.+ map.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1981, Crustal evolution by arc magmatism: Royal Soc. London Philos. Trans., A-30l, 279‑291.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1981, Plate‑tectonic mechanism of Laramide deformation: Univ. Wyoming Contribs. Geol., 19, 2, 87‑92.
  • Dillon, J.T., W.B. Hamilton, and L. Lueck, 1981, Geologic map of the Wiseman A-3 quadrangle, Alaska: Alaska Div. Geol. Geophys. Surveys Map OFR-119.
  • Dillon, J.T., G.H. Pessel, L. Lueck, and W.B. Hamilton, 1981, Geologic map of the Wiseman A‑4 quadrangle, Alaska: Alaska Div. Geology and Geophysics Surveys Map OFR-124.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1982, Structural evolution of the Big Maria Mountains, northeastern Riverside County, southeastern California, in E.G. Frost and D.L. Martin, eds., Mesozoic‑Cenozoic tectonic evolution of the Colorado River region, California, Arizona, and Nevada: San Diego, Cordilleran Publishers, p. 1‑27.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1983, Cretaceous and Cenozoic history of the northern continents: Annals Missouri Botanical Garden, 70, 440‑458.
  • Stone, P., K.A. Howard, and W.B. Hamilton, 1983, Correlation of metamorphosed Paleozoic strata of the southeastern Mojave Desert region, California and Arizona: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 94, 1135‑1147.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1984, Generalized geologic map of the Big Maria Mountains region, southeastern California, 1:48,000: USGS Open‑File Report 84‑407, map + 7 p.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1987, Mesozoic geology and tectonics of the Big Maria Mountains region, southeastern California: Arizona Geol. Soc. Digest, 18, 33‑47.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1987, Crustal extension in the Basin and Range Province, southwestern United States: Geol. Soc. London Spec. Pub. 28, p. 155‑176.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1987, Plate‑tectonic evolution of western United States: Episodes, 10, 271‑276.
  • Stone, P., V.M. Page, W.B. Hamilton, and K.A. Howard, 1987, Cretaceous age of the upper part of the McCoy Mountains Formation, southeastern California: Geology, 15, 561‑564.
  • Hamilton, W.B., R.M. Tosdal, P. Stone, and G.B. Haxel, 1987, Mesozoic tectonics of southeastern California: Arizona Bureau Geology and Mineral Technology Spec. Paper 5, p. 337‑350.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1988, Laramide crustal shortening: Geol. Soc. America Mem. 171, p. 27‑39.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1988, Detachment faulting in the Death Valley region, California and Nevada: USGS Bull. 1790, p. 51‑85.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1988, Tectonic setting and variations with depth of some Cretaceous and Cenozoic structural and magmatic systems of the western United States, in W.G. Ernst, ed., Metamorphism and crustal evolution of the western United States: Prentice‑Hall, p. 1‑40.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1988, Plate tectonics and island arcs: Geol. Soc. America Bull., 100, 1503‑1527
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1989, Crustal geologic processes in the United States: Geol. Soc. America Mem. 172, p. 743‑781.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1989, Convergent‑plate tectonics viewed from the Indonesian region, in A.M.C. Sengor, ed., Tectonic evolution of the Tethyan domain: Dordrecht, Kluwer, p. 655‑698.
  • Hoisch, T.D., and W.B. Hamilton, 1990, Granite generation by fluid‑induced anatexis: EOS, 71, 694‑696.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1990, On terrane analysis: Royal Soc. London Philos. Trans., A‑331, 511‑522.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1992, Venusian impact basins and cratered terrains: Papers presented to the International Conference on Large Meteorite Impacts and Planetary Evolution, Sudbury, Ont., p. 33-35.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1993, Evolution of Archean mantle and crust: Geol. Soc. America, Geology of North America, C-2, p. 597-614.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1994, Detachment faulting and tectonic modeling in the Yucca Mountain region, Nevada: USGS admin. report, 114 p.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1995, Subduction systems and magmatism: Geol. Soc. London Spec. Pub. 81, p. 3-28.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1998, Archean tectonics and magmatism were not products of plate tectonics: Precambrian Research, 91, 143-179.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 1998, Archean tectonics and magmatism: Internat. Geology Review, 40, 1-39.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2002, The closed upper-mantle circulation of plate tectonics: Amer. Geophys. Union Geodynamics Ser. 30, p. 359-409.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2003, An alternative Earth: GSA Today, 13, 11, 4-12 + cover.
  • Glazner, A.F., J.M. Bartley, W.B. Hamilton, and B.S. Carl, 2003, Making space for batholiths by extrusion of sub-batholithic crust: Internat. Geology Review, 45, 959-967.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2003, N. Oreskes, ed., Plate tectonics, An insider’s history . . . [essay review]: Earth Sciences History, v. 22, p. 93-98.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2005, Plumeless Venus preserves an ancient impact-accretionary surface: Geol. Soc. America Spec. Paper 388, p. 781-814.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2007, Earth’s first two billion years—the era of internally mobile crust: Geol. Soc. America Memoir 200, p. 233-296.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2007, An alternative Venus: Geol. Soc. America Special Paper 430, p. 879-914.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2007, Driving mechanism and 3-D circulation of plate tectonics.: Geol. Soc. America Special Paper 433, p. 1-25.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2007, Comment on “A vestige of Earth’s oldest ophiolite”: Science, v. 318, 2 Nov. 2007, electronicsupplement, p. 746d.
  • Hamilton, W.B., 2007, Discussion [of paper by W.J. Morgan and J.P. Morgan, “Plate motions in the hotspot reference frame]: Geol. Soc. America Special Paper 430, p. 76-77.


How does the Earth work? The basic data come from many disciplines, but often interpretations accepted in one field are incompatible with conclusions favored in others, or interpretations broadly accepted in multiple fields nevertheless are inconsistent with information commonly disregarded. Conflicts must be resolved with integration and cross-testing. My career has been built around such integration and the search for new explanations. I worked as a field-oriented structural geologist and petrologist from Mexico to Alaska, in Antarctica and Indonesia, and elsewhere, mapping and describing geology and developing regional syntheses. I was an active continental “drifter” in the pre-plate-tectonics era. I have been a major contributor to the understanding of plate-tectonic processes and products, and to the understanding of variations with depth of processes of tectonic and petrologic evolution.

In the last decade, I have worked primarily with variations with time of tectonic processes, as the Earth cooled; with geodynamics, the evolution and dynamics of the entire Earth; and with the dynamics of the planet Venus. My approach has always been primarily empirical: how does what is observed constrain processes. Sample iconoclastic conclusions from this work: terrestrial plate tectonics began to operate only about one billion years ago, and modern plate-tectonic circulation is closed above the discontinuity about 650 km deep; Venus broadly preserves a landscape of late-stage main planetary accretion, older than 3.9 billion years.

William R. Dickinson commented on some of my contributions to tectonics in his citation for my Penrose Medal (Geol. Soc.America Bull., 102, 1139, 1989):

Known the world over as an originator of fruitful concepts and as a champion of forceful ideas in tectonics and allied fields, Warren Hamilton has made megathinking respectable in geoscience. For decades now, his probing analyses of key problems and his fresh syntheses of challenging issues have served as intellectual springboards to rapid advances in fundamental aspects of geology. . . . His seminal contributions include development of the idea that the Gulf of California formed as Baja California pulled away from mainland Mexico, recognition that so-called eugeosynclinal volcanic materials include both ocean-floor and island-arc assemblages that are unlike one another, the inference that composite granitic batholiths typically form sheetlike bodies sandwiched between migmatites below and cogenetic volcanic cover above, the perception that crustal extension has doubled the width of the Basin and Range province in the intermountain region, and insights into how modern subduction systems provide useful analogues for older orogenic belts. His publications include pacesetting interpretations of both accretionary and collisional orogenic systems, and his magnificent monograph on Indonesian tectonics includes the first regional tectonic map to depict the whole of a classic orogenic region in the framework of plate tectonics.



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