Prof. Peter Rona, one of our pioneering mid-ocean ridge scientists, has died aged 79. Throughout more than 40 years of research, Peter, a Professor of Marine Geology and Geophysics at Rutgers University, New Jersey, pioneered mid-ocean ridge science. In 1985 he discovered the TAG hydrothermal system, the first known hydrothermal vent field at a slow-spreading ridge. Peter has always been an inspirational figure, tackling the most intractable questions and energetically encouraging us to pull together as a community.
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, USA, on August 17th 1934, Peter Arnold Rona was fascinated by rocks and fossils from an early age. After taking a degree in geology from Brown University in 1956, and a Master’s from Yale in 1957, he worked for an oil company until 1958. Following a chance meeting with some oceanographers, Peter became inspired by the mysteries of the deep ocean, and returned to Yale where he received a PhD in Marine Geology and Geophysics in 1967. Peter later joined the US' National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) where he spend many years mapping the North Atlantic. The US Department of Commerce awarded him its gold medal for ‘exceptional scientific contributions’ in 1987. Peter joined Rutgers University in 1994.
During his outstanding career, Peter Rona wrote hundreds of scientific papers, published an atlas of the central North Atlantic, edited scientific books and led many deep-ocean expeditions. More recently, he worked as a consultant to the United Nations’ International Seabed Authority on deep sea mineral resources where he pressed for an effective constitution to manage the potential deleterious impacts of deep-sea mining.
Peter worked tirelessly to the end. Just recently, he edited an AGU monograph on the diversity of hydrothermal systems at slow and ultra-slow spreading ridges. He was also busy preparing a proposal for a return IODP expedition to the TAG vent field. But Peter was more than a great scientist; he was also a fantastic communicator. Between 1999 and 2003, Peter worked as a science adviser (with Richard Lutz) on an iMAX movie called 'Volcanoes of the Deep Sea', directed by Stephen Low and released in 2003. This pioneering film took iMAX film cameras and massive lighting arrays to the seafloor on Russian MIR submersibles where they filmed close-up and spectacular images of hydrothermal vents and their ecosystems. The movie won an award at the Paris Film Festival and drew audiences in their millions.
Peter died on February 20th, a year after his wife, Donna. He is survived by his daughter, Jessica. Peter will be missed by us all.