Norman Daniel Whitmore, Jr.

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Norman Daniel Whitmore, Jr.
Dan Whitmore headshot.png
Latest company PGS
BSc Physics
MSc Mathematics
BSc university Wartburg College in Iowa
MSc university Iowa State University

Norman Daniel (Dan) Whitmore pioneered the use of reverse-time migration (RTM). In the migration workshop at the 1982 SEG Annual Meeting, Dan stunned the audience with the fi rst publicly shown RTM image, of an overhanging Gulf Coast salt dome. Th is application and the subsequent developments of RTM are documented by Levin in “Principle of reversetime migration” (GEOPHYSICS, 1984). Shortly after Whitmore’s initial presentation, three nearly identical RTM algorithms were presented by McMechan (1983), Baysal et al. (1983), and Whitmore (1983). Dan’s use of prestack RTM on the VSP depth migration of a salt dome received Honorable Mention for Best Paper in GEOPHYSICS in 1986. While RTM is today recognized as the most general depth migration method, Dan’s pioneering research and application to production processing took place three decades earlier. Whitmore has dozens of other depth-migration papers in SEG publications, a widely cited PhD thesis on plane wave depth-migration, and has recently shown how RTM can utilize multiple refl ections for imaging.

Biography Citation for the Reginald Fessenden Award

Contributed by John T. Etgen and Sverre Brandsberg-Dahl

The early 1970s saw many talented scientists leave behind their classical training and take up the challenges of turning reflection seismology, particularly seismic data processing, into a modern, computationally intensive, scientific discipline. Among these scientists was a young math and physics graduate of Wartburg College in Iowa. While finishing his master’s degree in mathematics at Iowa State, hoping to get a PhD in Operations Research, he happened to be visited by Ken Kelly, another Iowa State alum, who was already paving new ground in seismic modeling at Amoco Production Research Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma with the likes of Rusty Alford, and Sven Treitel. Ken must have seen something in Dan, and the interview trip must have gone smoothly, as soon Dan found himself in Tulsa; the year was 1974.

Dan’s first assignment was to help with Amoco’s pioneering work in finite-difference wave propagation. Something about watching those early simulations of wave propagation created an inspiration for Dan. We don’t know for sure, but maybe one of those days while looking at how a modeled wavefield propagated and reflected from the many layers and boundaries in the model, he must have said to himself: “I can image the subsurface by running those waves backwards in TIME, and that will be the best seismic imaging method ever.” Other groups were already moving waves backward in depth, but as we all know, that requires considerable re-engineering of the wave equation into something it doesn’t want to be. By 1978, Dan had a working 2D poststack reverse time migration code. Of course it was revolutionary compared to the other methods of the day; so Dan was charged with deploying that new capability to Amoco’s business groups. His groundbreaking work was not reported in the geophysical literature until 1983, when the much cited “Iterative depth migration by backward time propagation” was published in SEG’s Annual Meeting Expanded Abstracts.

While the name changed a little bit, from “backward time” to “reverse time”, RTM has been with us ever since. Dan never lost his love of working on real data and solving real business/seismic imaging challenges. During his career at Amoco, Dan worked on just about every complex imaging problem encountered by the business: from the salt domes of the Gulf coast to the thrust belt of Wyoming to the North Sea to the Canadian foot hills and many more. From the Tulsa Research Center, Dan was a relentless force behind moving migration algorithms into the prestack domain. Dan’s work on time-delay encoding schemes for imaging, described in his 1995 PhD thesis, again illustrated his ability to produce practical solutions to complex problems at hand. Dan combined RTM as well as many other popular imaging algorithms with line and plane-wave sources creating computationally efficient approaches to prestack depth migration before computers enabled prestack migration with individual shot records. After leaving Amoco in 1999, Dan joined Phillips, later ConocoPhillips, where he continued his work on depth migration and velocity analysis, serving as Geoscience Fellow until 2009. He then joined PGS as a principal research geophysicist.

We are fortunate to have worked closely with Dan during our careers. Beyond the incredible breadth and depth of Dan’s theoretical and practical knowledge, what we appreciated the most about working with Dan was his willingness to work with young and experienced scientists alike. There is now a large crop of geophysicists that have enjoyed his mentoring and gentle personality in various phases of their careers.

Honorable Mention (Geophysics) 2001

Samuel H. Gray, John Etgen, Joe Dellinger, and Dan Whitmore received 2001 Honorable Mention (Geophysics) for their paper Seismic migration problems and solutions.[1]


  1. Gray, S. H., et al. (2001 Seismic migration problems and solutions, GEOPHYSICS 66(5):1622.