John Sumner

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John Sumner
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Membership Life Member

SEG Life Membership 2010

John Sumner is receiving Life Membership for his many technical and service contributions to SEG. Having spent his career as a university professor and a researcher at Exxon Production Research, John has been active in many areas of seismic research and was co-recipient of the Best Paper in Geophysics Award in 2007. John was SEG Secretary-Treasurer in 2002–2003. He also served on the SEG Research Committee, the Continuing Education Committee, and was Technical Program Chairman for the 1995 SEG Annual Meeting in Houston. He has been active with the Geophysical Society of Houston (GSH), serving as chairman of the Continuing Education Committee, First Vice-President (Technical Activities), President, and Editor.

Biography Citation for SEG Life Membership 2010

Contributed by Robert Wegner

When do you know you’ve arrived at your destined career? For John Sumner, his world swirled around the ingredients that forge a consummate geophysicist. An interest in nature, science, engineering and a renowned professor-of-geophysics father, all influenced him towards that chosen profession. These characteristics could be the fodder for many vocations but our industry has been blessed by the focus of his attention and contributions. His approach to life is characterized by talent, dedication, and fun.

John began this journey as a newly minted Stanford Ph.D., teaching at UC Santa Cruz and Lehigh University. Then he saw the light and rolled up his sleeves at Exxon’s research company to become a seismic stratigrapher, a second-generation practitioner under the tutelage of Peter Vail and company. After unraveling the stratigraphy of several offshore basins, he travelled into the then unknown realm of amplitude variation with offset, a name industry had yet to coin. To study offset-dependent effects in those days, John went to an independent film processing company and asked to have a 16-mm movie made, such that each movie frame was a seismic section at one discrete offset. The intent was to make AVO effects recognizable by having the movie frames page through the offsets. There was an art to this movie making; it involved repeating movie frames and adding transition frames from one offset to the next. A successful product generated a smooth variation between offsets occurring at a pleasing pace for the eye to accommodate. At research reviews, one was treated to popcorn as you settled in to view a color movie showing the change in amplitude behavior with offset from a projector and screen placed in the conference room. Such efforts demonstrated the validity of his research. Along with successful, wildcat predrill predictions and the creation of specialized schools in DHI interpretation, John moved from individual contributor to team leader and then supervisor of teams. International demand and travel followed along with a diverse exposure to exploration problems and involvement with other disciplines. It is fitting that after John’s retirement from ExxonMobil, after 28 years, he was one of the authors given SEG’s Best Paper in Geophysics award for his interpretation and analysis of electroseismic data.

But wait there’s more. John joined SEG in 1967 and served on the Research Committee (1982–84) and the Annual Meeting Advisory Committee (1994–1997). He was Technical Program Chairman for the 1995 SEG Annual Meeting in Houston and coordinated the “Best of the SEG” session for the 1998 AAPG meeting. He was Secretary-Treasurer in 2002–2003 and subsequently served on the Finance Committees for both SEG and the SEG Foundation.

He is also a member of AGU, a Fellow of GSA, and active in the Geophysical Society of Houston where he served on the Continuing Education Committee, then chaired the committee, and then became First Vice President and finally President.

But wait there’s more. John has always given back to the next generation expressing interest in this technology. He is a teacher and consultant; Rice, the University of Texas, and PetroSkills all benefit from his knowledge and expertise. Additionally, he volunteers for rebuilding Houston homes and supervises clearing trails in national forests and parks. Finally, he has a keen interest in all things mechanical. If anything breaks around the house, John is ready with tools in hand…sometimes he fixes things two or more times. John has a passion for life, is a natural teacher, inventor and innovator…what will be next, something interesting, rewarding and fun, I bet.

Best Paper in Geophysics 2007

Arthur H. Thompson, Scott C. Hornbostel, James S. Burns, Thomas J. Murray, Robert Raschke, John C. Wride, Paul Z. McCammon, John R. Sumner, Greg Haake, Mark Bixby, Warren S. Ross, Benjamin S. White, Minyao Zhou, and Pawel Peczak shared the 2007 Best Paper in Geophysics Award.[1]


  1. Thompson, A., Hornbostel, et. al. (2007). ”Field tests of electroseismic hydrocarbon detection.” GEOPHYSICS, 72(1), N1–N9. doi: 10.1190/1.2399458[1]