John Christopher Harrison

Date of Birth

May 20, 1929

Date of Death

October 2, 2018

John Christopher Harrison died peacefully in his sleep on October 2, 2018 after a four-month illness.

John Christopher, “Chris”, was born in Stockton-on-Tees in northeastern England in 1929. He received his B.A. in physics in 1950, and Ph.D. in geophysics in 1953, both from the University of Cambridge. He spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA before returning to Britain to serve two years as an Instructor-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. His assignments there included mapping gravity around the continent of Africa using submarine-borne instrumentation. He returned to UCLA in 1957 as a research scientist, where he was involved in developing surface ship gravimetry, and the first observations of the Earth’s free oscillations. From 1961 – 1965 he was a research geophysicist at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, CA. In 1960 Chris married Elaine Millar, with whom he raised three children. In 1965 Chris moved with his young family to Boulder Colorado, in part to be close to his sister Margaret Jennifer, and her family, and to take up a position of professor of geological sciences at University of Colorado (C.U.) at Boulder.

During his twenty three years in Boulder, Chris dedicated himself to raising his family, to teaching, and to scientific research. At C.U. Chris established the interdepartmental graduate program in geophysics, and was a founding director of the Cooperative Institute for Research In Environmental Sciences (CIRES), an enterprise that now employs more than 800 environmental scientists working to understand the dynamic Earth system, including our human relationship with the planet. Chris left C.U. and moved to Santa Barbara in 1983. In Santa Barbara he was employed as a research scientist at Geodynamics Corporation developing differential GPS measurements as a tool to map the Earth’s surface gravity.

Chris was a long-time member of the flute section of the Santa Barbara Prime Time Band. Because he had a great interest in encouraging young people to learn and play instrumental music, he served for many years with the Santa Barbara Symphony’s Music Van, a program for elementary students. He and Elaine were also regular volunteers at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum and the Museum’s annual Art Walk.

After Elaine passed, Chris married the second love of his life, Rosemarie, in 2005. He and Rosemarie met in the Prime Time Band, and shared many interests. They enjoyed music, traveling and spending time with their families and their dog, Beauty. Chris was dedicated Rosemarie, his children, Kirsteen Anderson, Fiona Harrison, and Keith Harrison, his step-children Mia McElwee and Mario DiSandro, and his twelve surviving grandchildren. In addition to his scientific legacy, Chris will be remembered always as a most beloved husband, parent, and grandfather.


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