AGU 100

Section History

According to J.A. Fleming (1954), “The American Geophysical Union has to do with those theoretical and applied sciences relating to the Earth, its configuration, its structure, and the natural forces acting upon and within it.”

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) was created by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences for the purpose “to promote the study of problems concerned with the figure and physics of the Earth, to initiate and coordinate researches which depend upon international and national cooperation, and to provide for their scientific discussion and publication.”

AGU was formed in 1919 with seven original sections: Geodesy, Seismology, Meteorology, Terrestrial magnetism and electricity, Oceanography, Volcanology, and Geophysical chemistry. The first Annual Meeting was held in 1920 with 25 registered attendees. Geophysical chemistry was removed in 1924. Hydrology was added in 1930 and Tectonophysics was added in 1940.

Member fees were $2 USD annually for 1936.

By 1950 they had risen dramatically to $7.

In 1919, there was a limit to the number of members set at 65. By 1952, there were 5000 members.

A later review of the history of the Union was published by AGU in 1998 (Graedel, T.H., 1998).

This reflection of AGU from 1919 -1999 included a thematic view of the history of the Union.

  • 1930s – The roots of a society
  • 1940s – War and its aftermath
  • 1950s – International Geophysical Year
  • 1960s – Publications expansion
  • 1970s – Independence
  • 1980s – Outreach
  • 1990s – New Foundations

Fleming’s Insight

Following the “chaotic days” of World War II, Fleming (1954) wrote about the history of the AGU. The impetus for his article was due in part to his opinion that then was an important time, “as never before,” that the advancement of geophysical knowledge fell upon those in the western hemisphere.

The paper was a call to arms, to ask that scientists in America and abroad have a personal responsibility to work together to bring about future important scientific discoveries and knowledge. In the throes of the post war period, Fleming asked that American scientists reach out to their colleages here and abroad, to work together. For, teamwork can produce advancements with much greater success than from efforts of individual scientists.

Fleming sought to bring together geophysicists in the hopes that these international collaborations might bring about a “rehabilitation of international relations.”

Perhaps we may learn from the past as we look towards the future. A fundamental component of of the Union, “from its beginning,” have been the social gatherings during these scientific programs that promoted “free and social relations between those in attendance” (Fleming, 1954).

American Geophysical Union

Tectonophysics – Birth of the Section

On April 19, 1940, at the 21st Annual Meeting, the Tectonophysics section was formed to “for the purpose of promoting and encouraging research of fundamental importance to our knowledge of Earth structure not covered in any one of the other Sections of the Union” (Fleming, 1954).

Using the words from Norman Bowen, the main goal of the tectonophysics section was to “designate this new borderline field between geophysics, physics and geology … for the solution of problems of tectonics.”

Fleming prepared a descriptive pamphlet describing each of the sections. Below is their description of the tectonophysics section. One might ask you, what do you think best describes the Tectonophysics section? We will be asking people about this at the Fall Meeting.

The Section of Tectonophysics coordinates the application of physical methods and geologic and geophysical data to the solution of problems of Earth structure, through laboratory experiments, geological observations, and theoretical analyses.

The fields of interest are:

In the laboratory

  • Physical constraints of rocks and minerals
  • Deformation of minerals, including ice
  • Deformation of rocks
  • Structural Petrology

In the field

  • Metamorphic processes
  • Nature and behavior of the curst
  • World-wide tectonic patterns
  • Mechanics of glacier flow
  • Forces available for crustal deformation


Fleming, J.A., 1954. Origin and Development of the American Geophysical Union in EOS Transactions, v. 35., no. 1, Feb, 1954. Republished online in 2014

Graedel, T.H., 1998. AGU Celebrates 80 Years of Leadership, American Geophysical Union, 18 pp.