Maurice Major

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Maurice Major
Maurice W. Major headshot.png
PhD university Columbia University

Dr. Maurice W. Major (19 September 1927- 26 February 2007) was professor emeritus of the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). He was a veteran of World War II.

Major studied physics at Brown University, he worked for a brief time with the Pure Oil Company. Dr. Major received his Ph.D. from Columbia University, where he was a student of Maurice Ewing and later of Jack Oliver. He co-authored, with Oliver in 1960 a classic paper on the topic of so-called leaky modes---which is to say, incompletely trapped seismic waves---[1]

Dr. Major joined the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines in 1963 as an earthquake seismologist, to direct the new high-gain World Wide Standard Seismograph Network (WWSN) station #43, that was established in a former feldspar mine near the town of Bergen Park, Colorado. This was a fortuitous development, because this coincided with a series of earthquakes associated with the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Disposal Well, which occurred in the early to middle 1960s in Northeast Denver, near the town of Derby. Dr. Major, with Ruth B. Simon compiled a bulletin of these events, including work of a number of graduate students of CSM related to these earthquakes [2].

In Memoriam

In Memoriam, Dr. Maurice W. Major, Newsletter 2007, Department of Geophysics, Colorado School of Mines

Emeritus Professor Maurice Major died February 26, 2007. Dr. Major was a much admired professor in the geophysics department from 1963-1985. He also had a long association with the USGS.

Learning of Dr. Major’s death, his former student Bruce Presgrave (MSc, 1979) sent the following message to the Department and to colleagues at USGS where he is currently a supervisory geophysicist.

Subject: Sad News about Dr. Maurice Major

Contributed by Bruce Presgrave

For those of you who did not know Dr. Major, he was a Professor of Geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines and Director of the Cecil Green Geophysical Observatory in Bergen Park, one of the original stations of the old Worldwide Standard Seismograph Network stations. Maurice was in charge of the observatory during the swarm of induced earthquakes in “Derby” (now Commerce City, CO) during the 1960’s. Like Waverly Person [of the USGS], Maurice had a talent for explaining geophysical processes in terms the public could understand, and he was chief spokesperson here in the Denver area during that swarm.

A good storyteller who never took himself too seriously, he participated in one of the earlier versions of ocean-bottom-seismometrics. He was principal investigator of a seismology project in the Aleutian Islands in the 1970’s and while towing a seismometer to the island of Semisopochnoi, it was swamped by heavy seas and sank. While most people would have avoided discussing this unfortunate incident, Maurice carefully plotted the “deep-sixed” location on a large map in the Green Center that showed the rest of the network, then just waited for some innocent grad stu- dent to ask the question “Why is this station out in the middle of the channel?” His an- swer was always “That’s our ocean-bottom seismometer” and proceed with enthusiasm to tell the story.

In 1973-74, he was instrumental in the National Earthquake Information Center moving to the School of Mines campus when it was transferred from NOAA to the USGS.

After retiring from CSM, Maurice became a “gentleman farmer” on the Eastern Plains of Colorado, north of Burling- tonIt was my interview with him in 1973 that convinced me that CSM was where I wanted to do my graduate studies. Maurice was my advisor and friend.

(And yes, I was one of the innocent grad students drawn in by his OBS)


  1. Jack Oliver and Maurice Major, 1960, Leaking modes and the PL phase, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America April 1960 50:165-180
  2. Major, M.W., and Simon, R.B., 1968, A seismic study of the Denver (Derby) earthquakes, 'in' Hollister, J.C., and Weimer, R.J., eds., Geophysical and geological studies of the relationships between the Denver earthquakes and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal well: Colorado School of Mines Quarterly, v. 63, no. 1, p. 9-55.