Geophysics Laboratory of the University of Toronto

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Geophysics Laboratory of the University of Toronto

The Geophysics Laboratory of the University of Toronto was honored with a Distinguished Achievement Award for its contributions to the science of geophysics in general and exploration geophysics in particular over the past 160 years. The Laboratory has produced more than 300 graduate degrees in geophysics and educated several times that number at the undergraduate level. Many of these graduates have gone on to distinguished careers in exploration geophysics, and three have been awarded SEG’s Maurice Ewing Medal. Geophysics students around the world have used the famous textbook by Toronto Professors Grant and West in their studies. The Laboratory is a world renowned center of research in mining geophysics. Methods like the induced polarization technique and the UTEM time domain EM method were invented at the Laboratory, and significant advances in multifrequency EM and magnetotellurics have come from Toronto reseachers. SEG is pleased to recognize the Geophysics Laboratory of the University of Toronto for its long history of excellence in teaching, research, and dissemination of geophysical knowledge.

Citation for the SEG Distinguished Achievement Award

Contributed by Richard Bailey

A 1991 article in THE LEADING EDGE described the 150th anniversary of the beginnings of geophysics at the University of Toronto. The great mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt encouraged the Royal Society of London to establish magnetic observatories worldwide to study the earth’s magnetic field. The Toronto geomagnetic observatory was subsequently built on campus in 1840.

The study of exploration geophysics began in the late 1920s when the Geological Survey of Canada charged Lachlan Gilchrist, a professor of physics, to examine the physical soundness of electrical and magnetic methods used to establish mining claims. Gilchrist realized that, despite possibilities for fraud, there was indeed considerable scope for such methods in mineral exploration. He founded an undergraduate program and sowed the seeds that would make Toronto and its university a world center of mining exploration geophysics—a high-technology area in which Canada is pre-eminent. Gilchrist was joined at the university by Arthur Brant and Normal Keevil Sr. Brant later founded the Newmont team (that included Harold Seigel) which developed induced polarization. Keevil established geochronology at the university and became president of Teck Corporation. When asked to name a Canadian scientist and the theory he developed, Canadian students place John Tuzo Wilson and plate tectonics at the top of their lists. Tuzo arrived at the university in 1946 and was active into the 1990s. His work is critical to our understanding of the origin of petroleum and mineral deposits. He was joined briefly in 1948 by Edward Bullard and later by Jack Jacobs who carried on geomagnetism research. In the last 50 years, the lab has grown into a center of excellence in both exploration and planetary geophysics, with nearly 300 graduate students from around the world

Gordon West made major contributions to electromagnetic methods, including the UTEM system; David Strangway developed audio magnetotellurics; the late Fraser Grant and George Garland worked on potential field methods; Christopher Chapman, Jim Savage, and Ralphe Wiggins on seismic waveform analysis and tomography; Nigel Edwards and Dick Bailey on electrical and magnetotelluric techniques. Tectonic processes that create resources received attention from Derek York, who developed laser argon-argon dating; Ron Farquhar and Don Russell with lead isotope analyses; David Dunlop, using rock and paleomagnetic methods; Jerry Mitrovica and Richard Peltier, continuing the study of geodynamics and geotectonics; and Gordon West, deep seismic studies in Lithoprobe. The group wrote many geophysical books, including the classic text by Grant and West. A university program may be measured by its alumni. Few geophysical companies in the mining industry do not employ Toronto graduates; some even work in oil and gas.

Many were founded or directed by alumni of Toronto who carried innovations from university to industry: Scintrex, Lamontagne Geophysics, 3DX, Paterson, Grant and Watson, Geonics, Controlled Geophysics, and HighSense, are a few of them. Research labs around the world have also benefited from Toronto’s geophysics graduates: Rob Clayton (Caltech), Peter Hood (GSC), George McMechan (Texas A&M), Jim McNae (CRCAMET in Australia), Larry Morley (CCRS), Gary Olhoeft (USGS), Minoru Ozima (Tokyo), Rob Stewart (Calgary), Jim Wait (Arizona), Stan Ward (Berkeley and Utah) and Ken Watson (USGS), to name just a very few. Alumni serving SEG in executive and editorial capacities include Peter Duncan, Ward, Strangway, Edwards, Dave Boerner, Peter Cary, and Mark Everett.

It is hard to find an area of geophysics, particularly in the mining industry, not infiltrated by Toronto alumni and the technology they carried with them. With luck, our great-great-grandchildren will see another TLE article covering the next 150 years