1931 - 2015
Douglas Rankin was born (1931) and raised in Wilmington, Delaware. In his early years, he helped maintain trails as a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club Trail Crew. He received a BA cum laude in Geology from Colgate University (1953), an MA (1955) and PhD (1961) from Harvard University. Following his PhD, Doug became an Assistant Professor of Geology at Vanderbilt University (mineralogy and petrology), but soon joined the United States Geological Survey (1962) as a research geologist, a position he occupied for 53 years (the last 19 years as a Scientist Emeritus). At the USGS he also served as the Chief of the Eastern Branch of Regional Geology. Rankin’s international reputation was a synthesizer of Appalachian geology, based on extensive fieldwork focused on tectonics and volcanism. In addition to his Appalachian studies, Doug was also involved in geologic mapping in the Sierra Nevada of California, the Absarokas of Wyoming, the US Virgin Islands, as well as research on the Charleston, South Carolina earthquake of 1886 and for the Lunar Sample Office of NASA. He was a Fellow of GSA (1966) and the Mineralogical Society of America (1988).
Doug is one of a few geologists who conducted regional geological mapping projects in both the northern and southern Appalachians. He, along with fellow ‘Pioneer of Appalachian Geology’ John Rodgers were the only authors to publish a paper in both volumes of the classic Studies of Appalachian Geology volumes (Northern and Maritime, 1968; Central and Southern, 1970). Doug’s Appalachian research started with his PhD studies of the Traveler Rhyolite in northern Maine, where he established himself as an expert on the Devonian magmatism of the Piscataquis volcanic belt. His Appalachian research continued with his USGS mapping of the Winston-Salem, NC (1972, 1975), where his special interest was in the Neoproterozoic rift magmatism and glacial deposits of the Mt. Rogers, Virginia, area (1993). He continued his Appalachian career with what was to be his last study, an ambitious project investigating the geology of the upper Connecticut River valley in New Hampshire and Vermont (1992-2014). His regional Appalachian experience led to a new interpretation of Appalachian regional scale bends (salient and recesses) in the structural grain of the mountain range (1976) and to an impressive series of regional syntheses and accompanying maps (Pre-orogenic terranes; Proterozoic rocks east and southeast of the Grenville front; Continental margin of the eastern United States: Past and present) for the Decade of North American Geology volumes by the Geological Society of America. He was also one of four compilers of the most recent synthesis of Appalachian geology, the Lithotectonic Map of the Appalachian Orogen (2006).
Doug’s wife, Dr. Mary Backus Rankin, accompanied him for most of his fieldwork in later years; she noted “Doug’s quest to unravel the complex ancient geologic history of the earth led him to spend long periods of time in beautiful and remote places. He loved to hike mountain ridges, swim in lakes and streams, and nap in the sun after lunch.” He was active in the field until he passed away in early 2015, following a brief illness.