Pierre Goupillaud

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Pierre Goupillaud
Pierre Goupillaud headshot.jpg
Membership Honorary Member

Pierre Goupillaud is best known for his classic 1961 paper[1] introducing the Goupilluad medium. Goupillaud's interesting life, from his time in the French Resistance to his many scientific contributions are discussed in Dean Clark's article[2].

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership

Contributed by Sven Treitel'

Anyone who chooses science as a life-long vocation soon learns to value the words of Sir Isaac Newton, who said that he stood upon the shoulders of giants. Today, we honor Pierre Goupillaud for his impressive contributions to exploration geophysics, which span a period of more than four decades. As scientists, our lives are enriched not only by the professional contributions of our peers, but perhaps even more so by the warm friendships that form in our common quest to shed some light where darkness has prevailed before. Pierre's lantern has been burning brightly all these years, and the glow continues unabated.

Pierre is perhaps best known for his early studies of the impulsive response of a layered medium, which he described in a classic paper in Geophysics in 1961. Every beginning student of geophysics now learns about the Goupillaud medium, a term that has developed into a household word in the field. His article, as widely quoted today as it was in the '60s, forms one of the keystones of inverse scattering theory and has implications reaching far beyond geophysical exploration. Pierre has left his imprint in numerous other areas as well. While employed at Conoco during the '60s, he participated in the development of vibroseis and contributed fundamentally to the basic theory, to signal design, to the production of synthetic seismograms (the Goupillaud medium again), to experimental field tests, and to early attempts at logging while drilling.

Pierre was born in Cognac, France, in 1918, just 11 days before the end of the First World War. To quote from his vita, "Better known for its famous brandy appreciated by the likes of Napoleon and Winston Churchill, not to mention some lesser known American bootleggers, Cognac is located in the southwest part of France just north of Bordeaux." In Pierre, Cognac has still another claim to fame, albeit of a different vintage.

He received his secondary schooling at St. Paul in Angouleme, where he managed to play ping-pong with François Mitterand, the future president of France. As we might expect, the politician won. He received his baccalaureate in 1935 from the University of Poitiers, and then prepared for admission to the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines de St. Etienne, which had the good sense to admit him in 1937. His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II in 1939. He saw military service in North Africa, but was able to complete his studies in 1942. From 1943 to 1944 he studied at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines in Paris, and graduated just before D day in June 1944. After the liberation of France his government sent him to French Guiana, and here Pierre became the head of the local Bureau of Mines. During the following year, he was dispatched to New York to purchase equipment. Some spare time on his hands enabled him to engage in an exhaustive study of American mores, which culminated in the discovery of Caroline, his wife of 46 years.

After spending several more years in French Guiana and New Caledonia, Pierre and Caroline arrived in Columbus, Ohio in 1950. Here he spent a couple of months repairing TV sets, but then was hired by SSC as a junior observer. He joined Conoco in 1952 and was assigned to their Ponca City research group the following year. There he did the pioneering work for which we are honoring him today. In 1976, he took early retirement from Conoco to accept a position as project manager of signal acquisition and processing with S-Cubed in La Jolla, California. He retired for a second time in 1982 and has been doing consulting work ever since.

An ordinary vita would stop here, but Pierre is no ordinary man. In the mid '80s, he became infatuated with China and its culture. He studied Chinese and taught exploration geophysics near Beijing during two extended visits (1985-86 and 1986-87). In his "spare" time he began to think about fractals, chaos, and wavelets subjects about which he has already contributed several papers.

Pierre has chaired the Translations and Publications Committees of the SEG. In 1979 he was elected Editor of Geophysics for two years. He reminds us that the peak of geophysical activity of all times occurred in November 1981, the precise month he passed the Editor's baton to his successor!

The SEG recognizes Pierre Goupillaud as one of its most distinguished members. His incisive wit and exquisite sense of humor are well-known. These qualities, when combined with a keen and analytical mind, have made him into the first-class scientist he is today.




  1. Goupillaud, Pierre L. (1961). "AN APPROACH TO INVERSE FILTERING OF NEAR‐SURFACE LAYER EFFECTS FROM SEISMIC RECORDS". GEOPHYSICS 26 (6): 754–760. doi:10.1190/1.1438951.
  2. Clark, Robert Dean (1985). "Pierre Goupillaud". The Leading Edge 4 (6): 32–35. doi:10.1190/1.1439153.
  3. Whaley, J., 2017, Oil in the Heart of South America, https://www.geoexpro.com/articles/2017/10/oil-in-the-heart-of-south-america], accessed November 15, 2021.
  4. Wiens, F., 1995, Phanerozoic Tectonics and Sedimentation of The Chaco Basin, Paraguay. Its Hydrocarbon Potential: Geoconsultores, 2-27, accessed November 15, 2021; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281348744_Phanerozoic_tectonics_and_sedimentation_in_the_Chaco_Basin_of_Paraguay_with_comments_on_hydrocarbon_potential
  5. Alfredo, Carlos, and Clebsch Kuhn. “The Geological Evolution of the Paraguayan Chaco.” TTU DSpace Home. Texas Tech University, August 1, 1991. https://ttu-ir.tdl.org/handle/2346/9214?show=full.