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Earth Institute Staff Directory

Prof. Lynn R. Sykes

Higgins Professor Emeritus , Seismology, Geology & Tectonophysics , Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) , The Earth Institute

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100 Washington Spring Road
Palisades, NY 10964

BIOGRAPHY: Lynn Sykes has been involved for 55 years in the verification of underground nuclear testing and the long battle to obtain a total ban on nuclear testing. In 1986 the Federation of American Scientists presented him and two colleagues with its Public Service Award for working to revive scientific and public interest in a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. He along with Walter Pitman from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and Jason Morgan of Princeton showed unequivocally that the earth’s outermost layers consist of nearly rigid plates that move over the surface of the earth. That major revolution is called plate tectonics.

Sykes, a long time resident of Palisades New York became a member of the Lamont Staff in 1965 after graduating from M.I. T. followed by a PhD at Columbia. He has authored more than 135 scientific articles, including 35 on the nuclear testing. He was a member of the U.S. delegation that traveled to the Soviet Union in 1974 to negotiate the Threshold Test Ban Treaty. He testified before the U.S. Congress numerous times as an expert on nuclear-test verification, a subject with large scientific and public policy components.

Plate tectonics revolutionized the study of the earth’s crust, providing a understanding of the formation of mountain ranges, the drifting of the continents, volcanoes, earthquakes, ocean basins, mid-oceanic ridges, deep sea trenches, the evolution of climate and the distribution of natural resources. Sykes proved the importance of great faults that intersect mid-ocean ridges in accommodating plate motion. Dr. Marcia McNutt a geophysicist and President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences called the discovery of plate tectonics “one of the top ten scientific accomplishments of the second half of the 20th Century.”

Sykes is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and of the American Geophysical Union, which honored him with its Macelwane and Bucher awards. He also received the Seismological Society of America’s most prestigious H.F. Reid medal. He received an honorary degree from Columbia University in 2018. While officially retired, he continues his research on earthquakes and explosions. He was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in 1937 and grew up near Washington DC.