Arthur Gibbs Sylvester

Date of Birth

February 16, 1938

Date of Death

May 2, 2023

City of Death

Santa Barbara, CA

Arthur G. Sylvester, UCSB Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences, author of three books, and beloved husband, father, and grandfather, died May 2, 2023 in Santa Barbara. He was 85.

Esteemed as a broad geologic thinker and field scientist of great vision and integrity, Art’s research on tectonic rock formations spanned California, from Lake Tahoe to the Salton Sea, the Mojave Desert to the Transverse Ranges—as well as the globe, across mountains and volcanoes in Norway, Iceland, Hawaii, and Italy.

According to the UCSB Earth Sciences Department, “he was a guiding presence in the department for over 50 years. He inspired literally thousands of students through his passion for field studies, building a vast army of devoted mentees. He leaves behind a towering legacy.”

Born to Dorothy Pritchard and Jack Sylvester in Altadena, CA in 1938, Arthur grew up in South Pasadena. After graduating from Pomona College, Art married Diane Stubblefield in June 1961, and the young couple embarked a whirlwind, life-changing honeymoon year in Norway, where Art studied the evolution of granitic plutons as a Fulbright Scholar. He earned his MA in 1963 and PhD in 1966 from UCLA.

In 1972-1974, with Diane and their two children, he returned to Norway to direct the University of California’s Scandinavian Study Center at the University of Bergen. Three decades later, Art again returned to Norway as a Fulbright Research Scholar, enhancing his body of work on Norwegian granite.

A gifted prose editor, he oversaw the Geological Society of America’s journal, The Bulletin, for five years. Myriad research papers and books were improved by his knack for clear writing and his eagle eye, and he was proud to receive the University of California’s President’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring (1995) and the UCSB Academic Senate’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in the Mathematical, Physical, and Life Sciences (1997). The UCSB graduate students in geology honored him with their Faculty Member of the Year award in 1999. The undergraduate students did so too, in 2000.

After retirement, Art brought his zest to his local community. He served as president of the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society, became an FAA-certified small drone pilot to help ecologists understand wildfire habitat recovery, and wrote three books: Roadside Geology of Southern California, Geology Underfoot in Southern California (2nd ed), and Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and Eastern California (2nd ed). In 2023, Art was awarded a Career Contribution Award (presented posthumously) by the Geological Society of America’s Structure and Tectonics Division.

Like us all, Art contained multitudes a death notice can’t capture. Manly when defending himself from polar bears in northern Norway, whimsical when running model trains in his backyard, BFFs with a golden retriever, he was curious, generous, humble, and wise. His three grandchildren adored him and their years together concocting camping expeditions, musical adventures, sports challenges, and feats of derring-do.

Art is survived by his wife of 62 years, Diane; daughters Karin McCarty and Kathryn Bowers; son-in-law Andrew Bowers; and grandchildren Connor McCarty, Caroline McCarty, and Emma Bowers. He was predeceased by son-in-law, Brian McCarty.

The UCSB campus flag will be lowered to half-staff in his honor on June 7th. Gifts in his memory may be made to UCSB’s Arthur G. Sylvester Summer Field Fund (


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