Peter O'Brien

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Peter O'Brien
Peter N. S. O'Brien headshot.png
Membership Honorary Member


Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership

Contributed by Andrew Lucas


Peter O'Brien has been one of the most thorough and consistently strong contributors to the science of exploration geophysics. His 14 papers in Geophysics, Geophysical Prospecting, SEG's publication Seismic Refraction Prospecting, plus 15 published elsewhere, span nearly 30 years. In the recommendation of the Honors and Awards Committee, Ed White describes Peter as "one of the stars in exploration geophysics research who has lent stature and style to all that he has done." I know that Peter will place high value on this observation from a scientist whom he particularly admires.

Peter was born in 1925 in London. He graduated with a BSc in physics from Imperial College in 1945 and joined Shell, leaving as a party chief in 1950 to look for coal in Scotland with the Ministry of Fuel and Power. In 1952 he received an MSc in applied geophysics from the University of London and became lecturer in physics at the University of Toronto, where he was awarded his PhD in physics in 1954 for model experiments on refracted waves.

In 1955 he joined BP's geophysical research branch then at Kirklington Hall in Nottinghamshire. His career evolved through individual technical contributor, manager of geophysical research, to manager of geophysical research and technical services for BP Exploration worldwide at the time of his retirement in 1985.

Peter's working life spanned a period of remarkable technical changes reflected in his publications. Two obvious examples are the switch from seismic refraction to seismic reflection and the digital revolution. His first paper in Geophysics in 1955, Model seismology the critical refraction of elastic waves, truly represents the old world since analog modeling was the most effective technique before the arrival of digital computers. His best known publications centered on the interpretation of refraction records and on field experiments to observe and understand the generation and properties of seismic wavelets.

Peter was given the EAEG Conrad Schlumberger Award in 1971 "in recognition of his sustained contribution to the science of geophysical exploration." The citation continued, "He has written a series of papers based on exact observation and precise reasoning which has advanced our understanding of seismic arrivals." Later publications included contributions on inelastic absorption and dispersion again with emphasis on field observations and on anisotropy.

Peter was a member of the EAEG Publications Committee for more than 20 years a Council Member from 1974-79, and President for the year starting 1977. His Presidential Address, Education first, training later, was made at the EAEG meeting in Dublin.

In 1985 at its meeting in Budapest, the EAEG, for only the sixth time ever, conferred Honorary Membership on Peter "for his contributions to geophysics generally and for his service to the EAEG including 27 years on the editorial board."

So much for the outside world. What impact does such a man have within an organization such as BP Exploration? It suffices to say that in those days before total quality management, the contribution of a continuously up-to-date, clear-minded scientist and demanding technical editor such as Peter set us all in pursuit of excellence! He created an ethos of technical rigor that lives on today in Houston, Anchorage, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Stavanger and London, as those whom he influenced have dispersed into operations and now go about their geophysical business in the enlarged BP Exploration.

All who know Peter O'Brien will congratulate both him and SEG on his selection for Honorary Membership.