Donald Rockwell

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Donald Rockwell
Donald W. Rockwell headshot.png
BSc Geology (BA)
MSc Geology
BSc university Columbia University
MSc university Cornell University


The Reginald Fessenden Award

Contributed by Melvan D. Carter

Donald Rockwell received the Reginald Fessenden Award in 1994.

Biography Citation

Geophysicists who have gained the stature to be considered for a major SEG award are most often distinguished in one of the following categories: vision, teaching, management, and exploration. There are those scientists with the genius of seeing the future. This vision is usually in the area of problem definition which leads eventually to a solution. The second category are geophysicists who have that special talent for teaching. This transmission of knowledge is more than the simple exchange of ideas, it is the activation of a thirst for answers. Category three is the area of management. The ability to create a successful team or company is another measure of the leadership of a man. The final category are those men referred to by their peers as "oil finders." This innate power to find oil with whatever tools are at hand is another of the special gifts so often found in those we honor.

Don Rockwell has excelled in all four of these areas. His vision of the migration process occurred in the 1950s and was patented while the rest of the industry thought migration was something birds do twice a year. When the digital revolution burst upon the scene in the early 1960s, Don conducted classes in both South America and Europe for GSI. In the early 1970s, Don took over as the manager of Exploration Services for GSI. This group was designed to find oil using old and new technologies under a wide range of areas and conditions. Don's first published study was about extending the Golden Lane Field near Tampico, Mexico. This article was published in the AAPG Bulletin Vol. 37, No. 11, in 1953 with the chief geophysicist of Pemex, Antonio García-Rojas, as coauthor. Throughout his long career, he has always recognized that the purpose of problem-solving is to find oil. For his contribution and vision in the fields of refraction and migration, the SEG has chosen to honor Donald W. Rockwell with the Reginald Fessenden Gold Medal.

Don began his formal education at Columbia University where he received a bachelor's degree, with honors, in geology (1939). After geologic camp through the University of Wyoming, he completed his course work for a master's at Cornell University in 1940. Two-year tours with Freeport Sulphur Company and the USGS followed, then he joined United Geophysical Company in 1944, working in the western United States and in Brazil. In 1949, Don joined Geophysical Service, Inc. where he progressed from party chief to vice-president for South America. Retiring from GSI in 1974, Don continued to consult for GeoQuest International, the USGS, DeGolyer & McNaughton, and several clients in Latin America through the World Bank. His retirement and consulting work have not dimmed his probing quest for knowledge. He simply changed offices, bought a computer, taught himself programming and continued his efforts to find oil using the tools of mathematics and science.

Publications of this author have a tendency to end up in special volumes. His 1960 paper, "A general wave-front method," is in Seismic Refraction Prospecting, SEG 1967. His 1969 paper on full-wave migration entitled "Migration Stack aids interpretation," is in Migration of Seismic Data, SEG 1985. In addition to his refraction and migration studies he found time to look into refraction stacking in 1965, digital processing and velocity determination in the North Sea in 1967, three-dimensional applications of common tangent stack in 1969, migration before stack in 1970, and exploration data base systems in 1973.

Don's wife Daphne and their three children have traveled all over the world and shared the special vision of this dedicated scientist. Don and Daphne are currently living in Novato, California, with an occasional visit to Mexico.

Don has touched many lives with his magic and I am proud to mention just a few of his many contributions. In Donald W. Rockwell the SEG is recognizing one of the best of the best.

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Donald Rockwell
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