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Sir Charles Cotton (1885–1970): international geomorphologist

Rodney H. Grapes
Rodney H. Grapes
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Korea University, Seoul, South Korea (e-mail:
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January 01, 2008


Sir Charles Cotton (1885–1970), a New Zealander by birth, was Professor of Geology at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, between 1921 and 1953. He produced a quartet of well-known textbooks, the most influential being Geomorphology of New Zealand first published in 1921, and a remarkable number of pioneering papers on a great variety of subjects in geomorphology. Essentially self-taught, much of Cotton's earlier work followed the ideas of W. M. Davis in terms of an explanatory description of landforms (structure, process, form), but he also emphasized the importance of climate change and tectonic movements in landscape-forming processes. His work was enhanced by the use of block diagrams to demonstrate progressive evolution of landscape features and his simple sketches, in particular, provided a clarity allowing people to see the land around them with new interest and understanding. His studies were never quantitative, and he remained sceptical about illusions of precision and accuracy in the new post-World War II trends and ideas in geomorphology. Cotton's range of interests was wide, but certain themes keep returning; in particular, shore processes and shoreline development and classification, the significance of faulting in all its forms, and the geomorphic history of the area of his Wellington home in New Zealand. Although Cotton's work became well known throughout the scientific world, he did not create a school of geomorphological thought. His international reputation came from his scientific papers and especially his books that captured the interest of generations of university students and citizens from all walks of life. Indeed, the honour of a knighthood in 1959 could well have come 30 years earlier when, at the age of 41, he had already gained such recognition. He made an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the evolution of New Zealand's landforms. Cotton's bibliography is included.

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Geological Society, London, Special Publications

History of Geomorphology and Quaternary Geology

R. H. Grapes
R. H. Grapes
Korea University, South Korea
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D. Oldroyd
D. Oldroyd
The University of New South Wales, Australia
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A. Grigelis
A. Grigelis
Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Lithuania
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Geological Society of London
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 2008




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