William Thomas

  • Hudnall Professor Emeritus
  • Earth & Environmental Sciences
123 Mary Harmon Bryant Hall, University of Alabama, Geological Survey of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35486
205-247-3547
Education

Ph.D., Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1960

Research

I arrived at the University of Kentucky in 1952 as a freshman geology major and, after finishing B.S. and M.S. degrees in geology, in 1957, moved on to other educational and professional pursuits.  In 1990, I returned to UK as a member of the faculty, a position from which I retired on June 30, 2010.  I am currently continuing my research as a Visiting Scientist at the Geological Survey of Alabama.
 

Beginning with my dissertation at Virginia Tech, my research has focused on the southern Appalachian orogen, initially in field studies of stratigraphy and structural geology.  Subsequently, using drill data and other subsurface techniques gained while employed by The California Company (Chevron), my research expanded to the Appalachian-Ouachita orogen beneath the Gulf Coastal Plain.  While a graduate student, I learned the concept of the geosyncline; during the early part of my career, the concept of plate tectonics evolved, changing the way we think about continental margins and orogenic belts.  Application of plate tectonics led to new understanding of the evolution of the Appalachian-Ouachita orogen and to publication of my frequently cited 1977 article in the American Journal of Science, which included the tectonic history of eastern Laurentia from continental rifting, through a passive margin, to the Appalachian-Ouachita orogen and foreland.  Subsequently, I sought to establish analogs in other orogenic belts.  Outgrowths of this research include the recognition that the Argentine Precordillera in the eastern Andes was rifted from the Ouachita embayment of Laurentia (North America) in Cambrian time and accreted to western Gondwana (South America) in Ordovician time (joint research with Dr. Ricardo Astini of the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina), and that the alternate assembly and breakup of supercontinents leave a record of tectonic inheritance at continental margins (subject of my 2005 Presidential Address for the Geological Society of America).  In the latter context, the rocks and structures of eastern North America record the assembly of supercontinent Rodinia (the Grenville orogen), breakup of Rodinia and opening of the Iapetus Ocean, assembly of supercontinent Pangaea (the Appalachian-Ouachita orogen), and breakup of Pangaea and opening of the modern Atlantic Ocean.  Along with students working under my direction, I have integrated stratigraphy, structural geology, and tectonics to document various aspects of these lithospheric global events.  This work has used outcrop geology and geologic mapping, samples and geophysical logs from deep wells, and geophysical data including seismic reflection profiles and potential field maps.  Now in retirement, it is most gratifying to be able to continue my research in the tectonics of continental margins and orogenic belts.

Currently active research:
•    geologic mapping in the Appalachian thrust belt, including specifically the Wellington and  Westover 7.5-minute quadrangles in Alabama
•    crustal structure and tectonics of the New Madrid seismic zone, the Northern Embayment Lithosphere Experiment, funded by NSF (2011-2015) to University of Memphis (C. A. Langston, lead PI)
•    detrital-zircon populations in sandstones to test possible dispersal of sediment during the late Paleozoic from the Appalachian orogen to the site of the present Grand Canyon, funded by NSF (2013-2015) to University of Arizona (co-PI with George Gehrels)
•    mechanism for tectonic inheritance of lithospheric structure of transform faults along a continental rift margin
•    accretion of microcontinental terranes along the southern margin of Laurentia, specifically Suwannee, Sabine, and Coahuila
•    the Southern Oklahoma “aulacogen” as a transform-parallel intracratonic basement fault system
•    regional stratigraphy and structural geology of the Appalachian-Ouachita orogen and foreland, using synorogenic clastic wedges to track the history of tectonic loading of the orogenic foreland
•    history of accretion of the Argentine Precordillera to Gondwana, using detrital-zircon populations in a Middle–Upper Ordovician clastic wedge
•    the Coosa deformed belt, a brittle duplex above an upper-level detachment in the Appalachian thrust belt in Alabama
•    palinspastic reconstruction of the Iapetan rift margin of North America
•    structural geometry, kinematics, and palinspastic reconstruction of lateral ramps and transverse zones in the Appalachian thrust belt
•    conjugate rift margins of Laurentia and the Argentine Precordillera

Selected Publications: 

Recent Publications

  • Mueller, P. A., Heatherington, A. L., Foster, D. A., Thomas, W. A., and Wooden, J. L., 2013 in press, The Suwannee suture: Significance for Gondwana-Laurentia terrane transfer and formation of Pangaea: Gondwana Research.
  • Thomas, W. A., and Irvin, G. D., 2013, Geology of the Eulaton 7.5-minute quadrangle, Calhoun County, Alabama:  Geological Survey of Alabama Quadrangle Series Map 62, 41 p., 1 plate.
  • Osborne, W. E., and Thomas, W. A., 2013, Geology of the Ohatchee 7.5-minute quadrangle, Etowah, Calhoun, and St. Clair Counties, Alabama:  Geological Survey of Alabama Quadrangle Series Map 61, 51 p., 1 plate.
  • Thomas, W. A., and Ward, W. E., 2013, Geology of the Pell City 7.5-minute quadrangle, St. Clair and Talladega Counties, Alabama:  Geological Survey of Alabama Quadrangle Series Map 60, 31 p., 1 plate.
  • Sinha, A. K., Thomas, W. A., Hatcher, R. D., Jr., and Harrison, T. M., 2012, Geodynamic evolution of the central Appalachian orogen: Geochronology and compositional diversity of magmatism from Ordovician through Devonian: American Journal of Science, v. 312, p. 907-966.
  • Pashin, J. C., Kopaska-Merkel, D. C., Arnold, A. C., McIntyre, M. R., and Thomas, W. A., 2012, Gigantic, gaseous mushwads in Cambrian shale: Conasauga Formation, southern Appalachians, USA:  International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 103, p. 70-91.
  • Thomas, W. A., Tucker, R. D., Astini, R. A., and Denison, R. E., 2012, Ages of pre-rift basement and synrift rocks along the conjugate rift and transform margins of the Argentine Precordillera and Laurentia: Geosphere, v. 8, p. 1366-1383.
  • Thomas, W. A., and Drahovzal, J. A., 2012, Bedrock geology of the Harpersville 7.5-minute quadrangle, Shelby and Talladega Counties, Alabama:  Geological Survey of Alabama Quadrangle Series Map 57, 34 p., 2 plates.
  • Thomas, W. A., and Pashin, J. C., 2011, Of mushwads and mayhem: Disharmonically deformed shale in the southern Appalachian thrust belt:  Alabama Geological Society, Forty-Eighth Annual Field Trip Guidebook, 126 p.
  • Thomas, W. A., 2011, Mushwads in the Appalachian thrust belt in Alabama: Alabama Geological Society, Forty-Eighth Annual Field Trip Guidebook, p. 1-30.
  • Pashin, J. C., Kopaska-Merkel, D. C., Arnold, A. C., McIntyre, M. R., and Thomas, W. A., 2011, Geology and natural gas potential of Conasauga mushwads: Alabama Geological Society, Forty-Eighth Annual Field Trip Guidebook, p. 31-84.
  • Thomas, W. A., and Osborne, W. E., 2011, Geology of the Francis Mill 7.5-minute quadrangle, St. Clair, Calhoun, and Talladega Counties, Alabama:  Geological Survey of Alabama Quadrangle Series Map 56, 24 p., 1 plate.
  • Thomas, W. A., 2011, Cambrian-Devonian stratigraphy along the Southwest Montana transverse zone and tectonic history of the Willow Creek fault system:  Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Geologic Map 55, 39 p., 1 plate.
  • Thomas, W. A., 2011, The Iapetan rifted margin of southern Laurentia: Geosphere, v. 7, p. 97-120.
  • Cook, B. S., and Thomas, W. A., 2010, Ductile duplexes as potential natural gas plays: An example from the Appalachian thrust belt in Georgia, USA:  Geological Society [London] Special Publication 348, p. 57-70.
  • Allen, J. S., Thomas, W. A., and Lavoie, D., 2010, The Laurentian margin of northeastern North America: Geological Society of America Memoir 206, p. 71-90.
  • Thomas, W. A., 2010, Interactions between the southern Appalachian–Ouachita orogenic belt and basement faults in the orogenic footwall and foreland: Geological Society of America Memoir 206, p. 897-916.

Selected Representative Publications
•    Cook, B. S., and Thomas, W. A., 2009, Superposed lateral ramps in the Pell City thrust sheet, Appalachian thrust belt, Alabama:  Journal of Structural Geology, v.  31, p.  941-949.
•    Allen, J. S., Thomas, W. A., and Lavoie, D., 2009, Stratigraphy and structure of the Laurentian rifted margin in the northern Appalachians: A low-angle detachment rift system?: Geology, v. 37, p. 335-338.
•    Thomas, W. A., Kanda, R. V. S., O’Hara, K. D., and Surles, D. M., 2008, Thermal footprint of an eroded thrust sheet in the southern Appalachian thrust belt, Alabama, USA:  Geosphere, v.  4, p.  814-828.
•    Thomas, W. A., 2007, Balancing tectonic shortening in contrasting deformation styles through a mechanically heterogeneous stratigraphic succession: Geological Society of America Special Paper 433, p. 277-290.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Astini, R. A., 2007, Vestiges of an Ordovician west-vergent thin-skinned thrust belt in the Argentine Precordillera, southern Central Andes: Journal of Structural Geology, v. 29, p. 1369-1385.
•    Thomas, W. A., 2007, Pennsylvanian sinistral faults along the southwest boundary of the Uncompahgre uplift, Ancestral Rocky Mountains, Colorado:  Geosphere, v. 3, p. 119-132.
•    Thomas, W. A., 2007, Role of the Birmingham basement fault in thin-skinned thrusting of the Birmingham anticlinorium, Appalachian thrust belt in Alabama: American Journal of Science, v. 307, p. 46-62.
•    Thomas, W. A., 2006, Tectonic inheritance at a continental margin [2005 Geological Society of America Presidential Address]: GSA Today, v. 16, no. 2, p. 4-11.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Bayona, G., 2005, The Appalachian thrust belt in Alabama and Georgia: thrust-belt structure, basement structure, and palinspastic reconstruction:  Geological Survey of Alabama Monograph 16, 48 p., 2 plates.
•    Becker, T. P., Thomas, W. A., Samson, S. D., and Gehrels, G. E., 2005, Detrital zircon evidence of Laurentian crustal dominance in the lower Pennsylvanian deposits of the Alleghanian clastic wedge in eastern North America: Sedimentary Geology, v. 182, p. 59-86.
•    Thomas, W. A., Astini, R. A., Mueller, P. A., Gehrels, G. E., and Wooden, J. L. 2004, Transfer of the Argentine Precordillera terrane from Laurentia: constraints from detrital-zircon geochronology:  Geology, v. 32, p. 965-968.
•    Thomas, W. A., Becker, T. P., Samson, S. D., and Hamilton, M.A., 2004, Detrital zircon evidence of a recycled orogenic foreland provenance for Alleghanian clastic-wedge sandstones:  Journal of Geology, v. 112, p. 23-37.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Astini, R. A., 2003, Ordovician accretion of the Argentine Precordillera terrane to Gondwana: a review: Journal of South American Earth Sciences, v. 16, p. 67-79.
•    Bayona, G., Thomas, W. A., and Van der Voo, R., 2003, Kinematics of thrust sheets within transverse zones: a structural and paleomagnetic investigation in the Appalachian thrust belt of Georgia and Alabama: Journal of Structural Geology, v. 25, p. 1193-1212.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Bayona, G., 2002, Palinspastic restoration of the Anniston transverse zone in the Appalachian thrust belt, Alabama:  Journal of Structural Geology, v. 24, p. 797-826.
•    Thomas, W. A., 2001, Mushwad: Ductile duplex in the Appalachian thrust belt in Alabama:  American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 85, p. 1847-1869.
•    Thomas, W. A., Astini, R. A., and Denison, R. E., 2001, Strontium isotopes, age, and tectonic setting of Cambrian salinas along the rift and transform margins of the Argentine Precordillera and southern Laurentia: Journal of Geology, v. 109, p. 231-246.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Astini, R. A., 1999, Simple-shear conjugate rift margins of the Argentine Precordillera and the Ouachita embayment of Laurentia: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 111, p. 1069-1079.
•    Mars, J. C., and Thomas, W. A., 1999, Sequential filling of a late Paleozoic foreland basin: Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. 69, p.1191-1208.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Astini, R. A., 1996, The Argentine Precordillera: a traveler from the Ouachita embayment of North American Laurentia: Science, v. 273, p. 752-757.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Baars, D. L., 1995, The Paradox transcontinental fault zone: Oklahoma Geological Survey Circular 97, p. 3-12.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Whiting, B. M., 1995, The Alabama promontory: Example of the evolution of an Appalachian-Ouachita thrust-belt recess at a promontory of the rifted continental margin: Geological Association of Canada Special Paper 41, p. 3-20.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1993, Low-angle detachment geometry of the late Precambrian-Cambrian Appalachian-Ouachita rifted margin of southeastern North America:  Geology, v. 21, p. 921-924.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1991, The Appalachian-Ouachita rifted margin of southeastern North America: Geological Society of America Bulletin v. 103, p. 415-431.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1990, Controls on locations of transverse zones in thrust belts: Ecologae Geologicae Helvetiae, v. 83, p. 727-744.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1989, The Appalachian-Ouachita orogen beneath the Gulf Coastal Plain between the outcrops in the Appalachian and Ouachita Mountains, in Hatcher, R. D., Jr., Thomas, W. A., and Viele, G. W., eds., The Appalachian-Ouachita orogen in the United States:  Geological Society of America, The Geology of North America, v. F-2, p. 537-553.
•    Hatcher, R. D., Jr., Thomas, W. A., and Viele, G. W., editors, 1989, The Appalachian-Ouachita orogen in the United States:  Geological Society of America, The Geology of North America, v. F-2, 767 p.
•    Ferrill, B. A., and Thomas, W. A., 1988, Acadian dextral transpression and synorogenic sedimentary successions in the Appalachians: Geology, v. 16, p. 604-608.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1988, The Black Warrior basin, in Sloss, L. L., ed., Sedimentary cover--North American craton: U. S.:  Geological Society of America, The Geology of North America, v. D-2, p. 471-492, Plate 8.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Bearce, D. N., 1986, Birmingham anticlinorium in the Appalachian fold-thrust belt, basement fault system, synsedimentary structure, and thrust ramp:  Geological Society of America Centennial Field Guide, v. 6, p. 191-200.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1985, The Appalachian-Ouachita connection:  Paleozoic orogenic belt at the southern margin of North America:  Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, v. 13, p. 175-199.
•    Mack, G. H., Thomas, W. A., and Horsey, C. A., 1983, Composition of Carboniferous sandstones and tectonic framework of southern Appalachian-Ouachita orogen:  Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, v. 53, p. 931-946.
•    Thomas, W. A., and Mack, G. H., 1982, Paleogeographic relationship of a Mississippian barrier-island and shelf bar system (Hartselle Sandstone) in Alabama to the Appalachian-Ouachita orogenic belt:  Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 93, p. 6-19.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1977, Evolution of Appalachian-Ouachita salients and recesses from reentrants and promontories in the continental margin:  American Journal of Science, v. 277, p. 1233-1278.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1976, Evolution of Ouachita-Appalachian continental margin:  Journal of Geology, v. 84, p. 323-342.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1973, Southwestern Appalachian structural system beneath the Gulf Coastal Plain:  American Journal of Science, Cooper Volume, v. 273A, p. 372-390.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1972, Mississippian stratigraphy of Alabama:  Alabama Geological Survey Monograph 12, 121 p.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1972, Regional Paleozoic stratigraphy in Mississippi between Ouachita and Appalachian Mountains:  American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 56, p. 81-106.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1971, Devonian stratigraphy north of the Uncompahgre uplift, Colorado:  Mountain Geologist, v. 8, p. 85-88.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1968, Contemporaneous normal faults on flanks of Birmingham anticlinorium, central Alabama:  American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 52, p. 2123-2136.
•    Thomas, W. A., 1966, Late Mississippian folding of a syncline in the western Appalachians, West Virginia and Virginia:  Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 77, p. 473-494.
 

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