Eugen Merten

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Eugen Merten was a German physicist hired by Royal Dutch Shell c. 1925, and was a charter member of the SEG. Merten was a long time innovator with Shell, who helped Shell enter the world of refraction seismic, and to leave it for reflection seismic methods, including being an innovator in offshore seismic technology.

There are several historical references to Eugen Merten.

Merten hired by Royal Dutch Shell c. 1925

In J. Brian Eby's autobiography, My two roads" "In the Hague the Royal Dutch Shell hired a young man named Eugen Merten, (c. 1925) a German physicist and started him with a Schweydar mechanical seismograph for the Gulf Coast...."[1]

Merten at the Gulf Coast 1926 doing refraction

"Eugen Merten and his wife, Hedwig Martha Clara, along with Frederick W. Oudt, E. C. (Curt) Reinhardt, arrived in Houston in October 1926 to implement the use of Bataafsche (Royal Dutch Shell) refraction seismographs in Texas. Merton was a trained geophysical engineer and seismologist, a mathematical genius and, as I soon found out, absolutely opposed to accepting any type of administrative responsibility. He fulfilled all the qualifications of a true scientist...." "...Merten's first field headquarters were Angleton and his assignment included shooting the shooting of the Allens and Clemens Salt Domes to test his seismographs. [2]

Merton outlined the deep-seated Iowa Salt Dome in 1928. It is located several miles east of Lake Charles, Louisiana. [3]

Merten pushes for reflection seismic 1930

Dr. Eugen Merten, who in three years had demonstrated himself as the leading geophysical scientist in the Shell organization, had by January 1930 drawn attention to the declining value and dependability of refraction seismograph. Admittedly refraction had found hundreds of salt dome structures and hundreds of producing oil fields in the coastal area and many hundreds more the world over. Now however newer instruments and newer methods were urgently needed and reflection seismograph was Merten's recommendation.

On September 1, 1930, devoted his full attention to developing a Shell Oil Company competence in the art of the reflection seismograph. About March 1 of the next year I (Eby) was visiting Merten's first reflection party near Luling, Texas, watching him testing its equipment...[4]

Merten at the Bellaire Lab c. 1936

In an article from The Leading Edge" Dr. Eugen Merten is described as being a brilliant but eccentric geophysicist working with Shell at its Bellaire lab[5] and as being a German who spoke English with such a strong accent that he was difficult to understand. He was a very remarkable man. I don ’ t know what he had done in Germany but whatever it was, it had caused Shell to trust this one man with virtually all of its seismic exploration for the previous 5-6 years in Louisiana. Texas, and Mexico.”[6] Merten was a Charter Member of SEG.

Another reference to Dr. Merten may be found in a history of Shell Oil's offshore petroleum exploration efforts The offshore imperative Shell Oil in 1936 established at Bellaire a lab for geophysical research, which thrived after the war in connection with the larger BRC research center. A group of highly trained technical men assumbled under Frank Goldstone, chief geophysicist, did much work on improving geophysical instrumentation. The workshop facilities at the lab were directed by German scientist Eugen Merten, a classic inventor who employed common materials and homemade gadgets to solve technical problems. Under Merten Shell built its own seimometers using prototype mechanical and optical devices. Dr. Merten invented as he talked, on and off duty, whether it was adapting seismic instruments to marine operations or designing a new surgical tool for his opthamologist. On Halloween, ringing the doorbell at the Merten home triggered a flash of electronic lightening that dazzled trick-or-treaters. While his pranks brought levity to the lab, Merten's inventiveness helped Shell develop theories about sound waves that led to better interpretation of seismic data. Shell's seismic capabilities were among the best in the industry."[7]

Merten and offshore seismic, 1947, director of the Shell Geophysical Research Laboratory, Houston

"A recurrent problem for Kerr-McGee was ocean currents or snagged debris breaking the cable. In 1947, German scientist Eugen Merten, director of the new Shell Geophysical Research Laboratory in Houston, solved the cable problem by floating it rather than weighting it to the ocean floor. But the real breakthrough came from Roy Paslay, who had been engaged in anti-torpedo research for the US Navy during World War II and afterwards joined the National Geophysical Company founded by the brother of Henry Salvatori. Paslay and colleagues patented an oil-filled float or streamer containing hydrophones—devices that are pressure sensitive as opposed to geophones that are motion sensitive—to pick up the incoming seismic energy, and in-built vacuum-tube amplifiers to maintain signal strength along the streamer. Their initial streamer consisted of eight 300-foot sections, each section containing three hydrophones." [8]



  1. Eby, J. .B (1974) My two roads, Pacesetter Press, Houston, p. 89-90
  2. Eby, J. .B (1974) My two roads, Pacesetter Press, Houston, p. 92.
  3. Eby, J. .B (1974) My two roads, Pacesetter Press, Houston, p. 96.
  4. Eby, J. .B (1974) My two roads, Pacesetter Press, Houston, p. 97.
  5. Lawyer, Lee, (1998). ”From the Other Side.” The Leading Edge, 17(3), 298-413.
  6. Dean Clark (1989). ”John P. Woods.” The Leading Edge, 8(7), 46-48. doi: 10.1190/1.1439643
  7. Priest, Tyler. The offshore imperative: Shell Oil’s search for petroleum in postwar America. Vol. 19. Texas A&M University Press, 2009.
  8. Groundbreakers: The story of oilfield technology and the people who made it happen, by Mark Mau and Henry Edmundson, with illustrations by Abigail Whitehead, 2015, 462 p. Published by Fast-Print Publishing of Peterborough, England.,