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Walter Harry Blow, Ph.D., D.Sc., F.G.S.: 1924-1972


W. J. Clarke
BP Research Centre
Sunbury-on-Thames, England

The untimely death of Dr. Walter Harry Blow on April 3rd, 1972, from a heart attack, abruptly ended a career which was still full of promise. Thereby the field of micropalaeontology lost an energetic and outstanding worker, who, during his twenty years of service in the petroleum industry, was consistently in the forefront of research into the stratigraphical application of planktonic foraminifera, particularly in the Cainozoic.

Walter Blow, an only child, born in Thornton Heath, Surrey, on July 17th, 1924, was educated at Blackheath Preparatory and Brockley Schools, He served with the Army from 1942 to 1945 and, during the attack on Arnhem in September, 1944, was severely wounded at Venraij, Holland, suffering the loss of a foot and lower leg.

Following his discharge from the Army, he enrolled at the City of Worcester Training College for Teachers and in 1947 gained a Diploma in Education and a Qualified Teachers Certificate. Thereafter, for a few years he taught general science at a school in London's East End.

In 1948 he enrolled at Birkbeck College, University of London, as a part-time student in a course leading to an honours degree. Here his brilliance was soon apparent, and he was awarded, first a Ravenscroft Exhibition, and subsequently a University of London Senate Exhibition, which enabled him to give up teaching in 1951 and pursue his studies full time. He graduated B.Sc. with honours in Geology in 1952 and then undertook research on Carboniferous foraminifera with Dr. R. H. Cummings before joining the petroleum industry in 1953. His first appointment was as micropaleontologist with Trinidad Leaseholds, Ltd., at Pointe a Pierre.

In Trinidad, where he worked with Dr. H. M. Bolli, the situation demanded fine biostratigraphic discrimination and initiated Walter's enduring interest in the planktonic foraminifera as biostratigraphic indices. His first paper on planktonic foraminifera, "The origin and evolution of the foraminiferal genus Orbulina d'Orbigny", appeared in Micropaleontology in 1956 and was the forerunner of over thirty contributions.

He joined the British Petroleum Company, Ltd., in 1956 and was posted to Malta, later transferring to Libya, where he remained till 1959. During these assignments, as well as providing biostratigraphical services to exploration in Sicily, Malta and North Africa, he prepared a thesis on "The age, correlation and biostratigraphy of the upper San Lorenzo and Poz6n Formations, eastern Falc6n, Venezuela", for which London University awarded him the degree of Ph.D. in 1958.

From 1959 he was based at the BP Research Centre, Sunbury-on-Thames, as research micropaleontologist responsible for the development of planktonic foraminiferal biostratigraphy, but, ever peripatetic, he had a short posting to Trinidad in 1961-62, secondment to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, in 1965 and, in 1968, service aboard the R/V Argo on the CIRCE Expedition. From its inception he was deeply involved in the Deep Sea Drilling Project (JOIDES), and, as well as contributing much in the preparatory stages as a member of the Stratigraphic Panel, he provided planktonic foraminiferal dating for the cores recovered on the first six legs.

The award of a D.Sc. degree by London University in 1970 for his wide-ranging and advanced studies on planktonic foraminifera was an academic accolade matched in practical terms by the widespread use of the planktonic foraminiferal zonation scheme which he developed. An active, forceful and always stimulating member of many committees, he was one of the principal initiators of the First International Conference on Planktonic Microfossils, held in Geneva in 1967, and, at the time of his death, had begun with his lifelong friend, Paul Bronnimann, the organisation for a symposium in 1973.

Appointed Research Associate, Palaeontology, at the BP Research Centre in 1970, Walter had every prospect of a continuing and expanding career in research, a prospect blighted by his untimely death. Essentially a pioneer, he has, by the extent and impact of his published research, provided his own enduring memorial.


Reproduced From: Micropaleontology, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Jul., 1972), pp. 397-398.
Publisher by: The Micropaleontology Project, Inc.
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