Joe Dellinger

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Joe Dellinger
Joe Dellinger headshot 2021.jpg
Notable works Seismic migration problems and solutions, GEOPHYSICS 66(5):1622
Notable awards 2016 SEG Honorary Membership, 2001 SEG Life Membership Award, 2001 Honorable Mention (Geophysics)
BSc Geophysics
PhD Geophysics
BSc university Texas A&M
PhD university Stanford University

Joseph Anthony (Joe) Dellinger was born in the SEG hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma and learned to ride a bicycle in the Amoco Tulsa Research Center parking lot. Dellinger’s father, Tom Dellinger, led a research group at the Mobil Field Research Lab in the 1970s-1980s. His team coined the term “Extended Reach Drilling” to describe to management what it was they were doing. Given this background, it is not surprising that Dellinger majored in Geophysics at Texas A&M. In 1991, he received a PhD in geophysics from Stanford University under Jon Claerbout and Francis Muir at the Stanford Exploration Project. He then did a 3-year post-doc at the University of Hawaii before joining Amoco in Tulsa in 1994. He moved to BP in Houston in 1999 and has worked there since. In his career he has specialized in anisotropy, multi-component algorithms and processing, and most recently “looking for useful information in data that would normally be ignored”, i.e., “forensic data processing”. This has included studying the 2006 “Green Canyon” earthquake[1] investigating how the Valhall Ocean-bottom-cable array might be used between seismic surveys, and characterizing sources and noise in deep water ocean-bottom-seismic Gulf of Mexico data so that we might process it better. Joe’s hobbies include attending the Houston Symphony, photographing birds, recording frog calls in the swamps around Houston, and astronomy at the George Observatory, which is located an hour’s drive southwest of Houston. Asteroid “78392 Dellinger” was named in Joe’s honor.

Dellinger was awarded Life Membership in the SEG in 2001 for his services in helping the SEG to successfully adapt to the internet age. He was selected as the SEG Distinguished Lecturer for Spring 2016.

SEG Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award 2021[2]

Joe Dellinger is recognized for his body of work in advancing the science of exploration geophysics, especially in the preceding five years. In particular, he has made significant contributions in developing the most effective methodology for seismic imaging with low and super-low frequencies. He provided insights and ability to find practical ways of acquiring, processing, and interpreting the volumes of data acquired by seismic systems. These comprise both active and passive applications that were instrumental in demonstrating new and emerging technologies — the breakthroughs in full-waveform inversion and the practical implementation of passive interferometry technology to image anomalies and stress-induced effects using ambient noise.

Dellinger's contribution includes the development of understanding the signal-to-noise ratio potential at low frequencies and delineating practical applications for utilizing the information available within this bandwidth. This low-frequency work represents one of the more important industry advancements during this past decade, and he is one of the principal enablers in the effort. When it became clear that new acquisition technology was required, he managed to solve the scientific and engineering challenges necessary to build a completely new seismic source (Wolfspar) and to get it to pass many levels of technical success/acceptance. This is an exceptionally difficult achievement requiring insights and solutions in physics, engineering, operations, and regulatory acceptance.

Dellinger is the author of 17 patents and has published extensively in both Geophysics and The Leading Edge. He has volunteered for SEG in various ways. An example is his founding of a section in Geophysics dealing with downloadable software to carry out certain geophysical computations. He has been generous with his time to help students with their PhD theses, and he has also contributed significantly for the SEG office when computer problems cropped up there.

Joe Dellinger represents the standard of applied geophysics contributions to which all of us may aspire.

Biography Citation for the SEG Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award 2021

by John Etgen and Scott Michell

It was probably destined that Joe Dellinger would achieve so much in the science of exploration geophysics. Joe’s father, Thomas B. Dellinger, was a pioneer in directional drilling and led the team that coined the term “extended reach drilling.” Even to this day, Joe can entertain one and all with stories of his father’s technology exploits working at Mobil’s research and development labs. Joe spent his undergraduate years at Texas A&M University, gaining his bachelor’s degree in math and geophysics. He also gained experience in computers, including being one of the early inventors of the computer virus (look it up!). These experiences and the fact that, as a boy, he learned to ride a bicycle in the parking lot of Amoco Production Company’s Tulsa Research Center must have primed him for a professional life full of big contributions in geophysics.

Jon Claerbout will say that his number one mission is to “create famous geophysicists,” and in Joe, he definitely succeeded. At Stanford University, Joe learned how to be a prodigious collaborator, and through those collaborations he tackled complex and widely varied topics, from seismic anisotropy, working closely with Francis Muir, to computer graphics with fellow members of the Stanford Exploration project, and even reciprocity, working with Jon and Elmer Eisner. Joe also gained a reputation as a skilled and meticulous programmer and to this day rarely writes a code that doesn’t compile and run correctly on the first try.

After a postdoc at the University of Hawaii, Joe began his industrial career with Amoco in Tulsa and then BP in Houston. Joe’s industrial reputation for solving difficult problems was cemented in the early 2000s during BP’s Valhall Life of Field Seismic project when he developed and applied a robust method for vector rotation of multicomponent seismic sensors. Joe’s unique presentation style and this vector fidelity work resulted in his famous “carrots, bananas, and cookies” talk where he used food objects as simple analogies to describe why ocean-bottom seismic sensor packages produce the responses that they do.

His demonstrated skills in solving fundamental scientific problems, his ability to create robust implementations, and his engaging and collaborative personal style naturally led BP to select him to lead the project to generate very low frequencies in a marine environment. At the genesis of this project, creating usable frequencies well below 2 Hz was widely considered to be impossible. Joe and his collaborators, including Allan Ross, Mark Harper, Graham Openshaw, and Andreas Huster, solved the deep scientific and engineering challenges that it took to conceive of the new ways to generate ultra-low frequencies. Joe brought his own insights to the effort and managed the complex set of objectives, set context, coached and mentored individuals, and stepped aside when others were better placed to accomplish a task. Throughout the project to create the Wolfspar device, Joe also had to learn many other new skills such as designing contracts and influencing senior management.

With the hardware challenges overcome, Joe still had to create awareness in the geophysical data acquisition and processing communities of the subtleties and complexities of designing low-frequency surveys and processing the resulting data sets. For those who have followed his progress, we are sure you have enjoyed Joe’s entertaining and insightful presentations over the last several years as he provided clear insights into how low-frequency data works, and how to best process it to create improved velocity models and images.

We are commending Joe not just for inventing a piece of hardware or new seismic processing theories. More importantly, we are recognizing his contribution to the comprehensive understanding of what is important in geophysical data acquisition and processing to further the mission of creating velocity models that deliver the full potential of the industry’s subsalt resources. Joe’s patience, insight, and collaborative nature across a broad range of challenges, even when it seemed at junctures that the whole endeavor might fail, are what make his effort unique. We believe that no other geophysicist we know could have pulled off this impossible mission. Congratulations, Joe. Job well done.

"Joe Dellinger, 2016"

SEG Honorary Membership 2016

Joe Dellinger was awarded SEG Honorary Membership in 2016 for performing a number of unique services to SEG, the profession of applied geophysics, and the scientific community at large[3]. Some of his services include:

  • Being one of the first to create an active geophysical research eCommunity
  • Helping to create Vplot, a key component in the concept of “reproducible research” and in the Madagascar open-source software with 25,000+ downloads
  • Helping to start the SEG Online Governing Board — a committee that was critically important in helping establish the SEG’s online presence
  • Creating the software and algorithms category in Geophysics in 2004 and serving as an associate editor ever since
  • Publishing 50-plus papers with SEG from fundamentals of elastic wave propagation to multi-component analysis and passive imaging
  • Discovering asteroids as an amateur astronomer and naming them after famous geophysicists

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership 2016

By John T. Etgen

Joe Dellinger is an icon in SEG — there’s no other way to put it. His contributions to our professional Society are numerous and diverse. Anyone who knows Joe would say the same in their own words.

I first met Joe when I joined the Stanford Exploration Project (SEP) in the fall of 1985. From day one, it was obvious that Joe was a unique individual — brilliant, deductive, observant, always helpful, and looking for ways to improve the science of geophysics, and science in general. As a grad student, he was a prolific innovator, but more importantly a prolific collaborator. He was never too interested in his own work to brush aside a request for help or just simple grad-student camaraderie. His willingness to help others with their work paid many dividends before Joe graduated from Stanford. Some of the work that he was instrumental in bringing both to life and to light ranged from elastic wave modeling to signal processing to computer graphics and software. Some of those early publications are definitive references to this day, such as his work in wavefield separation in anisotropic media. I still hear from anisotropy researchers that marvel at the “spaceship” anisotropic wavefront figures in his thesis. He edits the most demanding category of Geophysics, the software and algorithms section. His Vplot graphics still form the core of many university seismic graphics programs.

Joe was so supportive of everyone at the Stanford Exploration Project that it took him seven years to get his PhD. Jon Claerbout testified to that effect at the commencement exercises in June 1991, saying: “Joe, you were the most useful grad student that SEP ever had.” Industry was in tough times then, so Joe took a postdoctoral position at the University of Hawaii. Before the Internet had really taken off, Hawaii was a bit remote. But due to Joe’s desire to stay connected, he began to think about how the Internet was going to change our world. Shortly after Joe left Hawaii and joined Amoco, I remember Joe describing how to “sort” all the stuff on the Internet. He drew on a chalkboard what later turned out to be the PageRank Algorithm. We both agreed it was cool and would work better than what was out there at the time. He asked me if he should patent it, but he decided that surely someone else had thought of it already.

Even though he missed being an Internet phenomenon, his understanding of how to use electronic media served SEG well. Joe helped form the nascent online governing board, which was instrumental in getting SEG on the Internet in those early days. While encouraging SEG to see things his way wasn’t always easy, Joe’s efforts and those of other enthusiastic members and SEG staff turned our Society into a leading and effective voice for geophysics in the digital age.

Joe has been at the epicenter of many of the trends and advances in our science and our Society. One entertaining moment that I recall was an SEG presentation Joe gave about vector fidelity (another topic upon which Joe helped “write the book”). Joe illustrated in very simple and compelling terms why a certain ocean-bottom cable had an anomalous response using carrots, cookies, and bananas. It was the only geophysical experiment I’ve heard described that the conclusion of the presentation was “ … and yes, when the experiment was over, we ate the equipment.” Of course, that brought down the house. The unfortunate speaker that had to follow Joe remarked upon taking the podium that he never wanted to have to follow Joe’s presentation again. Joe is a tough act to follow, but he’s much happier when you take the stage with him.

Spring 2016 SEG Distinguished Lecturer

Forensic data processing – Revealing your data's hidden stories

Summaryː We are asking for more and more from our seismic data: more efficient acquisition, broader bandwidth (both high and low), sources that are more environmentally friendly (i.e. quieter), accurate amplitudes for AVO and 4D. Acquisition and processing are undergoing a revolution to support these needs. New developments such as simultaneous sources, ghost-free sources, broader-bandwidth sources, continuous recording, and new kinds of sensors are already in use, and well on the way to becoming routine. It is a good time to take a step back and investigate what really goes into our data. What does that string of numbers you are using to make your images really mean? What units is it in? Is your source actually doing what your modeling predicts? How repeatable is it? What noise is hiding in your data that you don't know about? If you knew about it, what might you do differently to take advantage of newly available sensors and processing techniques? I will examine ocean-bottom seismic data because it's by far the cleanest data we've got, and hence the most amenable to careful analysis. However, this "forensic" approach to data analysis should have broader applicability.

The talk will have three parts: 1) What is your source really doing? 2) What does the background noise in the data look like? and 3) Can we do anything useful with that background noise? The goal of the talk is to start you on the way to becoming a data connoisseur, instead of merely an indiscriminate consumer. The talk will be example-driven for a broad audience, however I will also have tutorial sections that I can include for academic audiences wanting to dig deeper with a longer talk.

"Joe Dellinger, 2001"

A recording of the lecture is available.[4]

Listen to Joe discuss his lecture in The hidden stories data tell, Episode 136[5] of Seismic Soundoff, in-depth conversations in applied geophysics.

SEG Life Membership

Joe Dellinger was awarded the 2001 SEG Life Membership for his untiring efforts and advice in launching the SEG Web site, setting up electronic publishing standards, and electronic submission of papers to GEOPHYSICS and the annual SEG Technical Program Expanded Abstracts.

Honorable Mention (Geophysics)

Samuel H. Gray, John Etgen, Joe Dellinger, and Dan Whitmore received 2001 Honorable Mention (Geophysics) for their paper Seismic migration problems and solutions.[6]


  1. Dellinger, J., et al. (2009) [ The 10 February 2006 “Green Canyon” earthquake: A case history of an unusual seismic event,
  2. 2021 Honors and Awards Ceremony SEG|AAPG International Meeting for Applied Geoscience & Energy (IMAGE 2021)
  3. SEG Honors and Awards Ceremony, SEG Dallas 18 October 2016, Omni Dallas Hotel, Dallas Ballroom, International Exposition and Eighty-Sixth Annual Meeting, Dallas, Tx, p, 28.
  6. Gray, S. H., et al. (2001) Seismic migration problems and solutions, GEOPHYSICS 66(5):1622.

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