Jack Oliver

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Jack Oliver
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John Ertle (Jack) Oliver (September 26, 1923 – January 5, 2011) was an American seismologist whose major contributions include the establishment of a seismograph network in the South Pacific, and extensive study of the relationship if seismology to global tectonics as well as participation in the Consortium for Continental Reflection Profiling (COCORP) project at Columbia University. For more information see the Wikipedia entry for Jack Oliver (scientist) [1].


Biography Citation for the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award

Contributed by Donald E. Turcotte


It is most appropriate that Sid Kaufman and Jack Oliver are receiving Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Awards for their contributions to the conception and execution of the COCORP Project. Just as this project is a cooperative venture of government, universities, and industry, so too it is a blend of the diverse talents of Sid and Jack.

COCORP is the acronym for the Consortium for Continental Reflection Profiling. It is funded at an annual level of $3,000,000 by the National Science Foundation. A commercial seismic crew is employed full-time to carry out deep seismic reflection profiling. Data are processed and interpreted at the COCORP Headquarters at Cornell University. Committees composed of industry, government, and university scientists oversee the operation of COCORP including site selection and technical operations. COCORP has advanced the technology of seismic data acquisition in deep crustal studies and has contributed valuable new tectonic and geological information regarding deep crustal structure.

The origin of COCORP can be traced to Jack Oliver's assumption of the Chairmanship of Cornell's Department of Geological Sciences in 1971. In order to lead Cornell to a position of eminence in the earth sciences, Jack envisioned a concentration on the problems of continental geology, particularly a deep structure of the continents. Clearly reflection seismic profiling offered exciting possibilities for these studies but the ability to delineate deep structures was questioned by many. Refraction profiling was still the standard technique for obtaining deep data.

In 1973 Jack received a small grant from the NSF to study the feasibility of deep reflection profiling. At about this time Jack learned of Sid's plans to retire from Shell in September of 1973. Jack had known Sid for a number of years and recognized not only the scientific contributions that Sid could make to a seismic reflection project, but also the importance of Sid's contacts in the petroleum industry. Sid came to Cornell as a visiting professor in December of 1973 and remains in that position today. Jack and Sid operated as a team as COCORP evolved into the major research project that it is today. Also making a substantial contribution to COCORP is Larry Brown, recently promoted to associate professor, who is the third member of the Cornell faculty involved with the project.

In order to get COCORP off the ground it was necessary to demonstrate feasibility. Through his industrial contacts Sid was able to obtain data that showed deep reflectors. Some of these data were from Hardeman County, Texas, between Amarillo and Wichita Falls, and this was the site selected for the first COCORP line in March of 1975. Reflections were obtained to a depth of 43 km and some interesting geological problems were resolved as a bonus. The feasibility of the project was demonstrated. Since then over 4,000 km of data have been obtained. A major step forward in the program was the installation of a Megaseis computer at Cornell in 1979. This allows all data processing to be done "in house and has greatly improved the quality and efficiency of the processing. Today COCORP involves five postdoctoral associates, 17 graduate students, a computing staff of 6, as well as the three faculty members.

A number of major discoveries have been made:

1) The mapping of magma chambers beneath the Rio Grande Rift in central New Mexico.
2) The mapping of the Wind River fault (Wyoming) at a near constant angle dip to a depth of at least 25 km. The conclusion was that uplift of the Wind River Range was the result of horizontal compression and the resultant displacement of the Wind River fault.
3) The mapping of a low angle thrust fault beneath the southern Appalachians in Georgia and South Carolina. A thin slice of basement rocks was overthrust several hundred kilometers during a continental collision. The seismic results also indicate that sedimentary with possible petroleum reserves may be buried beneath the near surface slide of basement rocks.
4) The mapping of a low angle fault beneath the Basin and Range structure in southern Utah. These structures may be the result of reverse motion on a low angle thrust fault.

Almost every line that has been run has provided new surprises. It is interesting to see how the evolution of two scientific careers has evolved into a concentration on a pioneering research project.

A characteristic of Jack Oliver is his aggressive concentration on an objective in the face of overwhelming difficulties. It is likely that this attitude can be traced back to the days when Jack played football for Massillon High under Paul Brown, graduating in 1941. His football career continued at Columbia College where be obtained a B.A. in 1947, after serving in the Navy from 1943 to 1946. Jack continues to be an avid sports fan. His abiding interest in geophysics was developed as a graduate student under Maurice Ewing at Columbia, resulting in a Ph.D. in 1953. His association with "Doc" Ewing, the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, and Columbia continued until his departure for Cornell in 1971. From 1969 to 1971 he was Chairman of the Geology Department at Columbia. During his time at Columbia Jack played a leading role in many of the major developments in seismology. He contributed substantially to the application of seismic observations to the understanding of plate tectonics.

In 1971 Jack came to Cornell as chairman of the newly reorganized Department of Geological Sciences. The Department had been transferred from the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Engineering. During his chairmanship from 1971 to 1981 Jack was able to build a department with fourteen faculty that emphasized geophysics and the applications of plate tectonics. During this period he orchestrated the development of COCORP as well as developing a program in the interpretation of leveling data. Presently he has a strong interest in the international efforts in deep reflection profiling.

Sid Kaufman's association with Cornell has been much longer. Sid entered Cornell as an undergraduate in 1926 and received his Ph.D. in physics from Cornell in 1934. After a year as postdoctoral fellow he joined Shell as a geophysicist. He soon became a seismic crew chief and in 1937 he pioneered offshore seismic exploration. Sid spent the war in the Navy mainly doing research on radar and related problems. After the war he became a senior physicist at Shell working on a variety of problems, including marine navigation and seismic modeling. One of his major contributions was "Laboratory Studies of Transient Elastic Waves" presented at the 1951 World Petroleum Conference with Roever. From 1958 to 1962 he headed Shell's Instrumentation Department and from 1982 until his retirement he was assistant to the vice president for exploration research and development with the rank of senior physicist. During his 38 years at Shell he generated nearly 20 patents.

At Cornell, Sid is looked upon with a great deal of admiration and awe. Although approaching 75 he is the first to enter the building in the morning, travels more than any other member of the department, and maintains a youthful vigor and enthusiasm in his work. His original one year appointment in the department is now in its eleventh year, we all hope it will continue for many years to come.