Arriving at Rutgers in 1998, following over 30 years at Lamont/Columbia Dennis Kent started as a faculty/researcher in our department serving on the faculty for 22 years. While at Rutgers, Dennis attained the titles of Distinguished Professor and Board of Governor’s Professor and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in to 2004.
Dennis earned his PhD at Columbia under Dr. Neil Opdyke and remained at the Lamont Geological Observatory (now Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory) for 24 years as a research scientist. Dennis became a leader in the field of paleomagnetism applying it to sedimentary sections and cores to constrain time which became the foundation for our modern geomagnetic polarity time scales. Dennis’ paleomagnetic research also tracks the movement of continents.
Dennis’ work in New Jersey started prior to his arrival at Rutgers, but he continued to sample the rock record in our state. Dennis, working with Paul Olsen also at Lamont, constructed a complete section of the Newark Basin through a series of boreholes positioned throughout New Jersey. The composite section has provided a wealth of material allowing the construction of a paleomagnetic time scale for the Triassic using astro-chronology. This work constrained the timing and duration of the Central Atlantic Magnetic Province volcanism (Watchungs in New Jersey) as well as the amount of CO2 released during the eruptions. These archives are still being accessed by new projects.
Soon after arriving at Rutgers, Dennis’ paleomagnetic research began to combine with paleoclimate. An unusual paleomagnetic signature in shallow water sediments of earliest Eocene age in New Jersey led Dennis and colleagues to formulate an alternative hypothesis for the PETM event, proposing that it was initiated by bolide impact. In a similar vein, Dennis and co-workers traced the movement of India during the Cretaceous and Paleogene producing a series of papers arguing that the largest climatic effects of the Deccan Flood basalts occurred 15 to 20 million years after eruption.
At Rutgers, Dennis’ simply named course “Seminar in Paleomagnetism” became one of the most popular graduate courses because it dove into topics like the K-T boundary extinctions and Cenozoic climate change. Among his many imprints on students, postdocs and other faculty members were to hammer home the importance of testable hypotheses and that conventional wisdom can always use a healthy dose of scrutiny. At the time of his retirement in 2020, Dennis had published 325 papers, but that number continues to grow as he has continued to work unimpeded by teaching and meetings.
Picture 1; Dennis Kent with former graduate student, Morgan Schaller, at the EPS retirement celebration in 2022.
Picture 2: Scenes from the EPS retirement celebration in 2022.