Ernest Kanasewich

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Ernest Kanasewich
Ernest P. Kanasewich headshot.gif
Membership Honorary Membership

Ernest R. (Ernie) Kanasewich (1931–1998) was a pioneer in the development of active source seismology as a tool in the exploration both of hydrocarbon resources and of the Earth's crust and upper-most mantle,

Obituary [1]

Ernest R. (Ernie) Kanasewich (1931–1998), a pioneer in the development of active source seismology as a tool in the exploration both of hydrocarbon resources and of the Earth's crust and upper-most mantle, died in Edmonton, Alberta, on June 19, 1998, at the age of 67.

Born in rural Saskatchewan, Ernie received his B.Sc. in physics at the University of Alberta in 1952. He was introduced to geophysics when hired as a seismologist at Geophysical Services Incorporated, a subsidiary of Texas Instruments. He worked in both Canada and the Middle East for 6 formative years, during which he gained considerable practical knowledge of the capabilities of seismic methods. He returned to the University of Alberta to complete an M.Sc. in physics in 1960 on gravity methods in the nascent geophysics program begun under George Garland. He obtained his Ph.D.with R.Don Russell in 1962 on newly developed methods of isotopic lead age dating. He took a record 2 years for his Ph.D. research, and the work even resulted in publications with implications for cosmology Ernie returned to the Department of Physics at the University of Alberta in 1963 as an assistant professor rising to full professor of physics in 1971. Aside from a 1-year sabbatical as a research associate professor at the Seismological Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, he remained at the University of Alberta until his retirement in 1996. Despite a severe pulmonary illness, Ernie continued his research and writing until the end. He was scheduled to present a scientific paper at the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists the day before his passing. He was heavily involved in the department, having served as the associate chair from 1967 to 1973 and as acting chair from 1973 to 1974. He served as chair over the very difficult period of severe funding cutbacks from 1991 to 1996. He was also director of the Institute of Geophysics, Meteorology, and Space Physics from 1991 to 1993.

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership

Ernest R. Kanasewich received his bachelor's in physics (1952) and master's (1960) from the University of British Columbia. He obtained his early experience as a geophysicist with Geophysical Service International Corporation between 1952 and 1956 in Canada and the Middle East. After working as a postdoctoral fellow at UBC for a year, he was appointed to the University of Alberta, where he is currently a professor and chair of the Department of Physics.

Kanasewich was a research associate at the California Institute of Technology. He was also director of the Institute of Geophysics, Meteorology and Splice Physics from 1991 to 1993. In the early 1980s, he and six other geophysicists, geologists, and geochemists were instrumental in launching the Lithoprobe project. A Canadian geoscientific research program which now receives in excess of $500 000 annually, it involves a collaborative effort to extend and relate surface geology to structures at depth. It has involved international level cooperation with programs in the USA, Hungary, Japan, and several European Community countries. Kanasewich's main research activities continue toward the advancement of major earth science projects such as Lithoprobe, seismic tomography, and 2-D and 3-D migration.

Ernest Kanasewich has carried out wide-ranging scientific investigations in diverse fields. He has been co-founder of several national scientific projects notably COCRUST and Lithoprobe. Some other specific scientific innovations include:

1) Developing a method of recording deep (5 to 60 km) seismic reflection data (1968) when previously it was thought that useful reflectors did not exist below about 5 km. With this method he discovered a buried east-west trending Precambrian rift in southern Alberta and trending through Kimberly, British Columbia, thus establishing an origin for the lead deposits in BC similar to those currently being formed in hot brine areas of the Red Sea.
2) Using seismic arrays to discover and image significant velocity anomalies at the crust-mantle boundary of the earth.
3) Finding new methods of seismic inversion (p-tau method), tomography, and 2-D and 3-D migration for imaging steam injection heavy oil recovery projects and also the deep interior of the earth.
4) Determining the plate motions and mantle convection during the last 500 million years over the entire earth using paleomagnetic data.
5) Developing a new method for the analysis of lead isotope ratios which previously were discarded as anomalous and not useful for age determination. This method has been verified independently by the K-Ar. the Rb-Sr, and the Pb-U method, and was used to establish that there were extensive areas of the earth's subsurface with rocks at least 3.6 billion years old. This was well before measurements on lunar rocks and the more recent ones establishing ages of 4 billion years at various places on the earth.

Ernest Kanasewich has authored two books, one of which has been translated and published in Russian. He has published 118 papers and has recently been commissioned to author a book relating to Alberta oil sands research and development. A member of editorial boards of the Journal of Seismic Exploration and the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists, he is also a member of the board of examiners of the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta: transect leader of the Lithoprobe-Alberta Basement Transect, and a member of the Scientific Review Group on Nuclear Fuel Waste Management for the Federal Environment Assessment Review Organization.

As the first Distinguished Lecturer for the Canadian Geophysical Union, 1990-91, he lectured throughout Canada. In 1975, Kanasewich was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has been recognized with awards such as the International Nickel Company Fellowship, the J. Tuzo Wilson Medal, and the University of Alberta McCalla Professorship in 1989-90.

Throughout his career, Kanasewich has played an active role in the community external to the university and research environment. He has served as board member of his church and also as coordinator of Ukrainian Cultural and Language Programs in Edmonton, Alberta. He was a musical conductor and arranger for a mandolin orchestra which performed for more than a decade in various communities in Western Canada.

Honorable Mention (Geophysics) 1988

E. R. Kanasewich and S.M. Phadke received 1988 Honorable Mention (Geophysics) for their paper Imaging discontinuities on seismic sections.[2]

SEG Best Paper in Geophysics Award 1968

R. M. Clowes, E. R. Kanasewich, and G. L. Cumming received the 1968 SEG Best Paper in Geophysics Award for their paper Deep crustal seismic reflections at near-vertical incidence [3]


  1. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union Volume 80, Issue 4, page 38, 26 January 1999
  2. Kanasewich, E. R. and S. M. Phadke (1988) Imaging discontinuities on seismic sections GEOPHYSICS 53(3):334.
  3. Clowes, R. M., E. R. Kanasewich, and G. L. Cumming (1969), Deep crustal seismic reflections at near-vertical incidence, Geophysics 33(3):441.