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Robert (Charles) Masterman Stainforth

1915 - 2002

John B. Saunders
The Warren, Carperby, Leyburn, North Yorkshire DL8 4DW

Robert Stainforth was always known as Charles and this is how he preferred it. So be it!

Charles was born in Kingston-upon-Hull in East Yorkshire on October 5, 1915, and died where he had chosen to retire—in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia—on September 30, 2002. He retired to Canada in 1969 after a long career in the oil industry. He was retained as a consultant for some time, during which he produced one of his major publications. It is possible that the present generation of earth scientists may not be aware of Charles’ impact on thought in the 1950’s and for two decades beyond, a legacy of research that still affects our thinking today.

When Charles finally thought it time to be with his family and friends he became well known for his abilities as a Bridge player and on the golf course, and as an avid stamp collector. In fact, such was his modesty, that his local friends were amazed to hear that he had been a well known—in fact, we could say a famous—micropaleontologist. Such was the way of Charles. Modest and unassuming in everything he did.

Charles’ father was originally in the family business but he took time out to equip himself with two external degrees—one in Classics and one in Biology. First he was Biology Curator in the Hull Museum and then he moved to Hull Technical College where he stayed until he retired as Head of Biology. Because of this, the children, Charles and his two elder sisters, were all strongly encouraged to go to University. Which they all did in their turn.

As a child Charles enjoyed many expeditions to the surrounding countryside—often on the back of his father’s old motor-bike. They went to many places in South Yorkshire: to the Yorkshire Wolds and particularly to Flamborough Head on the coast, where Charles avidly collected fossils from the Chalk. Some of these went to national collections and led to his first paper (1939) on the free-swimming, possibly planktonic crinoids Uintacrinus and Marsupites of the Senonian Chalk. The paper was written while he was still an undergraduate, and would begin a lifelong enthusiasm for all fossils, both great and small.

Charles’ earlier education was at Hymers College in Hull where he excelled not only academically but also in sport, especially rugby. He did very well in the Higher School Certificate and left school with a scholarship and a place at the Royal School of Mines in London, which he entered in 1935.

His Professor was Vincent Illing, who ran what was probably the first petroleum technology course that was specially designed to equip scientists headed for the petroleum industry. It gave them a broad knowledge of the oil industry and led to the degree of ‘Bachelor of Science in the Technology of Oil’ in the University of London in 1938.

Professor Illing had close ties with the oil companies. He was retained as a consultant by companies exploring in Venezuela and in Trinidad. Also, he was a close friend of Dr. Hans G. Kugler, the famous Swiss geologist in the region. This led to Charles being offered a job on the staff of Trinidad Leaseholds Ltd. in Trinidad. This was the major oil company on the island. It had a geological laboratory run by Dr. Hans Renz—another Swiss—and it was to this laboratory that Charles was assigned. The laboratory had been created at Pointe-a-Pierre by Hans Kugler as early as 1929 with H.G. Naegeli, a Swiss, in charge.

For many years to come, the Trinidad laboratory was to have a great influence on the study of foraminifera, to which the list of publications over the years will attest. The names of people who started out in that laboratory include, amongst others: P. W. Jarvis, Hans Renz, Charles Stainforth, Paul Bronnimann, Hans Bolli, and Walter Blow. A continuous flow of papers came out of this establishment. Several of these were joint papers in collaboration with Dr. J.A. Cushman, whose collections of types are now held in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The Management of Trinidad Leaseholds, encouraged by Hans Kugler and a succession of liberal Chief Geologists, allowed this generous policy towards publication which was not always the case in industry but which undoubtedly was good for the advancement of science.

In fact it was Kugler, who already appreciated the importance of planktonic foraminifera for long-range correlation, who tried to interest Cushman in a study of them in a visit to the Cushman Laboratory at Sharon, Massachusetts in 1940. He had no luck there as the world was rich in benthonic faunas that still needed describing. Anyway, the planktonics seemed to show infinite variability of shape, which often made them difficult to assign to the correct species.

One of Charles’ most important papers was a study of the Cipero Marl Formation. This was published as a joint paper with Dr. Cushman in 1945. As was the style with this series of joint papers, assemblage slides of species, many of them almost certainly new, were put together in Trinidad and sent to the Cushman Laboratory. Cushman was then able to check the species that were thought to be undescribed against his very large reference collections (now held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington). The Cipero Marl was a deep-water formation important in the drilling wells. It had previously been subdivided using benthonic foraminifera. The staff at the laboratory were able to subdivide the formation into three zones based on planktonic species. Later these were to be subdivided, but this was one of the earliest papers to use planktonic species for stratigraphy.

Charles completed another, more general paper on all aspects of the Cipero Formation in 1945 but for reasons mainly connected with the end of the Second World War, this was not published until 1948. This paper of 1948 on the Cipero Formation of Trinidad, together with the faunal paper that he co-authored with Cushman (1945), encapsulated the value of Charles’ work as a stratigrapher and they demonstrated his wide ranging interests and his careful attention to morphological detail.

In 1945 Charles left Trinidad for Ecuador, where he was employed by the International Ecuadorian Petroleum Company (a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey) in their laboratory at Guayaquil, on the Pacific coast. Here he made a special study of sediments in the coastal belt. They had an age range from middle Eocene to what was considered at that time to be early Miocene. That was more or less the age range of the deep-water facies that he had studied in Trinidad, so he was able to use his very considerable experience built up there. The accent was again on planktonic species which were slowly losing their mystique and proving to be not only valuable for correlation, but more reliable across facies boundaries than the benthonics.

From 1948 to 1957 Charles moved within the Esso group to various places. After Ecuador, he was briefly in Colombia and Egypt, then in Peru for several years, with a first stint in Venezuela during 1953. He worked for a short spell in the company’s laboratory in Bordeaux, France, before a turn in Billings, Montana. His fortune was to work in several widespread countries in quick succession and, more importantly, to publish on the faunal sequences that he found there. Also, he had the good fortune to be allowed by a forward-thinking management to attend the all-important international meetings where he was able to talk through his ideas with others who were working in his field.

During these years he was also engaged in working on a thesis which he was to submit to the University of London for an External Doctorate. This he was granted in July 1952. His thesis, which remained unpublished, is entitled: "Interpretative Methods in Applied Micropalaeontology." Not surprisingly, it was used in 1953 as an in-house training manual for the Exploration Division of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. It is, in fact, the most complete manual for the setting up and running of a laboratory that I have ever seen, taking in all aspects from collection of samples in the field and from wells, through laboratory processing, to the sorting of specimens and their identification, and finally, to the construction of range charts showing the stratigraphic distribution of species (identified by genus name and a laboratory number). From the results of such careful work he showed how it was possible to build up a facies pattern, which then allowed the paleogeography of the area (usually a distinct basin) to be worked out.

The next phase of Charles’ professional life was devoted to Venezuela, where he lived from 1958 to 1969. In fact, he had been seconded on a six-month contract in 1953 to eastern Venezuela working in the Esso laboratory in Maturin. Here his knowledge of Trinidad was useful in unravelling the stratigraphy of the Maturin Basin.

In 1958 he went to the company’s laboratory in Jusepin (State of Monagas). From here he went to Maracaibo and then was transferred to the company headquarters in Caracas, where he joined the Regional Studies Group.

His interest during this phase of his career was largely directed toward world-wide ranges, particularly of the planktonics, as a method of dating the lithofacies. Thus, he was able to gain clues to the history of the basins of northern South America and their place in the overall picture of global movements during the Cenozoic (Stainforth, and Salvador & Stainforth; papers read in 1965 and published in 1968).

It should be said that Eames, Banner, Blow and Clark, in their book "Fundamentals of Mid-Tertiary Stratigraphic Correlation" (published in 1962), had advanced the bold statement that there was no Oligocene present in the southern part of North America and throughout the Caribbean Region and northern South America. These were heady days with claims and counter claims during which Charles’ quiet voice was all but drowned out—luckily not completely! However, these arguments did cause a great many of us to work hard on accurate dating and correlation to make sure that, apart from some small, local unconformities, no time slice was so widely absent.

While working in Caracas, Charles took an active interest in the work of the Associacion Venezolana de Geologia, Mineria y Petroleo (AVGMP), acting as editor of the Boletin Informativo from its inception in 1958 to 1969. This was a mine of information for the region, but sadly it did not last after Charles’ valiant efforts ceased on his retirement. During his time as editor he wrote at least 19 articles therein.

Also, Charles was very much concerned with the second edition of the Lexico Estratigrafico de Venezuela which was published in 1970. A large committee started on a revision of the first edition but, in the end, the work of compilation and coercion came down to Charles, helped by Dr. Clemente Gonzalez de Juana of the University and the Doctors Bellizia (at the Ministry). This was a tremendous job and the outcome was a very valuable source book for Venezuela and, indeed, the whole region.

The one thing that has come out while researching this summary is that his friends from South American days have nothing but praise for the support that he gave his staff everywhere and the expertise that was always available for them to tap into. They all have remarked on the calmness of Charles and of his politeness and friendliness. Also, it must be remembered that he was in South America before there were desktop computers or even xerox machines. Everything was laboriously produced by Charles himself, on a succession of old typewriters.

What he did have was an extensive knowledge of South American faunas which enabled him to try out his zonations in the various basins and to refine them and to see which species had wide reliability. These thoughts, and others on regional geology and correlations, were documented in his papers and his various short communications in the Micropaleontologist, the Journal of Micropaleontology and, more especially, in the Venezuelan Boletin Informativo.

After retirement in 1969, Charles was retained as a Consultant by Exxon. He began work on a joint project which was published in 1975 by the University of Kansas. The title of the two volume work is: Cenozoic Planktonic Foraminiferal Zonation and Characteristics of Index Forms. It was initially prepared by the Exxon Production Research Company for private distribution "to facilitate Company-wide standardization and age interpretation of Cenozoic planktonic foraminiferal zones".

Recognition of the value to the scientific community in general led to approval for its wider circulation in book form. So, Charles, during his long, active career, had bridged the gap between disbelief in the use of planktonic species as useful and readily identifiable time markers to their present acceptance as a tool for correlation and even an important feature in absolute age determination and correlation within tropical, subtropical and, to a lesser degree, temperate latitudes.

He worked steadily and with great satisfaction over the years to develop ideas which he shared through correspondence with many other geologists. The integrity and value of the proposals which flowed from his work are a fitting monument to his long and highly productive life.


Reproduced From: Journal of Foraminiferal Research, v. 33, no. 2, p. 173-176, April 2003
Memorial for Robert Masterman Stainforth (pdf version)

A complete listing of the Publications of R.M. Stainforth is at: http://rpasmd.org/rms/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

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