Keeva Vozoff

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Keeva Vozoff
Keva Vozoff 2019 headshot.png
Membership Honorary Member

Keeva Vozoff is the father of 3D EM modeling (1958), 3D EM inversion (1960), and joint inversion (1970s) along with many more specific enhancements, which carried EM well beyond mining applications to its recognition today as a prime direct hydrocarbon indicator. Vozoff predicted almost all technical aspects of the marine EM method decades before they were used to find oil. SEG has recently given many awards in marine EM to many individuals, even while one of its fathers is still active, relatively unrecognized, at age 80.

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by Kurt Strack and Sven Treitel


Keeva Vozoff (1928–2019)

Keeva Vozoff (1928–2019)

Keeva Vozoff, a legend in geophysics, passed away on 25 June 2019 in Sydney, Australia, at the age of 91 after a long and active life as an acknowledged authority on electrical geophysics.

Since the 1950s, Keeva was active in SEG, published several books, and held various volunteer positions. He received SEG Honorary Membership in 1985, and in 2009 at the age of 81, he received the Reginald Fessenden Award for his work on 3D electromagnetic (EM) modeling in the late 1950s. Keeva developed magnetotellurics while at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and subsequently branched into induced polarization and 3D modeling, leading to pioneering work on inversion and, in the 1970s, his famous publications with D. Jupp on joint inversion. After that, he used controlled-source electromagnetic (CSEM) methods to map carbonate hydrocarbon saturation changes followed by applying this to using CSEM (Lotem) methods for reservoir monitoring. He always integrated disciplines, methods, and teams and was well known for his synergetic approach to bring about new ideas. He ventured several times into seismic when he wrote in the 1950s one of the first computer programs to compute seismic dispersion curves in a horizontally stratified medium at MIT and later in the 1980s when he guided his group into in-seam seismic.

Born in Minnesota, he obtained a degree in physics in 1949, followed by an MS in geophysics from Pennsylvania State University in 1951 and a PhD at MIT in 1956. From 1951 to 1994, Keeva applied his talents to private and academic organizations around the globe. He was a professor at the University of Alberta, Canada (1958–1964), Macquarie University, Australia (1972–1994), the University of California, Berkeley (1978–1980), and at the University of Cologne, Germany (1989–1996). Even after his retirement in 1994, he worked actively as a consultant until a few years ago and even coauthored four patents, mostly applying his integration concepts to borehole and reservoir applications.

His students and colleagues remember Keeva as the one who always got everyone thinking about new solutions. His ideas were usually decades ahead of their time. Over his professional career, Keeva mentored not only his former students but many professional colleagues. He was always concerned about the impact of professional decisions on one's private life.

His work was all about bridging solid science to real industry applications, and in his activities in Australia and Germany he used research centers (much like today's university consortia) to bridge industry application, research, and teaching.

Keeva's international involvement included serving on ad-hoc committees of Soviet-Australia and Indo-Australia scientific and technical cooperation from 1974 to 1975 and being an honorary fellow of the Association of Exploration Geophysicists of India and an Alexander von Humboldt fellow in Germany in 1992–1993.

Apart from his focus on science, he had an unbeatable sense of humor and for many of us was an undrainable reservoir of jokes and funny information. I once overheard him arguing with a cell phone carrier about his account for more than an hour about why he could not get registered. The telephone support could not understand that Keeva did not have a Christian name (Keeva was Jewish and only had a first name), and they were stuck there in the argument. The CEOs of Lufthansa and Microsoft were lectured on several occasions about their airplane seats or Windows operating system that just did not follow Keeva's common sense.

Keeva was happily married since 1957 to the charming and ever-supportive Elizabeth, and they have four children and six grandchildren. He will be missed as a friend, colleague, mentor, teacher, father, grandfather, husband, and brother.

"K. Vozoff, 2008"

Biography Citation for the 2008 Reginald Fessenden Award

Contributed by Kurt-Martin Strack

Keeva Vozoff is one of the few geophysicists who has invented and innovated for over 55 years, and no honor could be more appropriate than the Reginald Fessenden Award given to a true innovator in geophysics.

Keeva started his career of innovation with computer modeling in 1952 when he calculated, on the MIT Whirlwind 2 computer, the first multilayer dispersion curves for surface waves (the work was done with Norm Haskell in binary coding). This was followed by DC resistivity in 1953, followed by inversion in 1955 (then called “direct solution”), two-dimensional in 1956 and 3D shortly thereafter. In 1969 it was 2D magnetotelluric inversion, which was then even in commercial use, and in 1975 joint inversion DC and MT together with Dave Jupp. Three-dimensional MT modeling followed in 1978 with Walter Jones, and, in the early 1980s, he built and demonstrated a complete audio-magnetotelluric system, followed by early Lotem measurements for hydrocarbon applications in Australia. After that came the integration with seismic and joint interpretation of reflection seismic and MT in 1987. In the 1990s, Keeva worked on inversion of nuclear magnetic resonance logs and detecting acid soil conditions with induced polarization. In both areas he authored a patent. Today, he still stimulates research in joint seismic/electromagnetic interpretation and induced polarization.

Keeva received his PhD from MIT in 1956 (one year before I was born) after receiving an MSc degree from Pennsylvania State University. Keeva has had a distinguished academic and industrial career. He was an assistant professor at the University of Alberta (1958–1964), professor of geophysics at Macquarie University in Australia (1972–1994), and visiting professor at the University of Cologne (1989–1996) and the University of California, Berkeley (1978–1980). He has received the Alexander von Humboldt Award, one of the highest German awards for scientists. He worked for several exploration companies before he became senior vice president at Geoscience Inc., a company that pioneered digital geophysics in the late 1960s.

After retiring, Keeva became even more active. He was adjunct professor at Curtin University in Perth until 2002 and a director of several business ventures that focus on rolling out novel geophysical technologies. Today, he is still a source a breathtaking new advances in EM (and a wealth of internet jokes).

Keeva is not only a teacher but also a mentor who selflessly supports his students and friends in a relentless fashion. After years of observing his hunches, we learned to always take them seriously as long as they are geophysical in nature. His way of teaching has never been obvious, because he never enjoyed the classroom-style approach. You had to follow him in his thinking process, which was always at a very high level and hard to track. Once you managed to go through this, you would find yourself in a short period of time in communication with the world’s authorities in the subject matter—an experience not many young students are fortunate to go through. In my own case, I did not think I learned much as his student 26 years ago and yet today he is still mentoring me like a new student and finally I am happily receiving his teachings. Many of Keeva’s students have climbed the technical and business ladder and are witnesses of his influence on them.

Keeva is a true family man, and Liz has been by his side for over 50 years. They have four children and six grandchildren. Keeva has always been fond of children (until his recent babysitting duties) and when visiting his graduate students with children, he would spend most time with the kids. Keeva dedication to scientific truth has guided him to be a true innovator who has along the way started many scientific flames to burn along with him.

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership

Contributed by Roger Henderson

Keeva Vozoff richly deserves the honor bestowed upon him by this award. He has been an Active Member of the Society for the past 35 years and has served the SEG and its sister organization, the Australian SEG by being President of the ASEG 1976- 77, being on the Publications Committee of the SEG since 1981 and serving as a representative-at-Large from 1981 to 1984.

The award is in recognition of his "scientific contributions to electrical methods in petroleum and minerals exploration, service to the profession of exploration geophysics in several countries, and particularly his leadership in research and postgraduate teaching of geophysics in Australia." Of the 79 Honorary Membership awards since 1930 this is the first to be granted to a resident of Australia, which is a measure of Keeva's standing in that community where there are presently more than 2,000 geophysicists.

Keeva graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in physics in 1949, from Penn State University with an M.S. in geophysics in 1951, and from MIT with a Ph.D. in geophysics in 1956. A fellow graduate student at MIT and a recipient of this award, Sven Treitel, recalls Keeva's all-night battle with the Whirlwind computer there which, in those days, had a mere 2k of memory. Keeva emerged victorious as the first person to program it with the Haskell-Thompson method of velocity calculation.

During World War II he worked for the U.S. Navy in its airborne electronics section. In industry he has worked for Phelps Dodge Corporation, McPhar Geophysics, and Geoscience Incorporated, where he was a senior vice president and director. He has also been extensively involved in teaching and academic pursuits first as associate professor of geophysics at the University of Alberta 1958-64, and now as professor of geophysics at Macquarie University in Sydney, a position he has held since 1972.

Since 1981, Keeva has been the founding director for the Centre of Geophysical Exploration Research at Macquarie think this is his greatest achievement to date and exemplifies the leadership role referred to by the Awards Committee. The CGER has proved to be an out- standing success from its beginning when such a center of research activity in universities was a new endeavor in Australia. Currently it includes postgraduate studies in tomography, in-seam seismology, numerical modeling, EM inversion, and seismic processing, and includes visiting scholars from China, India, Germany, and Canada. In such ways, Keeva's drive and enthusiasm has brought an unparalleled enrichment to the practice of geophysics in Australia.

Keeva's own research interests range throughout the entire electrical geophysical area including EM and IP, but more especially magnetotellurics and tellurics in which he has published papers since 1963. In all he has 45 publications, of which 10 appear in GEOPHVSYCS and three in Geophysical Prospecting. Others are in such prestigious journals as the Journal of Geophysical Research and the Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. Some of the more notable of these publications include a chapter on electromagnetic methods in applied geophysics in Geophysical Surveys, and another on mining exploration with natural electromagnetic fields in Mining and Groundwater Geophysics in 1967, written jointly with David Strangway, yet another recipient of this Honorary Membership Award. Keeva is a joint editor of the Russian translation of the SEG book on magnetotellurics in oil exploration and is editor of Geophysics Reprint Series No. 5 on magnetotelluric methods.

Keeva's international interests are exemplified by his serving on ad hoc committees on Soviet-Australia and Indo-Australia scientific and technical cooperation from 1974 to 1975, and being an honorary fellow of the Association of Exploration Geophysicists in India. In 1978 he initiated the Australian version of COCORP.

A general impression have of Keeva, is a brilliant professional constantly striving to promote the cause of geophysics in both the academic and commercial worlds. Keeva, of course, is not an Australian by birth but has been a resident in the country now for 13 years. During this time he has never pretended to be someone other than one of the locals and in this way he has endeared himself to his colleagues and his associates. He has been married since 1957 to charming and equally endearing, Elizabeth. His love of children is evidenced by his being the proud father of four.

Nominating me to write this citation, suspect, is just another example of his mischief. No one is more deserving of this award than is Keeva.