19 August 1925 – 8 July 2018
To many of us, Roy Lindseth was our geophysical father. He was a scientific visionary, entrepreneur, respected advisor, and kind mentor to many geophysicists, both young and experienced. He encouraged us to do great things while taking care of small details. Roy worked tirelessly for the science, application, and people of exploration geophysics. He advanced many areas of the field through his own work in seismic data processing and inversion as well as advanced seismic acquisition, high-performance computing, and communication of all of this to colleagues and students. He was the SEG president in 1976-1977 and enthusiastically participated in the geophysical world into his 90s.
A remarkable self-educated professional, Roy achieved distinguished recognition in his many endeavors. After attending Western Canada High School, he embarked on an adventurous early oil patch career in Latin America before returning to Calgary in 1960 and becoming vice president of Engineering Data Processors Ltd. in 1964 and then vice president and director of Computer Data Processors Ltd. in 1968. He served as chairman of his own Calgary and Houston petroleum consulting firm, Teknica Resource Development from 1972 to 1992, where he pioneered the technology of synthetic well logs (inversion) and other digital seismic signal processing. This led to his appointment as chair and president of Canada’s High Performance Computing Center from 1992 to 1994. He then returned to Latin America as director of Transgas de Occidente S.A. and of TransCanada International Ltd. from 1994 to 2000. He remained active as a consultant through age 85, retiring in 2010 after more than 60 years in the oil patch.
In addition to his varied career, Roy worked with many organizations and was often honored with their highest awards. As a professional geophysicist, he served as president of The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta in 1979 and received their Centennial Award and Honorary Life Membership. He was named Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (F.R.S.C) in 1987 and received the J. Tuzo Wilson Medal from the Canadian Geophysical Union in 1979. He served as president of the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG) in 1971 and received the CSEG Medal in 1989. In 1976–1977, Roy served as president of SEG, a society for which he had lectured on “Recent advances in digital data enhancement techniques” in 48 countries and from which he received the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal in 1970, the Cecil Green Enterprise Award in 1989, and the Maurice Ewing Medal in 2007. He was senior member and past president of the Canadian Geoscience Council; officer of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem; was bestowed a University of Calgary Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D) in 1978; awarded H.M. Queen Elizabeth II Silver, Gold, and Diamond Jubilee Medals; and, most notably, appointed as a member of the Order of Canada (C.M.) in 1996.
Larry Lines: The greatness of an individual can be gauged by many measures. Two of these are the individual’s influence on others and their treatment of people who do not have authority over them. By both measures, Roy Lindseth must be considered a great geophysicist. I can remember several examples of this greatness during the 43 years that I knew Roy.
In terms of first impressions, I recall his influential presentations and papers, especially the classic 1979 GEOPHYSICS paper “Synthetic sonic logs – a process for stratigraphic interpretation,” in which Roy showed that seismic impedance could be estimated by rewriting the reflection coefficient equation to relate impedance to seismic reflection amplitudes. He pointed out that the problem of missing low frequencies and high frequencies in our band-limited seismic data could be obviated by combining sonic log information with seismic data. These techniques are still used by seismic inversion practitioners to this day. These advances eventually led to Roy receiving SEG’s highest award, the Maurice Ewing Medal. But technical achievements were only part of his contributions to SEG. He did an immense amount of committee work and served as SEG president in 1976-1977. Roy was a well-organized individual since he combined his many hours of SEG service with running his companies, including Teknica.
I personally remember Roy for his many acts of kindness and generosity. He did these through his own personal initiatives to help others. Here are but a few examples. When I returned to Canada to accept a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada research chair at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) in 1993, I remember reading an unsolicited letter sent from Roy to the department head, congratulating MUN for hiring me. This pleasant surprise was followed in later years by an invited dinner I had with Roy at the Calgary Petroleum Club during a visit to Calgary. After returning to Alberta in 1997 with an appointment at the University of Calgary, I remember meals with Roy and my University of Calgary colleagues at the Ranchmen’s Club, where Roy was a member. During these meetings, Roy discussed the state of Canadian exploration geophysics with a number of geophysics professors. Roy and I also shared stories of cattle farming since we had both grown up on Alberta farms – earth scientists for all of our lives.
Even during retirement from the workforce, Roy never retired from geophysics or from his interest in geophysicists. During his 80s and 90s, Roy would come to the University of Calgary on Fridays to hear talks by graduate students in the Consortium for Research in Elastic Wave Exploration Seismology (CREWES). Roy volunteered to edit CREWES reports of these students, and he attended the annual sponsors meeting for many years. Following his death, CREWES received a large donation from Roy to aid in its research program. Such unsolicited generosity was characteristic of Roy throughout his long and storied research career.
Satinder Chopra: Meeting stalwarts in our industry and getting into discussions with them is always an inspiring and learning experience. I am sure as upcoming geophysicists, we have all longed to gain this experience more than once.
Roy Lindseth was one of the few international geophysicists I had the opportunity of interacting with through regular mail before I met him personally. This was in about 1989–1990 or so. I was working for Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC), the leading national oil company of India, based at Dehradun, and engaged in seismic data processing, with a special interest in seismic attributes, including impedance inversion. ONGC had two versions of software for impedance inversion, one from Western Geophysical called pseudointerval velocity transform, and the other one from Teknica Resource Development, in Calgary, the consulting company that Roy owned and was running.
During that time, I was trying to understand the recursive inversion process employed in two different software packages, which yielded somewhat different results. I was also disillusioned by the fact that many of the following assumptions on which impedance inversion was based were not really being satisfied in practice: the available seismic data are imaged properly and mimic subsurface geology, represent only zero-offset primaries, are free of noise, and have a stable wavelet in the zone of interest, etc. As inversion was something new that we were trying to understand, and because I could not find a mentor within the computing center where I was working, I thought of writing to Roy. But the thought of writing to a geophysicist of Roy’s stature was daunting. I mustered courage and wrote out my letter detailing my queries and included a few equations.
Now, we are talking of the days when there was no Internet or email available. So, I found a typist who could neatly type out the text for me on company letterhead and leave space for including the equations to be printed properly. Next, I looked for a “drawing officer,” who could print the equations for me using a stencil. All this effort was being taken to ensure that my letter looked professional, and I felt quite happy about it when I finally held it in my hand. I folded it, inserted it into an airmail envelope, and posted it. The letter took three weeks to reach Calgary from Dehradun, India. Roy was very prompt in replying, and I received his two-page letter in exactly six weeks’ time. The neatly printed letter indicated the use of a PC and some word processing software. Had it been an e-mail exchange, I would have received his reply the following day.
On reading through Roy’s letter what I admired most was Roy’s warm and encouraging response to my queries, which he tried to explain in a very basic way. The way he addressed my concerns about many of the assumptions not being met in practice is what caught my attention, and I still remember it well. Roy said (as paraphrased):
“We should try and make every effort to ensure that the data satisfy the assumptions for the approach, but if some of them are not strictly met in practice, we should not be discouraged. The impedance inversion output will still have some useful information to aid our interpretation. Our seismic method is very robust, and despite its many imperfections, we have still found lots of oil around the world over the last four decades.”
His words are stuck in my head since then, and now I share them in my courses when I discuss the topic of impedance inversion. Of course, since the introduction of the basic recursive inversion method, other methods of inversion have been developed such as model-based and sparse-spike inversion.
Fast forward to the year 2003: I had migrated to Canada and was working for CTC Pulsonic/Core Laboratories Reservoir Technologies Division in Calgary, and volunteering as editor for the CSEG RECORDER. It was here that I realized what an outstanding geophysicist Roy was, having contributed generously to geophysics and having held responsible and prestigious positions in business circles, as well as in professional societies. He had also written a book on seismic data processing that was published by SEG. Deservedly so, he was honored with the highest awards for his many professional services.
While attending the local CSEG convention in 2003, a colleague of mine gestured to me and indicated that the person in front of us was the famous Roy Lindseth. That was my first glimpse of Roy, and it took me a few minutes to get over the initial sense of awe I was in before I stepped forward and introduced myself. Roy was very humble and warm, and I mentioned to him the letter I had written to him in 1989, and that I had received his reply as well. He did not seem to remember it, but nodded nevertheless.
Fast forward again a couple of years, and though after my first meeting with Roy I had met him briefly at conventions a couple of times, there was no discussion or any conversation. As I used to interview experienced geophysicists for the RECORDER, one day the idea of interviewing Roy flashed in my mind. I called Roy at his office and requested we meet for an interview. He was very responsive and suggested we meet at the Petroleum Club and discuss the plan over lunch. The following day, I met him and remembered to take his letter with me, as well as some examples on impedance inversion that I had generated a long time ago and had treasured all along. Roy was very happy to see all that stuff and asked if he could borrow to read at his leisure. We discussed the day and time for his interview with photos by Penny Colton (another CSEG/SEG P. Geoph, and history buff). You can see the interview in the December 2007 issue of the CSEG RECORDER at https://csegrecorder.com/interviews/view/interview-with-roy-lindseth. (SEG members can also find an interview with Roy in the April 1987 edition of The Leading Edge: https://library.seg.org/doi/ abs/10.1190/1.1439395.)
We got to know him better during the interview, as we touched upon his academic qualifications, professional experience, and all the work that he had carried out over the years. I always found Roy to be very patient, humble, smiling, and gentle in his mannerism. Such stalwarts are an asset for our profession and inspiring for the younger and upcoming geophysicists. Roy, may you rest in your eternal peace.
Dr. Lindseth was preceded in death by his first wife Lucia (Lucy) née Serrano Reyes, and second wife Dorys Smith. He is survived by sister Joyce Holland, son, Richard Lindseth, and extended family in Calgary, Boston, Bogota, and Stavely, Alberta, where his maternal Sundquist family homestead continues in its 114th year. He enjoyed golf at the Calgary Golf & Country Club and the annual Oilmen’s Golf Tournament, meeting colleagues at the Calgary Petroleum Club, and attending the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Calgary Opera. At the age of 92, Roy’s “slosh” league team won the coveted “Red Suspenders” at the Ranchmen’s Club, where he served as president in the club’s centennial year (1991).
Roy Lindseth was a gentleman, a scholar, a wise businessman, and a philanthropist who spanned many cultures. He was truly a geophysical giant. We will miss him and always remember him for all that he has done.
Larry R. Lines, Satinder Chopra, Penny Colton, and Robert R. Stewart
This article was originally printed in the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) October 2018 issue of The Leading Edge (Volume 37, no. 10).