Moses Widess

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Moses B. Widess (1911-1998), was a pioneer in seismic exploration and was a recipient of SEG's Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award,


Dudley, D., Krider, E., Widess, P., Schmitt, D., Burianyk, M., and Sherif, H. (1999). ”Memorials.” The Leading Edge, 18(2), 275–277.

Contributed by Paul Widess

Moses B. Widess (1911-1998, a pioneer in seismic exploration and winner of SEG’s Kauffman Gold Medal, died 16 August 1998 in Walnut Creek, California, at the age of 86. He was born in 1911 in Sverdlovsk, Russia, where his father dealt in emeralds mined in the nearby Ural Mountains. To escape the Russian Revolution, his family crossed Siberia, eventually settling in Pasadena, California. Moe grew up there and attended the California Institute of Technology, from which he received his Ph.D. (cum laude) in 1936.

He met his future wife, Anneliese, while she was visiting her relative, the eminent Caltech seismologist Beno Gutenberg. Contact with Gutenberg inspired Moe to go into seismology as applied to the then young field of petroleum exploration. Upon graduation Moe joined Western Geophysical. In 1941 he moved to Amoco Production Company (then Stanolind Oil and Gas) where he was involved in special projects as division geophysical consultant until his retirement in 1973.

Moe’s long career included many contributions to the field. His first paper, published in GEOPHYSICS in 1940, stemmed from his discovery in 1937 that unmigrated reflection time cross-sections are generally better suited to initial interpretation than the migrated depth sections then in use (each original dip pick being migrated manually). The concept of unmigrated time cross-sections led to a 1943 paper on multiple branches of a reflection horizon timedistance curve in the case of a buried focus. It was not until the advent of CDP profiling and modern migration that multiple branching of reflections became widely recognized by the industry. Other pioneering papers dealt with the effect of overburden on velocity (1946), a definitive treatment of velocity profiling methods (1952), and seismic reflections from layering within the Precambrian complex (1959). In 1977 he received SEG’s Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal for his numerous contributions to geophysics. The citation made special mention of his classic paper on resolution, “How thin is a thin bed?” This paper, originally published by the Geophysical Society of Tulsa in 1958 and then by GEOPHYSICS in 1973, is still regularly cited. During his career, Moe wrote innumerable tutorial and innovative reports for intracompany consumption and received 12 patents.

Moe was an active and influential member of SEG for 60 years. He served four years as Chairman of the Publications Committee where his principal contribution was to inaugurate the SEG Monograph Series. He was elected editor of the Geophysical Society of Tulsa in 1957 and president of the Fort Worth Geophysical Society in 1964. During his term the Fort Worth Geophysical Society began to participate in annual science fairs. Based on this experience, Moe instigated SEG participation in the annual International Science Fair. He also served as program chairman for two SEG Midwestern Meetings. The 1968 meeting featured an outstanding symposium on stratigraphic traps. The final tone, incidentally, was optimistic with regard to ultimate seismic exploration for them. After he retired, Moe manifested considerable talent as a painter. Eventually, he returned to his first love, science, devoting his attention and passion to exploring some basic problems in physics.

He is survived by two sons and a grandson, all of Berkeley, California.