Reinhard Bortfeld

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Reinhard Bortfeld
Reinhard K. Bortfeld headshot.jpg
PhD university University of Göttingen

Biography Citation for the Reginald Fessenden Award

Contributed by Peter Hubral

The sky is clustered with countless stars; most twinkle faintly, few shine brightly, some appear and disappear like comets, others only flash for a second in their brief life as a falling star. They all have their fascination. Those stars that are however, appreciated most by searchers of the unknown are the ones that give orientation in the dark. One of these guiding stars has for many years been to me Reinhard Bortfeld. Those who know him have always fully appreciated his ingenuity and his invaluable experience, his scientific drive and his devotion to exploration geophysics. Bortfeld is one who has rendered outstanding contributions to our profession.

He was born in 1927. After obtaining a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Göttingen, he joined Mobil Oil in 1952 as a geophysicist. During his 11 years with Mobil he worked on practical and theoretical problems of gravity and seismic prospecting. In 1962 he joined Prakla-Seismos and became head of research and development in 1968. He was put in charge of 240 people. In that position he traveled all over the world and gave numerous presentations and courses in oil companies and government and university institutes. In 1975 he joined the Koninklijke/Shell Exploratie en Produktie Laboratorium in Rijswijk-Holland, leading a group of international research scientists.

For about 10 years, Bortfeld has been a full professor of applied geophysics at Clausthal University. He is one of my colleagues that I appreciate most for his professional capabilities and his achievements in exploration geophysics. Some years ago he set up a seismic processing center at Clausthal, where he is now in charge of processing all deep seismic reflection data in the Dekorp project, the German equivalent of COCORP in the U.S.

Bortfeld's outstanding professional performance in the past has been previously recognized by bestowing upon him the Conrad Schlumberger Award in 1960 and making him a president of the EAEG in 1974. He was also representative at large of the SEG in 1977, apart from having occupied various other honorary professional positions.

He is one of the first geophysicists in seismic exploration who brought attention to the significant practical role of multiple reflections. This he did in his 1956 paper entitled Multiple Reflexionen in Nordwestdeutschland[1]. What was known prior to 1956 in exploration geophysics about multiples one can read in the January issue of Geophysics, 1948[2].

But it is not only Bortfeld's work on multiples that stands out. Many colleagues rightly consider him the father of amplitude-versus-offset methods.

Bortfeld's approximations for reflection coefficients, which he published in 1961, are frequently cited in the literature. But these should, in my opinion, only be looked upon as a by-product of his more general works on wave propagation and his studies on range-dependent amplitude attributes in layered media. He has a classical paper on this topic that goes back to 1960.

About eight years ago many seismologists became excited about the S-wave. This particular nongeometrical seismic wave was brought to us from Siberia by Boris Michailenko, at least so it appears. Bortfeld once told me that he talked about this particular nongeometrical wave at the 1963 SEG New Orleans meeting. But as no one appeared interested in this phenomenon at that time, he didn't even care to submit a paper for publication. Indeed, he has often been ahead of his time. Looking at all his achievements during his professional life of 37 years, it comes as no surprise that he hardly found time to put his pencil to paper as much as he may have liked.

Reinhard Bortfeld is surely the best candidate for the SEG Reginald Fessenden Award. He is very much liked by his students, who are to be envied for being taught by such a strong, scientifically minded professor with such a long and impressive record as an excellent practitioner and theoretician in exploration geophysics. I congratulate him for his well deserved award.


  1. Bortfeld, Reinhard (1956). "MULTIPLE REFLEXIONEN IN NORDWESTDEUTSCHLAND*". Geophysical Prospecting 4 (4): 394–423. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2478.1956.tb01416.x.
  2. Ellsworth, T. P. (1948). "MULTIPLE REFLECTIONS". GEOPHYSICS 13 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1190/1.1437359.