Derek Fairhead

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Derek Fairhead
J. Derek Fairhead headshot.png
Latest company GETECH


SEG is honoring J. Derek Fairhead with a Special Commendation for his numerous compilations of oil-company and public-domain gravity and magnetic data. Starting with the African gravity project (1986-88), Derek has solicited and compiled data for 12 potential-field grids in South America, Australasia, West-East Europe, and North-Central Asia. These compilations have proved to be immensely useful to both private companies and academia.

Biography Citation for the SEG Special Commendation

Contributed by Patrick S. Millegan

J. Derek Fairhead received a B.Sc. in geology and physics in 1967 from the University of Durham. He focused on geophysics in graduate school and earned a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Newcastle with geophysical studies of the East African Rift. In 1972 he joined the Department of Earth Sciences at Leeds University.

Derek’s research interest was using potential-field techniques to investigate the crust/mantle structure associated with extensional tectonics in Africa. In 1985, while on sabbatical in the United States and frustrated that academically important data was proprietary property of oil companies, he formulated plans for the African Gravity Project. This project, sponsored by 16 oil companies, brought together proprietary and public domain gravity data for both onshore and offshore Africa. As part of this project, a new computer laboratory was established in the Department of Earth Sciences and the latest computing and color plotting facilities were purchased. The success of the AGP provided the oil industry with the most complete gravity grid ever compiled for the African Continent. Since then, Derek has directed many more impressive projects: African Gravity Project (1986-88); South American Gravity Project (1988-91); African Magnetic Mapping Project (1989-92); Anglo-Brazil Gravity Project (1991-98): West-East Europe Gravity Project (1991-94); South-East Asia Gravity Project (1991-94); South American Magnetic Mapping Project (1993-96); North and Central Asia Gravity Project (1993-95); Mongolian Aeromagnetic Compilation (1992-94); South-East Asia Magnetic Project (1993-95); Eastern Europe Magnetic Project (1995-97); and China Aeromagnetic Mapping Project (1996- 99).

The magnitude of each project was staggering. Derek and his associates traveled all over the world, meeting with governmental entities, national oil companies, universities, private oil companies, and geophysical contractors. Each database for a continent included millions of individual gravity or magnetics readings. These data were reprocessed into unified databases by developing a range of software to handle, manipulate, image, and store them. Most oil companies have used these data sets extensively. But key to Derek’s original plan was embedding academic research rights into each project agreement so that the studies were not lost to the academic community. Derek has published more than 75 papers in learned journals. The extensive continental gravity and magnetic data sets have enabled new studies of lithospheric strength (with Dan McKenzie), the Curie isotherm (Stefan Maus), geodesy (University of São Paulo), isostasy (Tony Watts, Oxford), and lithospheric properties (Institute of Physics of the Earth, Moscow).

In 1991, Derek started GETECH, a full-service gravity/magnetic contracting company. GETECH markets grav/mag database software (an obvious outgrowth of the compilation projects) along with products from the compilations, including nonexclusive regional hydrocarbon related interpretation studies.

GETECH has become a leading research group in fine tuning gravity data derived from satellite altimeter data. This has led to a significant breakthrough in resolution that has resulted in a study funded in 1997 by the oil industry and the U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency. New investigations into the role that tensor gravity can play in oil exploration are being carried out via a three-year ROPA Award (1997-2000) to develop tensor gravity methods to improve the application of 3-D Euler depth interpretation. Results of this study are in press (GEOPHYSICS) and are being presented at SEG’s 1999 Annual Meeting.


Derek has been a regular contributor to special gravity and magnetic issues of THE LEADING EDGE and oral/poster sessions at conventions in all parts of the world. Plus, he is an active member of the SEG Gravity and Magnetics Committee.

J. Derek Fairhead is a unique and talented individual. His contributions to exploration geophysics continue while he creates new opportunities for university students and their training in geophysics.