Geology and geophysics professor emeritus John Rodgers, who mapped the bedrock geology of Connecticut and supported the theory of continental drift with his global study of mountain formation, died March 7 at his home in Hamden, Conn. He was 89.
Rodgers was also a leading figure in the movement to change stratigraphy — the study of rock layers in the earth’s crust — from a historical to a process-oriented science, Geology and Geophysics Department chairman Leo Hickey said.
“He was able to show the dynamics of stratigraphy in a way that nobody had before,” Hickey said. “In other words, not just what happened but also how it happened.”
Rodgers’ use of dynamic processes to reconstruct past environments is most evident in his “Bedrock Geologic Map of the State of Connecticut” completed in 1985. Identifying different rock formations through color coding, the map shows the “dynamic history” of the state, Hickey said.
Geology and geophysics professor Karl Turekian, a long-time friend of Rodgers, said he admired Rodgers for his ability to recognize “the value of other sciences as well as his own.”
“He understood the breath of the earth sciences and how other fields contributed to that,” Turekian said.
Geology and geophysics professor Mark Brandon said Rodgers’ study of the Appalachians helped support the theory of continental drift that emerged in the 1960s. In his book “The Tectonics of the Appalachians,” Rodgers convincingly argued that the Appalachians once formed part of an ancient range extending across different continents, including parts of South America, Africa and Europe. The nature of his research and his extensive knowledge of foreign languages allowed Rodgers to travel widely and examine the geological literatures of the regions where he studied.
Brandon said a friend who joined Rodgers on an expedition to the North Pole remembered Rodgers stating upon arrival that he had “collected [his] last continent.”
“I think he viewed himself very lucky to have gone to the places where he went,” Brandon said.
Rodgers grew up in Albany, N.Y. By the time he was in 10th grade at the Albany Academy, his passion for world atlases and visits to the old New York State Museum had convinced him to pursue a career in geology. At that time, his liking for music also began to develop when he took piano lessons. Turekian said he recalled attending dinners where friends of Rodgers would plan to have a piano available for Rodgers to play.
Hickey said he recalled Rodgers once saying that when he read music sheets, he could hear the music in his head. In the 1970s, Rodgers collaborated with Yale colleague and jazz musician Willie Ruff on the musical work “The Harmony of the World,” based on the work of the same name by 17th century astronomer Johan Kepler, who searched for a relationship between planetary motion and musical melodies.
Rodgers received his doctorate from Yale in 1944 and joined the faculty two years later. For the rest of his career, Rodgers was affiliated with the University. He served as editor of The American Journal of Science from 1954 to 1995 and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.