Robert E. Sheriff

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Robert E. Sheriff
Robert E. Sheriff.jpg
Latest company Department of Geosciences, University of Houston
BSc Chemistry and Physics
MSc Physics
PhD Physics
BSc university Wittenberg University
MSc university The Ohio State University
PhD university The Ohio State University

Robert E. Sheriff (1922-2014) was an American geophysicist best known for writing the comprehensive geophysical reference, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Exploration Geophysics. His main research interests included the seismic detailing of reservoirs, in 3-D seismic interpretation and seismic stratigraphy, and practical applications of geophysical (especially seismic) methods.[1] Hua-Wei Zhou, Department Chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said about Sheriff: “…a giant figure in the world of exploration geophysics… When I think about Bob, a number of key words pop up in my mind: kindness, honesty, hardworking, seeking perfection, generosity and wisdom.” [2][3] [4]


Sheriff worked on uranium isotope separation for the World War II Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He worked on this project from 1943-1946.[5][2] After receiving his masters and PhD in Physics, Sheriff accepted a job at Standard of California (Chevron) to work in their new geophysical research lab. Serving in a variety of functions, including managing geophysical crews and drilling activity overseas, Sheriff worked at Chevron for 25 years.[5] Sheriff went on to work 5 years as Senior Vice-President of Development with Seiscom-Delta Corporation before moving to academia at the University of Houston.[5] He served as a tenured professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences for 23 years before retiring.[5][1] He served as Professor Emeritus after his retirement.

Sheriff was one of the originators of the geophysical topic, attributes, and is coauthor of what some consider the seminal article in the field, Complex trace analysis (GEOPHYSICS, 1979).[6][7]

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Sheriff served as First Vice President for SEG from 1972-73 and was an active member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAEG), and the Geophysical Society of Houston (GSH).[5] In 1969, Sheriff received the SEG Virgil Kauffman Medal for his initial publication of the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Exploration Geophysics. Sheriff received SEG's highest award in 1998, the Maurice Ewing Award, for his lifetime achievements in geophysics. In 2006, SEG members voted the 1973 dictionary as the top geophysical book ever published for the industry, citing a copy could be found in every working exploration office.[5]

As Lee Lawyer pointed out in Sheriff’s citation for the Maurice Ewing Medal, Sheriff was in the forefront of such major trends in geophysical theory as hydrocarbon indicators, sequence stratigraphy, and reservoir geophysics. In addition, he was responsible for the first poster session at an SEG Annual Meeting, arranged the SEG technical presentations at the first two Offshore Technology Conferences, and co-organized industry-academic seminars to expedite transfer of knowledge between campus and industry.[7]

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Applied Geophysics

Sheriff created a 30-page pamphlet to support his training classes as well as help train employees on the latest concepts in geophysics. After a past SEG president received the pamphlet, the president recommended to the SEG membership that the document be expanded. This document served as the foundation for what would become the Encyclopedic Dictionary. It transformed from a 30-page glossary to 429 pages in its 4th edition.[2]

Each subsequent edition of the dictionary saw significant increases in the number of terms. The third edition (published in 1991) contained 20% more entries than the second (published in 1984). The fourth (published in 2002) had 61 more pages of definitions than the third. For over four decades Sheriff updated the dictionary to reflect the latest technology and research in geophysics.[7]


Sheriff and his wife, Margaret, endowed several SEG Scholarships for international students wishing to continue their studies in geophysics at the University in Houston. Additionally, the couple endowed several positions, including the Faculty Chair in Applied Seismology, an endowment in Applied Geophysics, an endowed Professorship in Sequence Stratigraphy and an endowed Professorship in Geophysics at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics of the University of Houston.[5]

Biography Citation for the Maurice Ewing Medal 1998

. . . we have endeavored to explain in words rather than merely letting the equations speak for themselves. - Robert E. Sheriff

Thus is Bob Sheriff's dictate in the preface of his book, "Exploration Seismology," and he aptly keeps his promise.[8] But this is not unusual. Bob has long delighted geophysicists from eager young students to seasoned interpreters with his lucid and enthusiastic lectures. The far-reaching impact of his contributions results from their quality and intensity as well as to the fact that he has delivered them consistently for more than 40 years. As the Honors and Awards Committee noted:

"For many years, Bob has devoted his energies to teaching aspiring young geophysicists at the University of Houston. His distinguished career and his devotion to teaching have inspired his many students who hold him in the highest regard."

Few SEG members would fail to recognize Bob in a crowd; at the very least, his name is familiar to geophysicists the world over. Kauffman Gold Medal (1969), Distinguished Lecturer (19767), Honorary Member (1979). But, first and foremost, Bob's name has come to be linked consistently to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Exploration Geophysics, SEG's standard for terms (decreed in the Instructions to Authors for Geophysics) since its first edition.

Who has not, at one point or another, been exposed to Bob? One could hardly avoid it as he has zealously volunteered time and talent in the Academic Liaison/Student Sections, Continuing Education, OTC, Public Relations, Development and Production Geophysics, Interpretation, and three SEG Annual Meeting Technical Program committees.

Highlights of Bob's career can be found in "Bob Sheriff, getting a better picture," and "How in the world I came to write the Encyclopedic Dictionary," which appeared in TLE in September 1995 and April 1991, respectively. What cannot be found in those articles because it is, in fact, hard to put into words, are the "mentor meetings" Bob Sheriff has so graciously offered to many younger geophysicists as they were about to undertake various professional endeavors, from SEG committee assignments to crucial career decisions. Never was he stingy with either information or time, both freely given during innumerable mentor meetings that undoubtedly helped shape the careers of many.

Education and Professional Career

Bob's own career was straightforward. After graduating from Ohio State (Ph.D. 1950), he joined Chevron and remained there until 1975, when he opted for early retirement to work for Seiscom Delta in Houston. Earlier in the decade, Bob had begun teaching as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston. He, along with Milton Dobrin, was also one of the principal lecturers in the newly founded graduate geophysics program. Bob Sheriff was a natural for academia. His ability to teach was instinctive and included a gift to make complex matters easily understandable. In 1981, he accepted a full professorship at UH where he is currently also acting director of the Allied Geophysical Laboratories.

Wishing to leave no accomplishments untold in this citation, I canvassed my bookshelves for additional material. After spotting the seventh book with Sheriff's name on the cover, I realized the difficulty of summarizing his vast body of work and influence. It is, in short, an illustrious career.

No reference to Bob, however, would be complete or, perhaps, even recognizable without including his family. The Sheriffs, more than anything else, have been inseparable even in daunting travel assignments with six children (Anne, Rick, Jeanne, Susan, Barbara, and Linda) in tow. Only the emergence of new political boundaries prevents Bob and Margaret from claiming total coverage of this planet in their 51 years of marriage. Bob's numerous lecture tours and combined business/vacation trips have let the Sheriffs explore parts of the world even unknown to seasoned travelers.

Their unshakable belief in holding the family together, regardless of circumstances, is the reason why the Margaret S. and Robert E. Sheriff Faculty Chair in Applied Seismology at the University of Houston provides for the travel expenses of the seated professor's family. The UH Faculty Chair is, by the way, endowed by Bob and his wife.

Few in our profession have been more ecumenical than Bob Sheriff in their contributions. He has taught not only with his considerable knowledge and facility but also with his example. It is geophysicists like him who cleared the path and point the way toward the internationalization of SEG and the profession in general. We of the SEG are proud to present the Special Commendation Award to Robert E. Sheriff.


  • 1998: Maurice Ewing medal of SEG for lifetime work in geophysics[1]
  • 1997: Quest for Excellence Award, University of Houston College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
  • 1996: Special Commendation Award, Society of Exploration Geophysicists
  • 1993: Hayden Williams Fellow, Curtin Univ. of Tech., Perth, W.Australia
  • 1993: Distinguished lecturer, Australian Society of Exploration Geophy.
  • 1980: Honorary Membership in Geophysical Society of Houston
  • 1979: Honorary Membership in Society of Exploration Geophysicists
  • 1977: Distinguished lecturer, Society of Exploration Geophysicists
  • 1969: Kauffman Gold Medal of SEG for outstanding contribution to geophysics

Principle books

  • Sheriff, Robert E., and Lloyd P. Geldart. Problems in Exploration Seismology and their solutions. Tulsa, OK: Society of Exploration Geophysicists, 2004.[1]
  • Sheriff, Robert E. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Applied Geophysics. Tulsa, OK: Society of Exploration Geophysicists, 2002. Print.
  • Sheriff, Robert E., and Alistair R. Brown. Reservoir Geophysics. Tulsa, OK: Society of Exploration Geophysicists, 1992. Print. ISBN 1560800577.
  • Sheriff, Robert E., W.M. Telford, W.M., and Lloyd P. Geldart. Applied Geophysics. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. Print.
  • Sheriff, Robert E. Geophysical Methods. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989. Print. ISBN 0-13-352568-6.
  • Sheriff, Robert E., and Lloyd P. Geldart. Exploration Seismology. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982. Print. ISBN 978-0521468268.
  • Sheriff, Robert E. Seismic Stratigraphy. Boston: International Human Resources Development, 1980. Print. ISBN 0-934634-08-4.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Robert Sheriff faculty profile, CV. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Never Hold Back, Thomas Smith. Geo Profile, GEOExPro. Retrieved 24 November 2014 at [1].
  3. Hua-Wei Zhou faculty profile. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  4. Natalie Blythe (2015). ”passing of a giant — Remembering Robert (Bob) E. Sheriff.” The passing of a giant — Remembering Robert (Bob) E. Sheriff, 34(1), 110–111.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Robert Sheriff - Obituary. Houston Chronicle, retrieved 24 November 2014.
  6. M. T. Taner, F. Koehler, and R. E. Sheriff (1979). ”Complex seismic trace analysis.” Complex seismic trace analysis, 44(6), 1041-1063.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Dean Clark (2007). ”The Sheriff Symposium.” The Sheriff Symposium, 26(7), 898-900.
  8. 1996 Award Citations. The Leading Edge (1997), 16(2):155,

See also

  • Robert E. Sheriff (1991). ”How in the world I came to write the Encyclopedic Dictionary.” How in the world I came to write the Encyclopedic Dictionary, 10(4), 41-43.
  • Robert E. Sheriff (1985). ”History of geophysical technology through advertisements in GEOPHYSICS.” History of geophysical technology through advertisements in GEOPHYSICS, 50(12), 2299-2408.
  • Dolores Proubasta, Associate Editor (1995). ”Bob Sheriff — Getting a better picture.” Bob Sheriff — Getting a better picture, 14(9), 941-945.

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