A Tribute to Clem Chase (March 27, 1944 - February 19, 2020)

March 18, 2020

Geosciences Faculty pay tribute to Dr. Clement Chase, Professor of Geosciences for over 27 years, who passed away February 19, 2020.


Photographs graciously provided by Clem's wife, June Chase.



"It was my honor to be the Department Head who presided at the time of the geophysics search that ‘landed’ Clem Chase. As a department we had come to realize that our competitive future required expansion in geophysics, and in such a way that geophysics would remain closely integrated with geology and geochemistry. Clem was a professor at The University of Minnesota at the time. I recall meeting and interacting with him in the 1970s at Minnesota’s geology department when I was there to give a talk. I particularly recall that he had just completed a textbook entitled, “The Evolving Earth,” covering physical geology (a sign of his breadth). His research fame at that time included his interpretation that the midcontinent gravity high is a product Precambrian plate tectonics. His discovery of the Midcontinent Rift System is just one expression of his originality. Clem became interested in our Geosciences opening not only because of the growing reputation of the department, but because he had grown up in Tucson, he had attended Tucson High, and he liked Tucson!
During Clem’s interview some of us were ‘blown away’ by the fact that one of his two presentations focused on geochemistry, not geophysics. Most of us already knew that Clem was expert in plate tectonics and all aspects of geophysics and fundamental geology. But geochemistry too?! The audience for this talk was stacked with strength in petrology and geochemistry. Clem’s talk proved to be cutting edge. Offering him the position was a ‘no-brainer.’ All of us were relieved and delighted when he accepted. 
In my view, Clem was unsurpassed in his high-level grasp of the combination of plate tectonics, geophysics, geology, and geochemistry. He was methodologically superb in geodynamics and always up to speed on concepts, issues, and problems. Moreover, he displayed photographic recall of information, including facts and figures and big-picture concepts.  I recall a colleague talking about seafloor spreading in the South Atlantic, and Clem, when the question came up, ‘filling in’ the exact spreading rate at latitude 32° south. In another casual conversation he helped a colleague recall the dimension (in angstroms) of the unit cell in the lattice structure of some particular mineral. Some of us joked with him about how he even resembled Leonardo di Vinci. I cannot sufficiently emphasize how Clem was glue in the broadscale “Geosciences” collaborative spirit and action among colleagues and graduate students during a particularly important, formative chapter of our newly evolving Geosciences department. He was an integrating force among the very intellectual dimensions for which he himself was expert: geology, geophysics, geochemistry.
And what a nice colleague, and department head! His brilliance and ease in conversation about research, departmental strategies, faculty appointments, pedagogy, graduate student advising, and ordinary things, were flat-out wonderful. In debates centered on research questions, he would always be contributing and constructive, and never with an axe to grind. In short, he was a marvelous human being whose life was well led, and whose impact on research, teaching, students, staff, colleagues, and the department overall was enormous."


—George H. Davis



"Clem was a truly great scientist, colleague, and friend. I met Clem in 1990 when I was hired as a new assistant professor at UA. His breadth of knowledge was always inspiring from isotope geochemistry to geophysics and geology and he was “interdisciplinary” long before it was trendy.  He was just as comfortable modeling the geoid of the Earth with spherical harmonics as mapping a Laramide basement cored uplift in the field or interpreting paleo elevation data from fossil plants.  I can remember many insightful conversations about uplift and paleo topography in the Andes long before it was popular. Clem always urged me to think outside the box and his conversations always came back to the basics - how does the Earth work and why. Clem helped me define my research agenda long before I knew I needed to. You could walk into his office and talk to him about anything anytime. I had the pleasure of teaching with Clem and it was always insightful and fun. When we taught our summer field course together (Pete DeCelles, Clem, and I) we had many conversations over an evening fire and once again I was astounded with his knowledge of structural geology as well as local geology across Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Clem was also a good friend, colleague, and mentor to me and so many others in the department over the years. His message was always do what is interesting, connect the dots between disciplines, don’t be afraid to dive into a new topic and do what is. He cared deeply about the department, his colleagues and especially the students."

—Susan Beck



"I am probably the only faculty (still hanging around) besides George who was present in Clem's interview talks. And it was exactly what George had described. Clem's expanse was not only in Geo-physics/-chemistry/-morphology, but, as shown in the attached power point from my  undergraduate Petrology class (taken from an article in Scientific American), he also made his mark in petrology.  

Clem was always my go-to man whenever I had any question on any type of geophysical problems and he always had an answer or the helpful pointers. My last interaction with him of this nature was about the viscosity of the lower mantle for which our calculations based on diffusion data were not in good agreement with the geophysical conclusion from the post-glacial rebound. When I presented the problem to Clem, he thought for a few minutes, then pulled a book from his shelf where the raw data were compiled and showed that the geophysical conclusion is really not as robust as people think. 

It is hard for me to imagine a possible replacement for Clem. This type of people does not exist any more, not only in Geosciences but probably in any field."

—Jibamitra Ganguly



"My collaborations with Clem went  way back to the early 1990s, when I had a casual conversation with him in the hallway one day and learned about his geomorphology modeling experiments, looking at how watersheds eroded as a result of falling increments of rain ("precipitons" he called them). I asked him one day what happened to the mass he was removing from his model landscapes and he told me he wasn't much interested in them but that in fact every speck of that dirt was and could be monitored down the digital grid. We started talking about a project to develop synthetic stratigraphies in the deposystems created by this and so our "Gilbert" project was born (Gilbert as in G.K. because my interest in this from the start was to model lake deposystems in tectonic basins. I spent a wonderful sabbatical in Barcelona in 1993 emailing with Clem nearly every day, and sending back and forth files (a very time consuming task at that time!) for the real deposystem we were trying to model, a paleolake basin in Spain my host was studying. 

Shortly after I returned Clem, Randy and I started talking about developing an oceanography course for non-majors (what became 112 and then 212 after GenEd started). I was always in awe of Clem's teaching. He was like a knowledge machine, breathlessly spewing forth a stream of facts in a way that kept everyone in the room spellbound. He loved to start his classes with surfer punk music to get the mood right!

Clem was an inspiration academically and a great friend. I feel very lucky to have had him as a part of my professional life and think of him often-he'll be missed!

—Andrew Cohen



"Clem was head of the department when I joined the faculty in 1993. The first thing I did that fall was seek Clem’s permission to attend his Geodynamics class, which of course he graciously granted. The course was a transformative event for me, exposing me to the genius of one of the leaders in the field, a truly original and seminal thinker. Who else but Clem could have authored a paper (Chase, 1978) entitled "Plate kinematics: The Americas, East Africa, and the rest of the world”? I felt that I had finally arrived in science while sitting in that seminar room with a group of graduate students; I hope they appreciated the situation as much as I did. Clem was a model of collegiality, open-mindedness, kindness, and mutual intellectual respect. It was the latter that most affected me, because I had never experienced such close trans-disciplinary collaboration among specialists in diverse fields represented in this department. As George Davis aptly points out, there was a reason the department had adopted the name “Geosciences,” setting up a situation in which the collaborative whole could be greater than the sum of its parts. And Clem was so down-to-Earth. Kindness and respect suffused all of his departmental activities, from research to teaching to committee work and chairing the department. He was unbelievably smart and clever, a living computer able to teach practically anything—from geodynamics to structural geology to marine geology, from geomorphology to geochemistry to paleoaltimetry. His thinking was always at ‘research grade’, with an original perspective that often led to breakthroughs in whatever he was studying at a given time. Along with Susan Beck, Clem was a founding member of the faculty team that launched the new field camp program in which large-scale tectonics systems are addressed through regionally integrated projects. I still remember the giddy feeling we all had when Susan proposed that we ask the students to take their final trans-Cordilleran cross-section all the way to the Moho; characteristically to the point, Clem chortled “Why not!?” Clem was a beast in the field, covering ground rapidly and sometimes noisily; I recall one occasion while taking a break, sitting alone in a forested grove in the mountains of central Utah I heard what sounded like an impatient bear plowing through the woods. It was Clem with his signature 4-lb. Nolan pick hammer, which he always carried by its long wooden handle like a medieval weapon, on his way into battle. Suddenly there was a loud thud and he temporarily disappeared, having tripped on a large fallen tree in his path. The collision was so abrupt and violent that I feared he might have seriously injured himself. Instead, he sprang back to his feet, giving out a muffled giggle, and stomped past me with a cheerful “hi Pete--didn’t see that one coming!” Off he went, without even stopping. I suspect that he had been deep in thought on some complicated problem, and it never occurred to him to break that train of thought, even after smashing into an immovable object.  

I will always be grateful to Clem for teaching me so many things, giving me ideas, and for his good-natured friendship and hard work in building and maintaining this wonderful department."

—Peter DeCelles