Lawrence Alexander Hardie, a retired Johns Hopkins University geology professor who successfully challenged an assumption about ocean salinity, died of complications from Alzheimer's disease Dec. 17 at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, Calif. The former Pasadena and Windsor Hills resident was 80.
Born in Durban, South Africa, he earned a degree at the University of Natal in that city and moved to Baltimore in 1960 for graduate study in geology at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Hardie earned his doctorate in 1965 and joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in the department of earth and planetary sciences. He mentored more than 30 graduate students who received doctorates and also taught an evening-school course in geology that was popular with students who needed to fulfill a science requirement.
"For nearly 50 years, he inspired students and colleagues through his devotion to science, personal integrity, and commitment to the welfare of others," said Peter Olson, a department colleague. "His legacy was his mentoring of his students. Geology is different from other fields in academia. His forte was taking students into the field and showing them the geological formations that could never have been experienced in a classroom."
Dr. Olson said that Dr. Hardie passed his knowledge to his students with firsthand guidance, observations and generous assistance.
For many summers in the 1960s and 1970s, he ran a field lab, Camp Singewald, near Clearspring, west of Hagerstown. There he instructed undergraduate and graduate students in the Central Appalachian region. He also made arrangements with neighboring farmers to visit rock outcroppings in their fields.
"It was an open scientific environment, but there was a lot of Frisbee time and creek crawling, too," said his daughter, Debbie Buettner of Seaside, Calif. "My mother did the cooking."
In the spring semester, he took students to the tidelands of Wachapreague, Va., south of Assateague. There he boated to remote areas to show them wave deposits and dunes.
He also studied limestone in the Florida Keys and visited the Gulf of California. He once undertook studies in a remote island of the Bahamas, but found he was unwelcome when illegal drug traffickers seized control of the spot. He also spent months in the Dolomites in Italy.
His daughter said his doctoral thesis was on the salt flats in Saline Valley near Death Valley in California.
"Geology is a boots-on-the-ground science," said his daughter. "My father was a little bit of a maverick. The assumption had been that the salt level in the ocean's waters was constant though the ages. He challenged that, and it was scientific heresy at the time."
Dr. Hardie studied chemical sediments he collected around the globe. That research led him to propose that the composition of seawater has undergone variations over geologic time.
He determined that the salinity of seawater arises from the interaction of mid-ocean rocks and hydrothermal vents on the seafloor.
He was awarded the Francis J. Pettijohn Medal by the Society for Sedimentary Geology in 2003 in recognition of his work.
Dr. Hardie was chair of his department from 1992 to 1995 and again in 2006.
Dr. Hardie also influenced his son, Russell Hardie of Dayton, Ohio, to become an electrical engineer and a professor at the University of Dayton.
Dr. Olson recalled Dr. Hardie as a "good precision golfer" who liked to play the Clifton Park course in Northeast Baltimore. As he walked the greens, he pointed out the gardens and stables that once belonged to the university's founder, Johns Hopkins, who used the former estate as his summer residence. Dr. Hardie called his golfing expeditions his "field trips."
As a young man, he played soccer for a South African team.
Dr. Hardie was also a skier who enjoyed introducing his students to local slopes. He sailed the Magothy River and the Chesapeake Bay after moving to Pasadena from Windsor Hills in the mid-1970s.
A memorial service at the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus is planned for the spring.
In addition to his daughter and son, survivors include his wife of 52 years, the former Glenys Kathleen Smith; and five grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun