top of page
  • YouTube
Intro + Whitefish Bay
Hydraulic Plucking
Cavitation + Bubbles implosion
French River Fold Structure
Theory of depositional drumlin
In memory of John Shaw (1943- 2018)

In memory of John Shaw (1943- 2018)

Glacial sediments and landforms do not give up their secrets readily. Over many years, John Shaw did much to uncover these secrets with his curiosity, passion, analytical ability, knowledge of fundamental physical processes, and a few radical ideas. With a thorough grounding in sedimentary and erosional processes, and meticulous and insightful field observation, he offered provocative and insightful analyses of many aspects of glacial sediments and landforms that are widely influential. Born in Glasgow and having grown up in Leeds, he began his academic career with BSc (geography, geology and mathematics) and PhD degrees at the University of Reading. In 1969, he moved to Canada taking a faculty position in physical geography in the Department of Geography, University of Alberta (Edmonton) where he embarked on his research and was an enlightening and dedicated teacher. His development of ideas on subglacial meltwater processes began while at Alberta and advanced further during his professorship at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario (1982-1990). John continued his work on subglacial meltwater processes after he returned to the University of Alberta (1990-2011) as Chair of Geography, then as a member of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He collaborated on research on subglacial meltwater systems and esker deposits. With Bruce Rains, a supportive colleague and close friend for many years, and their students, he did both detailed and synoptic work on glacial landforms of Alberta, culminating in a series of papers and a well-known map and interpretation based on digital elevation data and field interpretation of sediments. At this time, he also produced the Canada-wide map of large, regional-scale flow tracts of subglacial bedforms based on up-dated remote sensing data. John’s ideas were, and remain, controversial. He raised fundamental questions about understanding of glacial processes and glacial landscape evolution. These ideas undeniably have stimulated the research field. Despite intense skepticism from some, John and his students investigated glacial landscapes and their landforms—hummocky terrain, tunnel channels and eskers, relating them to the meltwater hypothesis. John excelled at teaching. Students were engaged by his enthusiasm and his clarity of explanations and by his willingness to encourage students to have confidence to think for themselves and make their own discoveries. He introduced many undergraduate and graduate students to his brand of careful field observation grounded in physical theory and analysis, while occasionally intimidating and enlightening them with physics and fluid dynamics at a time when this was rare in glacial geomorphology. He was a supportive mentor and supervisor, giving students the freedom to take their own direction. Later in his career he was also a proud ‘academic grandfather’. He was often at his best in a gravel pit nudging students to make observations and inferences based on the sediments they saw, while helping them see where the limit to interpretation was: “Were you there?” he might ask if you went too far. Later in his career, John was denied the pleasure and fulfillment of teaching, and students missed out on the benefits of his knowledge and insights, due to institutional heavy handedness.
bottom of page