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Don L. Anderson (* 5 March 1933, in Frederick, Maryland, USA) is a US geophysicist who has made important contributions to the determination of the large-scale structure of the Earth's interior, especially using seismological methods. He is Eleanor and John R. McMillan Professor emeritus of geophysics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).


Life and main scientific contributions

After having earned a BSc in geology/geophysics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1955), Anderson worked in industry and for the military for some years. After that he moved to Caltech, where he received a PhD in geophysics and mathematics in 1962. He spent most of his subsequent academic career at Caltech's Seismological Laboratory.

Especially in the 1960s and 1970s, Anderson and his collaborators investigated the relations between the behavior of mantle rock under high pressures and temperatures, phase transformations of mantle minerals, and the generation of earthquakes. Furthermore, they contributed significantly to the understanding of tectonic plate motions by exploring convection currents in the Earth's mantle with seismological methods. Among other, these studies have led to the development of the Preliminary Reference Earth Model (PREM) in collaboration with Adam Dziewonski; PREM establishes a consistent radial model of the Earth for several important geophysical parameters (e.g. seismic velocities, attenuation, and density).

Since the 1980s he has also been known as the originator of some unconventional, provocative, and controversial ideas which depart from the views of the scientific mainstream. For instance, he has developed an alternative model of the mineralogical composition of the upper mantle, according to which its deeper parts consist of piclogite, a relatively pyroxene- and garnet-rich rock, rather than olivine-dominated peridotite with the chemical composition of pyrolite. Another of his hypotheses is that the theory of convective mantle plumes in the Earth, as proposed by W. Jason Morgan, is invalid and that hotspots and oceanic islands such as Hawaii or Iceland are rather caused by chemical/mineralogical anomalies in the upper mantle.

He has also authored Theory of the Earth, a widely known textbook.


Anderson has received many honours and awards for his scientific achievements, among them the Emil Wiechert Medal of German Geophysical Society (1986), the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1988), the William Bowie Medal of the American Geophysical Union (1991), the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1998, shared with Dziewonski) and the National Medal of Science of the USA (1998).

Important publications

  • A. M. Dziewonski, D. L. Anderson: Preliminary reference Earth model; Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors 25, S.297–356 (1981)
  • D. L. Anderson: Theory of the Earth; Blackwell Scientific Publications (1989)
  • G. R. Foulger, D. L. Anderson: A cool model for the Iceland hotspot; Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 141 (2005)

External links



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