John Stockwell Jr.

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John Stockwell Jr.
John W. Stockwell Jr. headshot.jpg
BSc university Colorado School of Mines

John W. Stockwell, Jr is a research associate with the Center for Wave Phenomena, Colorado School of Mines. He has been the principal investigator of the Seismic Unix project, since the untimely death of Jack K. Cohen in 1996. Stockwell is co-author of a textbook on the mathematics of seismic imaging and migration with Norman Bleistein and Jack K. Cohen. He also teaches advanced mathematics and an introductory computer lab course in seismic data processing.

John Stockwell served as a Special Editor of Geophysics for more than a decade. Currently he is the editor of the Bright Spots Column in The Leading Edge. Stockwell serves on several SEG committees. These include Historic Preservation, the Online Technical Content Board, and the Online Board. John Stockwell is currently the administrator of the SEG Wiki and won the 2014 and 2015 SEG Wiki Champion award. For his work with the SEG Wiki and for his longtime work with the CWP/SU:Seismic Unix open source seismic and research package, John Stockwell received the SEG Presidential Award in 2014.

John Stockwell received, with Jack K. Cohen, the 1994 University to Industry award from the Colorado Chapter of the Technology Transfer Society, for their work with Seismic Unix. In 2002 John Stockwell, Jack K. Cohen, Shuki Ronen, and Einar Kjartansson were honored with a Special Commendation for their development of Seismic Unix.

SEG Presidential Award 2014

Each year, the SEG President has the opportunity to grant a Presidential Award [1] to an individual who is recognized as having contributed outstanding service to the Society. The award is not granted often, but for 2014, President Don Steeples has chosen to present this special award to John W. Stockwell Jr. in appreciation of his extraordinary work on the SEG Wiki.

Citation of for SEG Presidential Award 2014

John Stockwell discusses his work launching more than 800 biographies of well-known contributors to the field of applied geophysics in the wiki, and his subsequent honor as the Society’s first SEG Wiki Champion.

Contributed by Christopher Liner with contributions from Ted Bakamjian and Isaac Farley of the SEG publications staff

John Stockwell has been a longtime Geophysics special editor in addition to working with the Online Committee and the Online Technical Content Committee. He was an early, if not an original, member of the Online Governing Board, which preceded the Online Committee. He also has been active on the Historic Preservation Committee and is coordinator of the “Geophysics Bright Spots” column in The Leading Edge. John was recognized by an SEG Special Commendation in 2002 (along with Jack Cohen, Einar Kjartansson, and Shuki Ronen) for developing and freely distributing the Seismic Unix package

John is something of a Renaissance man with a love of classic textbooks and a deep interest in the history of geophysics. His efforts to bring this knowledge to the SEG Wiki are nothing short of remarkable. As of 16 July 2014, there had been 14,409 edits to the SEG Wiki since it was launched. John contributed about 4,800 of those, meaning he is responsible for one-third of the total edits to the Wiki. He has contributed nearly 3,400 edits to the SEG Wiki since January 2014, single-handedly adding 24% of all contributions. That represents a great deal of investment; even a modest estimate of John’s time spent contributing to the Wiki puts his service in the hundreds of hours.

For his truly exceptional work on the fledgling SEG Wiki, the Society very gratefully bestows on John the Presidential Award for 2014.

John modestly requested his comments as follows to be included in this citation:

“The SEG is a great organization to be associated with and to help out. I feel that I have barely gotten started on the Wiki. Please recognize the work of [SEG staff members] Andrew Geary, Isaac Farley, Jennifer Crockett, Whitney Emerick, and Dan DeMellier, who have made it possible to have a Wiki in the first place and for transferring Sheriff's dictionary to the Wiki. Please also recognize the contributions of Matt Hall and Karl Schleicher for being leaders in technical content.

“I have been doing biographies of SEG award winners, including the major awards and best-paper categories, drawing on a variety of sources.  In the course of doing this, I have rediscovered some of the history of SEG. Whatever satisfaction that I have gotten in learning these things is overshadowed by the feedback from people who have found these items useful or interesting.

“I also discovered that when SEG scanned the issues of Geophysics, the contributors’ biographies and Society material were not scanned for issues prior to 2004. Thus, I had to go back to paper copies. To help out, [staff members] Ted Bakamjian and Tonia Gist provided a number of scanned award-related materials. I have also gotten satisfaction when a few of the people whose bios I put up actually got on to edit their own biographical information! That is what we want, ultimately, a living document!”

SEG Wiki Champion 2014

As of October 15, 2014, there have been 19,253 edits to the SEG Wiki since it launched. John has contributed more than 5,000 of those edits, making John responsible for over a quarter of all edits to the wiki. In 2014 alone, John contributed over 3,500 edits. That’s well over 3,000 more than the second-leading SEG member contributor. Even a modest estimate of John’s time spent contributing to the wiki puts his service in the 100s of hours.

John Stockwell and SEG President Elect Christopher Liner at the 2014 Editors' Dinner

John received a Presidential Award at the 2014 Annual Meeting during the Editors' Dinner for his tireless work with SEG Wiki.

"As with any human endeavor, exploration geophysics is really about the people. We have technological advances, scientific discoveries, and industry game changers, but we should never forget that these developments are made by our colleagues, friends, and teachers. The SEG attempts to recognize the important contributors to our discipline through awards, but these awards mean very little if nobody knows about the recipients. I have pulled from the dusty journals biographies and images of those who founded and nourished our discipline from its infancy to the present era. The threads of these lives lead to those who are revolutionizing exploration geophysics today. Last semester, at Colorado School of Mines, I instituted a 'Geophysicist of the Day' program, where I would occasionally broadcast a short email about one or more geophysicists, referring students and faculty to relevant SEG Wiki pages for more information. The program is so popular that I will continue it next semester.” - John W. Stockwell, Jr.

SEG Foundation Volunteer of the Year 2005

John received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the SEG Foundation in 2005 for his Timelines of Geoscience and Geophysics and of Exploration Geophysics and the Petroleum Industry, made for the 75th anniversary issue of Geophysics.

Special Commendation 2002

SEG in honoring the Center for Wave Phenomena, Department of Geophysics, Colorado School of Mines for developing and freely disseminating the Seismic Unix package (SU).[2] Many individuals have contributed and are contributing to SU. However, at this time, SEG wishes to particularly cite four individuals—John W. Stockwell Jr., Jack K. Cohen, Einar Kjartansson, and Joshua (Shuki) Ronen—for their exceptional contributions to this project. The success of SU is understated by the statistics but they are, nonetheless, impressive—the number of verified installs exceeds 3000, representing users in over 60 countries. The objectives of SEG to promote and foster the scientific interests of geophysics are clearly reflected by the SU project. SU is used by exploration geophysicists, earthquake seismologists, environmental engineers, and software developers. The spectrum of users includes oil companies, contractors, government researchers, and academics.

Citation for SEG Special Commendation 2002

Contributed by Norman Bleistein and Ken Larner

Throughout the history of applied geophysics, advances have come in many forms, but mainly as new scientific ideas and technological innovations. Over the past 17 years, the geophysical research has benefited from a novel and powerful tool—initiated and developed within academia with contributions from researchers across the industry—that is neither a scientific idea nor simply a technological invention.

CWP/SU: Seismic Unix (SU) is an open software processing package developed at the Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP) within the Department of Geophysics, at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). SU provides an instant research and processing environment, in the form of full source code, at no cost. It runs under all UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems, including Cygwin 32 on Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X on Macintosh. SU provides many modeling/data processing utilities, and a base of source code for development of new applications. In recent years, SU has become a vehicle for geophysicists to make their software available to the worldwide community.

Seismic Unix evolved from Jon Claerbout’s Seismic Exploration Project (SEP) at Stanford University in the late 1970s when graduate student Einar Kjartansson wrote a package called SY—12 programs in C to run under UNIX. This, in itself, was revolutionary, as contemporary industry practice was to write code in FORTRAN under the Vax VMS system. Code was also written by Stew Levin, Chuck Sword, and Claerbout himself. To this day Levin contributes importantly to SU. Einar continued to work on SY after joining the faculty at the University of Utah. He brought SY back to Stanford when he visited (as a faculty member) in 1984 and introduced graduate student Shuki Ronen to the concept. With Claerbout’s permission, Shuki brought SY to CSM in 1985 under a postdoctoral appointment at the Center for Wave Phenomena, then directed by Norman Bleistein and Jack Cohen.

In the same year Jack visited Texaco’s Houston Research Center to study how seismic processing was done in industry. Inspired by this experience, Jack and Shuki conceived a bold plan—to create a seismic processing line that would be used by everybody. Of course, in 1985 “everybody” consisted mainly of a handful of expert seismic programmers. The name was changed from SY to SU (standing simultaneously for Stanford University and Seismic Unix) and additional libraries and utilities were written. The package became an instant hit with CWP students, with contributions by almost every CWP member—notably Chris Liner, Brian Sumner, and Craig Artley.

In 1987 John Stockwell became CWP systems administrator and codeveloper of SU with Jack. In 1989, Dave Hale joined and made major contributions that expanded the package’s capabilities and portability. Prior to 1992, SU had been ported to only a handful of sites, mainly oil-company sponsors of CWP.

The first truly public release of SU was in September 1992, via an ftp site at CWP (several years before the World Wide Web was created). Stockwell has subsequently been the main contact for questions related to SU and its principal investigator since Cohen’s death in 1996. The success of the SU project has been due in large part to John’s skill in helping users, his responsiveness to questions and comments, and his desire and commitment to continually improve the package. Since 1992, SU has been verifiably installed at more than 3000 sites (a gross underestimate of the total use of the package) in 60 countries.

With SU, the geophysics industry experienced a revolution in the way that it works with computer technology. Previously, software developed within universities was lost upon graduation of a student developer or commercialized. The revolution that SU brought was introducing free software to the geophysics community. A walk through the exposition during any SEG Annual Meeting will reveal SU in use on various computers, as well as its ubiquity in technical presentations and papers.

Technology Transfer Society University to Industry Award 1994

John Stockwell received, with Jack K. Cohen, the 1994 University to Industry award from the Colorado Chapter of the Technology Transfer Society, for their work with Seismic Unix.


  1. SEG Honors and Awards Ceremony in Official Program and Exhibitors Directory, SEG Denver 26-31 October 2014 p.36-49.
  2. Fred Hilterman (2002). ”2002 Awards Citations.” 2002 Awards Citations, 21(11), 1156-1168. doi: 10.1190/tle21111156.1

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