Charles Bates

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Charles Bates
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Membership Honorary Member

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership 1981

Contributed by Carl H. Savit

Honorary Membership in SEG is conferred on those who have made a distinguished contribution to exploration geophysics or a related field, or to the advancement of the profession of exploration geophysics. During his 40 years of membership in SEG, Charles C. Bates has repeatedly made such contributions, any one of which could have qualified him for Honorary Membership. In the small space allotted for this citation we can mention only the highlights of his distinguished career.

Charlie started out in the oil patch as a geophysical trainee with Carter Oil Co. in 1939 after graduating cum laude from De Paul University. As a draftee in early 1941, he joined the sound ranging section of the Artillery and two years later graduated at the top of his class in military meteorology at the University of Chicago. His first distinguished accomplishment as a geophysicist was correctly predicting surf conditions on the Normandy beaches for the Allied landings on June 6, 1944. For this feat, he was awarded the Bronze Star by the 9th U.S. Air Force with a citation which stated, in part, "He shares a great deal of the responsibility for making the science of oceanography a significant factor in an assault landing."

After the war was over, Bates participated in Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution oceanographic surveys of the Bikini Atoll region preliminary to the 1946 atomic bomb tests. He then began to lead a dual life as an oceanographer with the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office and as a partner and then, an associate with A. H. Glenn and Associates, a firm specializing in providing oceanographic forecasts to the offshore oil industry. After conducting a two-year study of oceanographic conditions along the eastern flank of the Mississippi River delta in conjunction with oyster pollution suits, Charlie took a year off to earn the first Ph.D. degree in oceanography granted by Texas A&M College. Highlights of his doctoral dissertation "A Rational Theory of Delta Formation," were published in the AAPG Bulletin during 1953 and earned him the AAPG President's Award in 1951. Even today, his paper is required reading for graduate students interested in deltaic processes.

In 1960, Dr. Bates joined the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Office of the Secretary of Defense as chief of the Underground Nuclear Test Detection Branch (Project VELA Uniform). During the next five years, he directed the most massive effort in applied geophysics that America has yet mounted. In the words of Dr. Harold Brown, the past Secretary of Defense, he "...created an essentially new field of seismology, more vigorous and more intellectually exciting than the old seismology." Some of these results were summarized in the 1964 VELA Uniform series published in Geophysics.[1] During these years, he was able to forge strong links between government and industry that provided the foundation upon which today's active cooperation is based.

At working levels in both government and industry, there had been at best, a lack of contact and communication or, at worst, an adversary relationship. Today we are enjoying the fruits of Charlie's efforts in many close working relationships throughout government and industry.

In late 1964, Charles Bates became the Scientific and Technical Director of the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office. Almost immediately, he was able to have that office break tradition and farm out extensive marine geophysical surveys to industrial firms on a competitive basis. And in 1968, he became Science Advisor to the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, a role in which he was able to foster close cooperation between that service and American industry.

In the course of all this activity, Charlie found time to write 50 papers and to participate actively in several technical societies. In SEG he served as Vice-President and as a supremely active chairman of its Committee for Cooperation with Government Agencies. In addition, he remained active in military affairs, achieving the rank of Lt. Colonel, U.S. Air Force Reserve, and serving as the first commander of the Research and Development Flight, Washington, D.C. Air Reserve Center.

After thirty-eight years of federal service, Dr. Bates has retired to write the book Geophysics in the Affairs of Man, with two other geophysicists, Robert Rice and Thomas Gaskell. Once this portrayal of our profession is completed, we can only guess where his active mind and forceful personality will lead next, but we can be sure it will be an additional effort toward applying geophysics for the benefit of mankind.