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Kamb, W. Barclay (Geologist)



  • Existence: 1931 - 2011


Background: Caltech Provost, 1987-1989; chairman, Division of Geological and Planetary Science, 1972-1983; Barbara and Stanley R. Rawn, Jr., Professor of Geology, 1990-; professor of geology, 1956-1990; PhD 1956; BS (physics) 1952.


Description: Born in San José, Kamb began his long and distinguished Caltech career in 1948 as an undergraduate at the age of 16. He graduated with a degree in physics in 1952 and obtained his PhD in geology in 1956. Hired upon graduation as assistant professor of geology, Kamb rose through the ranks to become a full professor in 1962 and Rawn Professor in 1990. He served as chair of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences for 11 years, from 1972 to 1983, and as vice president and provost of the Institute from 1987 to 1989.

He began his graduate studies as a physics student, but a strong love of the outdoors and the influence of Bob Sharp-a renowned geologist credited with building the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at Caltech, drew him into geology. Kamb's thesis work, related to the structure of the complex mineral zunyite, was done under the direction of Nobel laureate and professor of chemistry Linus Pauling. A year after earning his PhD, Kamb married Pauling's daughter, Linda.

Kamb contributed to many areas of science, but he is best known as one of the world's leading glaciologists, having enhanced our understanding of the crystal structure of ice and the dynamics of glacier movement. He developed and maintained an intellectually and physically challenging field program on glaciers around the world, establishing new techniques and making unique and technically difficult measurements under extreme conditions. One of his most important contributions to the study of glacier motion was drilling through glaciers to their bases and sampling and imaging the contact between the glacier and the underlying rock. This work provided critical insights into glacier flow-especially the extraordinarily rapid movement that characterizes some glaciers. In recognition of his extensive research on Antarctic ice streams, the Kamb Ice Stream was named in his honor in 2003.

Kamb was both a Guggenheim Fellow and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow during his tenure at Caltech. He directed Caltech's research program at the Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park, Washington, which helped geologists gain a better understanding of flow processes in ice, and he was a fellow of the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union. Kamb received many honors, including the Mineralogical Society of America Award, and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Barclay Kamb died at his home in Pasadena on April 21, 2011.

(Excerpted from Caltech obituary, April 2011)


Collection Notes: Papers of W. Barclay Kamb: Unprocessed collection.

Oral history: In production.

Found in 8 Collections and/or Records:

Is Antarctic Ice Sheet Disintegrating?, 1990-01-10

Scope and Contents From the Collection: The collection is arranged by chronological order. This series started in 1922, but the first recording dates back to 1971 and since it is still ongoing, the collection continues to grow, with about 9 new lectures per academic year.These lectures feature speakers from Caltech and JPL, spotlighting a small selection of the pioneering research conducted in the fields of Biology and Biological Engineering, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Applied Science,...
Dates: 1990-01-10

Is Antarctic Ice Sheet Disintigrating?

 Unprocessed Material
Identifier: 1990-00114

Is The Antarctic Ice Sheet Disintegrating?

 Unprocessed Material
Identifier: 1990-00115

Riding A Galloping Glacier

 Unprocessed Material
Identifier: 1986-00334

The Earth And The Planets Conference

 Unprocessed Material
Identifier: 1995-00165

W. Barclay Kamb

 File — Box Z20: Series II
Identifier: Z20

Additional filters:

Unprocessed Material 5
Archival Object 3
Geology 3
Watson Lecture 3
Manuscript Collection 1
Seismology 1