Jon Claerbout

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Jon Claerbout
Jon Claerbout headshot.jpg
BSc Physics
MSc Geophysics
PhD Geophysics
BSc university Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MSc university Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PhD university Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jon Claerbout (born 1937) is an American geophysicist who pioneered digital filter application, various aspects of seismic data processing, and seismic migration. He is the Cecil Green Professor Emeritus of Geophysics[1] at Stanford University.[2] He has been a leading geophysicist since the later half of the 20th Century. He pioneered the use of computers in processing and filtering seismic exploration data, eventually developing the field of time series analysis and seismic wave propagation. He is the youngest ever recipient of the Maurice Ewing Medal of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists,[3] having received this award in 1992 for lifetime achievements when he was in his early fifties.

Claerbout obtained a BS in physics in 1960, a MS in geophysics in 1963 and a PhD in geophysics in 1967, all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His BS thesis was titled A rubidium vapor magnetometer. He worked with Stephen M. Simpson, Jr. for his MS thesis, titled Digital filters and applications to seismic detection and discrimination. The publication of this work made many geophysicists, including those in the oil and gas industry, well aware of Claerbout's potential. However, Claerbout found the sparse availability and low quality of earthquake seismic data frustrating and decided to study atmospheric gravity waves during his PhD. His advisor was Theodore R. Madden and the title of his thesis was Electromagnetic Effects of Atmospheric Gravity Waves.

Claerbout is the founder of the Stanford Exploration Project (SEP), the first geophysical research consortium funded by the oil and gas industry. Claerbout has been a doctoral advisor to many of influential geophysicists who joined SEP such as Oz Yilmaz and Biondo Biondi.

The term and concept of exploding reflectors in reflection seismology is often attributed to Jon Claerbout. However, Claerbout claims that the term was coined by John Sherwood, a geophysicist from Chevron who introduced him to exploration geophysics. John Sherwood has said that he only used the term to refer to Claerbout's innovative method of seismic migration.

He was one of the first scientists to emphasize that computational methods threaten the reproducibility of research unless open access is provided to both the data and the software underlying a publication.

Claerbout's books have been among the most read and cited in geophysical research, especially Fundamentals of Geophysical Data Processing and Imaging the Earth's Interior, which have been translated into Chinese and Russian among other languages. He has since made all his books available for free download from his website.[4]

Biography Citation for the Maurice Ewing Medal

Contributed by John W. C. Sherwood

It is a great pleasure to prepare this citation honoring Jon Claerbout on the occasion of his receiving the Medal Award of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. That he is achieving such a distinction in his mid-thirties comes as no surprise to those of us who have been fortunate enough either to have known Jon or to have followed his work for many years. Probably his first major technical project was his M.Sc. thesis on the subject of the filtering of geophysical data and of the important properties and characteristics associated specifically with minimum-phase filters. This thesis was particularly impressive on two counts! First, the technical material indicated a considerable capability to investigate and understand a complex subject; and second, perhaps more important, was the clarity with which this understanding was exposed and shared with the reader. It was apparent that here was a man of much ability who could eventually make a notable impact on geophysics.

Some other uncommon qualities which Jon possessed were soon made clear. Some time ago, via some forgotten route of communication, I learned that following a year of study at the University of Uppsala he was now on a motorcycle somewhere between Sweden and Singapore. He was obviously intent on not giving all his interest to geophysics but wanted to see and learn about the world, with all its variety and peoples, through his own eyes. This unknown Jon Claerbout was becoming even more interesting.

The next recollection I have of Jon was back in the geophysical domain with a paper in Geophysics on the subject of multichannel prediction error filtering applied to data from earthquakes and large explosions. Its content and clarity of exposition established that Jon's initial promise had in no way deteriorated and hence I was doubly pleased to meet him personally, for the first time, in the mid-1960s. Soon after this he joined the faculty at Stanford University and also became a consultant to the research subsidiary of Standard Oil Company of California. It was then that I had the first real opportunity to spend significant lengths of time both talking and working with Jon and helping introduce him to the challenge and joys of exploration. Fortunately for this Society, Jon became quite excited by the problems inherent in exploration seismology. At the same time he appreciated the satisfaction of sharing his knowledge and stimulating his students at Stanford.

He has organized excellent summer courses at Stanford University on Time Series Analysis and Seismic Wave Propagation. His publications, and those co-authored with his students, on the application of the wave equation to seismic data processing have been imaginative and revolutionary, leading to an excellent practical method of migrating seismic data. His oral presentations at the Annual Meetings of the Society have introduced us to new technology and have been delivered to us with eloquence, delightful humor, and on those beautifully unorthodox slides of chalkings on a blackboard. No wonder that he received the best presentation award to last year's Research Session.

Jon Claerbout's latest aid to exploration has been yet another unique venture, from which we can anticipate the benefit of new data processing techniques, together with students aware of the challenges of exploration. Approximately twenty oil companies and exploration contractors are now financing an Exploration Research Program to be directed by Jon at Stanford University. In spite of all this activity, he still managed to squeeze in a one year sabbatical at Princeton and the University of Sydney.

The Society is indeed fortunate to have Jon Claerbout as an Active Member and it is a real pleasure to see the Medal Award given to one who is achieving so much for exploration geophysics.



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  1. Jon Claerbout's web page
  2. Stanford University directory
  3. Society of Exploration Geophysicists
  4. Jon Claerbout's Classroom, accessed November 11, 2014.
  5. Whaley, J., 2017, Oil in the Heart of South America,], accessed November 15, 2021.
  6. Wiens, F., 1995, Phanerozoic Tectonics and Sedimentation of The Chaco Basin, Paraguay. Its Hydrocarbon Potential: Geoconsultores, 2-27, accessed November 15, 2021;
  7. Alfredo, Carlos, and Clebsch Kuhn. “The Geological Evolution of the Paraguayan Chaco.” TTU DSpace Home. Texas Tech University, August 1, 1991.