Robert Tatham

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Robert Tatham
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Robert H. Tatham (December 10, 1943 - October 4, 2019) was a leader in the arena of multicomponent seismics.

Memorial, 2019 [1]

by Dan Ebrom and Jason Gumble


Robert H. Tatham (December 10, 1943 - October 4, 2019)

Robert H. Tatham (1943 - 2019)

Bob Tatham was a leader in the arena of multicomponent seismics. He taught an SEG short course on the topic and cowrote the SEG volume Multicomponent Seismology in Petroleum Exploration (Investigations in Geophysics no. 6). Bob had an interpretive preference in choosing research topics. He believed that geophysical experiments should teach us more about the rocks themselves, as well as about their positions and shapes. He was especially interested in S-wave velocities and in the quantity VP/VS as a key diagnostic indicator of hydrocarbon prospectivity.

Possibly because of his early training in physics, Bob often looked for opportunities to apply simple and straightforward models to necessarily more complicated actual earth scenarios. A great example lies in his two papers on multiply converted reflections (such as PSSP) in offshore settings. While he was working at Petty-Ray Geosource, Bob acquired simulated seismic data in the water tank of the Allied Geophysical Laboratories at the University of Houston (UH) with the goal of justifying a proposed offshore survey in Florida. The model had a high velocity contrast, making mode conversions preferable (at large angles) to critically refracted P-waves. The Geophysics paper, "Seismic shear-wave observations in a physical model experiment," (volume 48, pp. 688–701) was successful in demonstrating the utility of PSSP reflections for interpreting structures and helped convince Petty-Ray’s management to authorize a seismic survey over a portion of offshore Florida with a hard water bottom. These results were then published as "Separation of S-wave and P-wave reflections offshore western Florida" (Geophysics, volume 49, pp. 493–508) — a great triumph of theory leading practice!

Bob’s entry into geophysics was fortuitous: he received a bachelor’s degree in physics from California State University, Northridge and had the option of going into aerospace or accepting a job in seismic processing from Texaco. He chose Texaco and went to Houston. While working on his master’s degree in geophysics at UH, he came under the influence of Milton Dobrin. At that time, UH had no PhD program in geophysics, and Milt suggested that Bob apply to Columbia. Bob was accepted and received his doctorate four years later, studying, among other things, the influence of shear-wave velocity profiles on Rayleigh-wave dispersion.

Upon his return to Houston, Bob joined Petty-Ray Geosource, a major international geophysical contractor. He was wooed back to Texaco as a research manager, and while at Texaco, he also served as an adjunct faculty member at UH in the same Department of Geology and Geophysics at which he had received his master’s degree. While at UH, he oversaw a number of physical model experiments at the UH Allied Geophysical Labs involving fractures, microcracks, and anisotropy. He was lead author on the 1992 paper, "A physical model study of shear-wave splitting and fracture intensity" (Geophysics volume 57, pp. 647–652), which received an Honorable Mention for Best Paper in Geophysics.

At Texaco, Bob was the manager of the "WEM boys," a team of high-powered wave equation migration practitioners. This team pioneered the introduction of vertical cable recording in the offshore Gulf of Mexico. Bob’s team also acquired the Teal South 4D 4C survey, the world’s first 4D 4C acquisition.

Bob served in 1994–1995 as first vice-president for the Geophysical Society of Houston (GSH), the largest section of SEG. In this role, he chose speakers and orchestrated technical events. Not surprisingly, he was selected a few years later (1998–1999) to serve as GSH president. A year of transition came in 1999, as Bob left Texaco, and Houston, to take up a chaired position at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin.

From 1999 to 2014, Bob held the Shell Companies Foundation Centennial Chair in Geophysics at UT Austin. There, he founded the Exploration Development Geophysics Education and Research (EDGER) Forum, dedicated to illuminating research topics that were decided upon through interaction with industry partners and educating students who would be ready to hit the ground running in industry upon graduation. Bob advised or coadvised more than 20 master’s and five PhD students while at UT, advising on topics ranging from amplitude variation with angle/amplitude variation with offset (AVA/AVO) response in conventional reservoirs, imaging and inversion topics, to deep investigations in shear-wave response in isotropic and anisotropic media.

The EDGER forum hosted industry technical symposia on a yearly basis and touched on a variety of topics, such as geophysical assessment of fault and stratigraphic hydrocarbon seals, new directions in AVO, seismic attributes, and, of course, application of multicomponent seismic data. Under Bob’s guidance, the EDGER forum flourished, typically having more than a dozen sponsors, many of whom donated data and research topics, sponsoring individual students who would ultimately graduate and continue to work on the same topics for their sponsor in the industry.

By the eighth year of its existence, the forum had begun to focus on unconventional resource plays and, as such, expanded its scope to include investigations into shale and mudstone petrophysics and geomechanics with the ultimate goal being to implement seismic methods in these plays and define how geophysics can enhance the search for and definition of unconventional resources. The effectiveness of the forum was further enhanced by the formation of the Jackson School of Geosciences, facilitating collaboration with the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and the Bureau of Economic Geology.

Bob retired from his position at UT in 2014 and as professor emeritus continued to advise the EDGER forum. Bob always enjoyed his time with his students, and it showed in his quick wit, easy manner, and tireless dedication.

Those of us who worked with Bob were exposed to his pithy insights into the nature of life, seismic research, and the oil business. Bob’s classic comment was "You can get anything you want, but you can’t get everything you want." Given Bob’s academic and professional successes, his long-lasting marriage, his three children, and nine grandchildren, Bob may very well have exceeded his own predictions and actually gotten everything he wanted

Biography, 2014

Robert H. (Bob) Tatham is professor and Shell Centennial Chair in Geophysics in the Department of Geological Sciences, Jackson School of Geosciences, at the University of Texas–Austin. He is the founder of the UT–Austin Forum for Exploration and Development Geophysics Education and Research (the EDGER Forum), which has supported dozens of industry-bound graduate students and cooperative research projects with industry sponsors. The mission of the EDGER Forum includes the education of graduate students, along with research focused on characterizing rock and reservoir properties and serving the community of academic and industry geoscientists.

Tatham has been involved in all aspects of geophysics, including 10 years as a practicing geophysicist, six years with a major international contractor, 12 years with a major producer supervising and managing research organizations, and 15 years in his current academic position.

He recently led an SEG task force to address policy for pricing of SEG-sponsored forums and workshops. Other SEG service includes associate editor of Geophysics (12 years), the Research Committee since 1981 (chair in 1996–1997), member of the Distinguished Lecture Committee (2001–2003), the Meetings Review and Planning Committee, and 12 Annual Meeting Technical Program committees.

He has also served the Geophysical Society of Houston as first vice president (1994–1995), president-elect (1997–1998), and president (1998–1999). Tatham was honored as SEG’s 2001 Spring Distin- guished Lecturer and was awarded GSH Life Membership in 2002.

Tatham’s educational background includes a BS in physics (1967), California State University–Northridge; MS in applied geophysics (1970), University of Houston; and PhD in geological sciences (1975), Columbia University.[2]

"R.M. Tatham 1992"

Honorable Mention (Geophysics) 1992

R. H. Tatham, M. D. Matthews, K. K. Sekharan, C. J. Wade, and L. M. Liro received 1992 Honorable Mention (Geophysics) for their paper A physical model study of shear-wave splitting and fracture intensity, [3]

Biography 1992 [4]

Robert H. Tatham received his B.S. (1967) in physics from California State University Northridge and then joined Texaco Inc. as a processing geophysicist. He received his M.S. (1970) in applied geophysics from the University of Houston and in 1971 he pursued full-time graduate studies at Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, receiving the Ph.D. (1975) from Columbia University. During 1975-1980, he was involved in special projects and research for Texaco, and from 1980 to 1986 was with Geosource conducting research into new processing/interpretation techniques. Since 1986, Dr. Tatham has been with the Exploration and Production Technology Dept. of Texaco Inc. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Houston and actively advising graduate student research. He is a member of SEG, EAEG, IEEE, SSA, AAPG, and Sigma Xi.


  1. Memorial, The Leading Edge, vol.38, n.12.
  2. Board of Directors Nominations THE LEADING EDGE Jul 2014, Vol. 33, No. 7, pp. 806.
  3. Tatham, et al. (1992) A physical model study of shear-wave splitting and fracture intensity, GEOPHYSICS 57(4):647.
  4. Contributors, Geophysics, 57(4):665.