Tadeusz Ulrych

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Tadeusz Ulrych
Image ulrych.gif
Membership Honorary Member
BSc Electrical Engineering
BSc university London University
MSc university University of British Columbia
PhD university University of British Columbia

Tadeusz J. Ulrych (August 9, 1935–August 19, 2014) made many outstanding contributions exploration geophysics in the area of deconvolution and signal processing, statistical/Bayesian inverse theory, and sparse data inversion and radon domain processing. He was the recipient of SEG Honorary Membership in 2004 in recognition of his contributions. He was the SEG Distinguished Lecturer in 2008. A day-long symposium ws held in his honor in 2013 by the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG), where he was presented with a lifetime award for his contributions in exploration geophysics.[1]

Tadeysz obtained a BSc degree in Electrical Engineering at London University. A year working in ultrasonics convinced him to seek deeper pastures and he moved to Canada where, at the University of British Columbia, he received both his MSc and PhD degrees (1961 and 1963) in the study of lead isotopes under Don R. Russell. His first academic position was as Assistant Professor at the University of Western Ontario. He joined the University of British Columbia where he has remained for many happy years.

He has been an Invited Professor at PPPG (now CPGG) at the Federal University of Bahia, the University of Kyoto and OPERA, University of Pau. He has consulted and given courses in various locations around the globe, and continued to do so in spite of mandatory retirement which earned him the position of Professor Emeritus. His interests were signal processing, information and inverse theory, and a plethora of other topics. He has supervised a few students, published some papers, and coauthored a book with Mauricio Sacchi.

Memorial [2]

Tad Ulrych was born in Warsaw, Poland, and fled the country with his parents following the Nazi invasion in 1939. He obtained a B.Sc. degree in electrical engineering at London University, United Kingdom. After a year work- ing in ultrasonics, he moved to Canada, where he got a job working with Don Russell in his laboratory at the University of Toronto. He then moved to Vancouver, where he received both his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees (1961 and 1963, respectively) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the study of lead isotopes. It was there in Vancouver during this time that he married and started a family. His first academic position was as assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario. Following postdoctoral fellowships at Oxford University and at the Bernard Price Institute of Geophysics at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, Ulrych joined UBC, where he taught geophysics until he retired in 2000, becoming professor emeritus. He was an invited professor at the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil, the University of Kyoto, Japan, and OPERA, University of Pau, France. Ulrych educated and mentored two (perhaps three) generations of geophysicists who today occupy positions in academia and industry.

Technically, Ulrych was perhaps best known for his work on maximum entropy spectral estimation, homomorphic deconvolution, bandwidth extension, minimum entropy deconvo- lution, nonwhite processes, eigen-image and rank-reduction filtering, sparseness in multichannel signal processing, etc. Along with the fundamentals of time-series analysis, these topics were the highlights of his famous graduate course at UBC, “514.” In addition to his many papers, he coauthored a book with Mauricio Sacchi titled Information-based Inversion and Processing with Applications.

Ulrych also was active in SEG in various capacities: SEG Translations Committee, SEG Honorary Member- ship (2004), and SEG Distinguished Lecturer (2008), and more recently, he received the 2014 CSEG Medal, the highest award bestowed by the Canadian Society of Exploration Geo- physicists.

Ulrych was a superb lecturer. His enthusiasm about any field of geophysics he chose to investigate was legendary; it so often infected his students as well as his listeners at technical meetings. Ulrych loved to speculate about the philosophical implications of what he was doing. He was intrigued with Bayes’ theorem and could hold forth endlessly about its implications for the design of geophysical inversion algorithms. Ulrych rarely gave up on a problem he or his coauthors were trying to solve, as those of us privileged to collaborate with him soon learned — he tended to return to the same problem over and over again until a solution materialized — at least, sometimes!

Ulrych was an engaging individual with a wide range of interests. His intelligence and immense knowledge allowed him to be one of the most interesting people that one could ever hope to meet. He was far from being a one-dimensional academic confined to an office or classroom. At UBC, Ulrych participated every week in ice hock- ey, soccer, or skiing. Some of his graduate students found the secret to communicating with Ulrych was to participate in these sports and make an appointment following the game. He was one who enjoyed life to the fullest with the expectation that his students and colleagues should enjoy university life as well. His support of graduate students was unwavering — both financially and with intellectual in- put. Ulrych treated his graduate students much like colleagues rather than as subordinates. He encouraged independent thought and listened with enthusiasm to input from students. There were many ongoing research discussions with his students in the classroom, his office, the coffee room, or the local pubs. Ulrych was always approachable and generous, never pretentious. One of the main characteristics of Ulrych was passion.

He was passionate about science, about friends, about women, about life. What was his greatest passion? Probably under- standing the unknown, and the problem he tried to solve all his life: How do we solve for A and B in A + B = C when we know only C? A worthy task for a great man! All people have brains, of various shapes and sizes, but few have minds. Ulrych had a mind. Mind goes with soul, and Ulrych had a soul. Directly or indirectly, Ulrych was an extraordinarily talented teacher to many young and not-so-young people. He was not only a teacher of signal processing, deconvolution, or inversion. He was also a teacher of integrity, of honesty, of humanity, of loyalty, of fidelity.

Ulrych had a special relationship with Brazil. First, as a young physics Ph.D. in the 1960s, he taught the basic knowledge of geophysics to the first Brazilian group of engineers of the recently created Petrobras. Two decades later, he con- tributed at a much more advanced level, forming masters and doctors in seismic geophysics to constitute the modern technical staff of Petrobras, who today are responsible for so many relevant conquests, and the cream of the applied geophysics community today in the Brazilian Academy. This happened in the 1980s, in the Programa de Pesquisa e Pós-Graduação em Geofísica da Universidade Federal da Bahia (PPPG/UFBA).

With Ulrych’s enthusiasm and passion for the work and for his colleagues, his friends and students were impressed forever. His universal spirit, always open for collaboration, enchanted everybody and created a unique personal relationship with his students. A strong link of friendship was consequently created between Ulrych and Brazil. Many times, Ulrych went back to Brazil, for teaching, for visiting, for scientific congresses, and for enjoying life with his many Brazilian friends in Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Belém — all those most loved places of Ulrych’s in Brazil. A piece of Ulrych is in every place that he visited and every person who met him. “To die” happens to someone, but not for Ulrych, because he will continue in the minds of those he touched, flying over those places he loved so much, laughing in happiness as an explosion of his strong and nice personality.

Each new idea Ulrych shared with enthusiasm and generosity. As one of many examples of his spirit of collaboration with colleagues in Brazil, in one of his short visits (1994), Ulrych brought to UFBA ground-penetrating radar (GPR) equipment. This system was a novelty at that time and enthused many geophysicists. The electromagnetic system worked similarly to the seismic reflection method and was tested at the Camaçari Petrochemical Complex in Bahia, in a study of environmental contamination that resulted in a paper presented the following year at SEG with the title “In search of plumes: The GPR Odyssey in Brazil.” Ulrych’s enthusiasm was contagious to everyone, everywhere: in the classrooms, in the Brazilian Geophysical Society meetings, in SEG conferences, in corridors. Ulrych supervised more than 20 master’s and doctoral students at UFBA. He was always quite participative and excited with new ideas and challenges, and his sense of humor and joviality attracted many friends, who will continue to revere his memory and be proud of his acquaintance.

Ulrych also loved Japan. He was a person who had a free soul and hated controlling freedom; this might come from the experience of his young days. Ulrych really loved humans. All things Japanese he wanted to observe and investigate. Ulrych could have been a cultural anthropologist instead of a geophysicist. He was free from any limitation, and this is hard to find these days because we need to consider and protect ourselves from the outside world. Only established scientists such as Ulrych can choose this kind of lifestyle and enjoy life more than 100%.

His special brand of brilliance deserves mention. Although his facility with mathematics is well known, he also had a tremendous aptitude for languages, perhaps connected to his incredible talent for lateral thinking. It was not enough for Ulrych to recount a tale with precise adjectives and always with a healthy dose of superlatives; he felt the need to convey more, to go beyond. He did this with metaphors. He never used the same metaphor twice, so it is impossible to remember them, but they were always surprising, sometimes silly, always insightful and entertaining. A few of us would say that Ulrych’s greatest gift was that he actually taught others how to enjoy life more.

Those who have met Ulrych will appreciate his remarkable charisma, generosity, and exquisite sense of humor. He is known for his many and diverse contributions to geophysical research and education in Canada and around the world. The fruits of Ulrych’s friendship, scholarship, and teaching will remain with us. Many of us were fortunate to know him as a friend, a mentor, and a colleague. His old-world style, his friendship, and the pleasure of his company will remain with us for a long time. In addition to his immense individual and collaborative contributions, Ulrych stood in a league by him- self for his encouragement of others, often those working far from his own experience and expertise. He was a source of boundless enthusiasm and encouragement for those pursuing new and unconventional ideas and approaches, so essential for scientific advancement. In that way, he multiplied his ef- fectiveness and enormous impact. Without Ulrych, it is a less warm, less fun, and less joyful world; it’s hard to comprehend and believe that he is gone.

Ulrych will always be in a special place in our hearts, and we will remember him and treasure those wonderful precious memories, always and forever.

Ulrych finished his time series with his family close at hand, including his children, Jason and Lyza, and his grandson, Sebastian.

Spring 2008 SEG Distinguished Lecturer

The role of amplitude and phase in processing and inversion

The object of seismic exploration is encoded in the data that are acquired on or near the surface of the earth. The goal of decoding these data is, essentially, to find out where and what this object is. Although we record our information in space and time, we always, at some stage, follow the teachings of Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier and transform our measurements into the frequency domain. In this domain, our data live in the phase and temporal and spatial frequency dimensions. The "where" is encoded in the phase, the "what" is encoded in both the phase and amplitude.

The aim of the processing of the data is to remove obscuring artifacts such as coherent and incoherent noise, statics, and the ubiquitously deleterious effect of the seismic source signature. The aim of inversion is to answer the question, "what?" Processing in our industry has achieved an enviable level of success. This success, I will argue, has been achieved, to a large extent, by concentrating on the role of the amplitude properties of the inherent distortions cause by undesired components. Phase has played a much lesser role and consequently, so has the retrieval of the vital information concerning the "where". Inversion, successful as it has been, has also in my humble opinion, placed amplitude in a lofty position as compared to that of phase.

The purpose of this presentation is to convince you that treating amplitude and phase with the equal dignity that each deserves can lead to some interesting and important results. Specifically, I will deal with only-phase reconstruction, by which I mean the inversion of information by using only the phase component without any a priori assumption concerning the amplitude (championed by Alan Oppenheim and colleagues in the early 1980's). I will also reintroduce, after a 35 year absence from this field and because of exciting new developments, cepstral processing and its application to the deconvolution of thin beds. Finally, I will foray into the dangerous territory of attributes. Dangerous because there are so many and dangerous because I know so little. However, my colleagues (Mauricio Sacchi, Mike Graul, and Tury Taner) and I have recently had some hopefully interesting thoughts and results which we would like to share.

A picture is, of course, worth a 1000 mumblings and so here is one. Figure 1a shows an image, the ? is mine. Research group RFOA receives only the amplitude spectrum, combines it with their best guess at the phase spectrum (=0 for example) and reconstitutes the image as shown in Figure 1b. Their conclusion? The image is that of a cloudy sky. Research group RFOP combines the received phase spectrum with their best guess at the amplitude spectrum (=1, for example), reconstitutes the image as shown in Figure 1c and concludes that Tristan and Isolda are in love. This is an example not of only-phase, but of phase-only. The former produces results that are even more informative.


SEG Honorary Membership 2004 [3]

Professor Tad Ulrych is receiving Honorary Membership in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the development of seismic signal analysis and inversion, his long career as a mentor to many generations of geophysical students, and for his service to SEG. Born in Poland, Tad fled the country in 1939 with his parents following the Nazi invasion. He received his first degree from the University of London, did postgraduate work in Canada, and became a professor of geophysics at the University of British Columbia in 1965. He became an emeritus professor of geophysics at UBC in 2001. Tad has always encouraged his students to follow their own interests, and has provided a rich atmosphere for geophysical research as well as personal and intellectual growth. In addition to his students at UBC, Tad had a major impact on students at the University of Bahia in Brazil, where he spent several years as a visiting professor. He has also served as a member of the Translations Committee and was co-chairman of the Rio '99 SEG/SBGF international conference in Rio which was a huge success.

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership 2004

Contributed by Art Weglein and Sven Treitel

It is a great privilege to prepare this Honorary Membership citation for Tad Ulrych who is being recognized for his outstanding work in both geophysical signal analysis and geophysical inverse theory. His contributions during his career, one that now has spanned several decades, have brought widespread recognition as a scientist and as a mentor to several generations of students. Many have since become outstanding scholars in their own right, and Tad has left his clearly recognizable "footprint" on them all. Beyond this, Tad has long been a world-class geophysicist, whose work is widely cited. Perhaps even more importantly, Tad is best known for the boundless enthusiasm and optimism he has brought to his science— feelings which, clearly, he has been able to transmit to his students.

Tad Ulrych was born in Poland and fled the country with his parents following the Nazi invasion in 1939. He earned his first degree from the University of London, attended graduate school in Canada, and subsequently joined the faculty at the University of British Columbia (UBC). His early research at UBC dealt in part with techniques to digitally enhance the resolution of astronomical images. This work naturally led to his longstanding fascination with seismic communication theory. In 1965, and at an exceptionally early stage of his career, he was promoted to full professor.

The department of geophysics at UBC has a much merited and world-famous reputation for rigorous education and training, together with an open-minded scientific environment that nurtures and encourages innovative thinking. Tad, along with other UBC faculty colleagues, has fostered and contributed to the support and preservation of this surely special university ambience. Beyond his influence at UBC, Tad has had a major impact on academic colleagues and students while a visiting professor at the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil. At the same time, he earned the well-deserved respect and admiration of his industry colleagues and collaborators at the Brazilian national oil company Petrobras. Tad has served as a member of the SEG Translations Committee, editor of the Journal of Seismic Exploration, and cochairman of the Rio'99 SEG/SBGf conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Tad's good traits are many, among them:

  • his impressive number of fundamental scientific contributions
  • his technical leadership
  • his impeccable professional and personal integrity, and
  • his commitment to those working with him on innovative ideas.

In this above list we have an explanation why Tad has been so successful throughout his long career. More specifically, regarding his contributions to geophysical theory, he has done original work in:

  • deconvolution theory and its applications,
  • statistical/Bayesian inverse theory, and
  • sparse data inversion and high-resolution Radon transform processing

These exemplify both his breadth as well as his scientific depth. Above all, Tad has boundless and infectious enthusiasm, along with a sparkling personality. He is known for his generosity and his never-ending wonderment about how new scientific insights are gained. We are fortunate to be among those who have had the pleasure to work with Tad. We look forward to many more years of innovative technical contributions from this great scholar.


  1. Obituary, http://www.eos.ubc.ca/home/aurora/V18/50-1.pdf
  2. Carlos Alberto Dias, Evgeny Landa, Scott Leaney, Larry Lines, Milton Porsani, Mauricio Sacchi, Sven Treitel, and Art Weglein (2014). Memorial.” Memorial, 33(12), 1416, 1418.

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