Dear Alumni and Friends of the Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences department,

It is with great sadness that we must report that our beloved Bert Bally passed away this week.  Bert joined Rice in 1981 as chairman of what was then the Department of Geology and Geophysics.  He was appointed the Harry Carothers Wiess Professor of Geology, a position he held until he retired.

Born in The Hague, Netherlands, he spent his early years in Indonesia, Italy, and Switzerland. He began as a paleontologist at the University of Zurich and mapped in the Central Apennines for his Ph.D.

Prior to his tenure at Rice, he worked for Shell Oil where he rose through the ranks to become chief geologist.  He would spend many summers mapping the Canadian Rocky Mountains and foothills of Alberta.  Because of this, Bert recognized the importance of combining seismic reflection records with geologic maps to reconstruct the history of mountains and basins. One of his greatest and longest lasting contributions is his two three-volume sets of seismic atlases (1983) that popularized the use of industrial reflection techniques for scientific purposes. Until his death, he was considered the world’s leading expert in using seismic records to interpret regional geology, particularly in fold and thrust belts.

Bert had an amazing ability to synthesize regional geologic and geophysical data into a continental-scale framework.  He made enduring contributions to the structure and orogenic evolution of the North American Cordillera by demonstrating how regional seismic data could be used to understand fold belts. This included outlining many of the principles for making balanced cross sections, and showing that the fold belts are underlain large decollements, and revealing the intimate relationship between foredeep subsidence with tectonic activity in the fold belt.

In 1990, along with two other Rice structural geologists, John Oldow and the late Hans Ave Lallemant, Bert recognized that there was a severe deep lithosphere mass balance problem in Cordilleran type orogens and was one of the first to suggest the importance of large-scale delamination before it became popularized in the early 2000s.

Bert Bally in 2016 with alumni Heath Hopson and Dr. Pankaj Khanna.

Bert Bally, 2000. Image courtesy of Dr. A. Droxler.

With T. Cook he published the Stratigraphic Atlas for North and Central America (1975), complete with more than 250 maps showing the entire Phanerozoic stratigraphy of North America.

As a counselor with the Geological Society of America, it was Bert who proposed the Decade of North American Geology (DNAG) project, a large multivolume encyclopedia on the geology of North America. To this day, the DNAG volumes represent the most comprehensive geologic study of a continent ever done.

More impressive than his scholastic achievements were the life-changing impacts he had on his students and anyone who had the fortune of interacting with him.  His former students remember him as not just a scientific mentor but a mentor in life. His curiosity was never satiated. It was so contagious that when anyone was around him, everything seemed interesting.  He was an encyclopedia of geology, having seen and read so much during his long and productive life. Faculty and students, whenever they wanted to explore a new area (of research or geography), did well to pick Bert’s brain. Going on a ride with Bert, however, meant that sometimes discussions would digress into stories of his life, such as being forced to watch Mussolini march by when he was a boy, or visiting Tibet as one of the first western geologists to enter China. Then it would turn back to some of his favorite unsolved science problems, one of them being the unconformity.

In recognition of his contributions, Bert received many honors, including the William Smith medal (Geological Society of London), the Gustav Steinmann Medal (Geologische Vereinigung), the Sidney Powers Medal from the AAPG, the OTC Career Contribution Award for Structural Geology and many others.

After retirement, Bert continued at full speed ahead. He engaged with the department, showing students how to look at geologic maps. He gave generously, among many things recently helping us secure a Neoproterozoic mylonitized diamictite slab that now graces an entire wall in the foyer of our department. At the time of his death he was in the final stages of preparing and converting his global geologic maps, with accompanying text, for digital publication with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Bert never stopped.

Cin-Ty Lee, 2019


A reception honoring Bert Bally will be held on Friday, October 11, 2019 at 4:00pm on the patio of the Keith-Wiess Geology building on Rice University’s campus.


*Some of the content above was taken from Manik Talwani’s citation for Bert’s SEG Commendation Award and various interviews with Bert Bally by Daniel Minisini.

More information can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmfkMrNcU5Q

SEG citation: https://earthscience.rice.edu/directory/user/101/

Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=8m9RxuEAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao

Bert lifting up the world in 2017.

There will be a memorial service held by the Bally family at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church (6800 Buffalo Speedway, Houston, Texas 77025) on Wednesday, 28 August at 10:00 a.m.

In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made in memory of Albert and Elaine Bally to St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.

Please feel free to express your condolences and remembrances below, or send them to ctlee@rice.edu

13 replies
  1. Lanette Marcha
    Lanette Marcha says:

    Dr. Bally is beyond a GeoLegend. He was not only my advisor and professor, but my inspirational mentor who believed in me, encouraged me, and bestowed priceless time, support, knowledge, history, and laughter. Between 2001-2003, Dr. Bally was there for me through excitements and tears, through all ups and downs, as a friend and even the ‘grandfather’ I never had. He single-handedly substantially impacted my academic success, career, and development into who I ‘am’ today.
    He pushed me way beyond my comfort zone, fed my passion for geology, taught me to believe and value myself, to think outside the box, to have faith in myself and in the universe, and so much more. I particularly enjoyed his war stories and our conversations on modern day civilization. To quote, upon completion of my Master of Science thesis 12/2003 at Rice University, “Lanette, you made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and that is one of your greatest strengths.” Till this day, I often remember his words, quoting him even, to push through the continuous hurdles life throws, and add to the collection of my sows’ ears.
    On my ‘hopeless’ days during grad school (I look back and laugh now, as he predicted I would), he introduced me to the Rothko Chapel and to the Menil Collection, which I still visit for peace, tranquility, and remembrance of him and the thought that I will get through “this or that,” stronger and wiser.
    Before I graduated, I had a handful of job offers. According to Dr. Bally, it was a “no brainer.” “Finish your masters and go work for Shell! Come back later in life with all that practical experience to be the best teacher you can be. You will never see so much data as you will in the oil & gas business. Exposure to data is key!” No doubt, “Oh Captain! My Captain!” I followed his orders and never regretted it.
    Dr. Bally you are more than a GeoLegend: you’re an amazing man with a fascinating life history who has impacted the lives of so many at so many fronts and levels. I am eternally grateful, and you will always be remembered. Rest in Peace.

    Lanette Marcha
    M.S. Thesis, Earth Science Dept., Rice University, 12/2003

    Reply
  2. Francis Albarede
    Francis Albarede says:

    Janne and I are so sad to hear that Bert is no longer with us. Although I only got to know him some 10 years ago, we always made sure to share a lunch or two at the Turkish restaurant of the village or at Goode’s Seafood and talk about science like if we both still had decades of research ahead of us. He taught me most of the useful facts I know about Mediterranean geology. Of course Janne and I went with him through his amazing folder of photos and journal articles about his youth in Europe and about Mussolini. He was never cheap with his time and his enthusiasm was as strong as ever. Nobody knew how to answer one single question of mine with an avalanche of books and papers on my desk at the 3rd floor, all old but spot on, as Bert. He has probably been the geologist who impressed me the most with his knowledge, his breadth, his vision and his desire of unselfish sharing.

    Reply
  3. Claudio Faccenna
    Claudio Faccenna says:

    Generations of geologist have studied on the Bally’s seminal papers and textbook. His cross-sections on the northern Apennines are wonderful.
    I never had the pleasure to meet him, but he guided us on the understanding of the orogeny and deformations.
    we will all miss him
    Claudio

    Reply
  4. Dan Worrall
    Dan Worrall says:

    I just heard from the Rice University geology department that Bert Bally passed away this week, preceded a few days by the passing of his beloved wife Elaine Turner Bally. Both worked for Shell (Elaine was an executive secretary at Bellaire for years). Bert had been ill for some weeks, and I last visited him two or three weeks ago.

    Bert was a true geologist’s geologist, and a member in good standing of the old Shell Oil “Swiss Mafia” that so many of us worked with. He retired from Shell in 1981 as Senior Technical Consultant, and went on to rebuild a faltering Geology Department at Rice University as Department Head.

    He was born in 1925 in The Hague of a Dutch mother and a Swiss father. They moved to Italy in 1931, where as a boy he experienced the brief and unhappy reign of Mussolini. His family, fearing the worst, sent Bert and his brother to Switzerland in 1939, where Bert became interested in geology. Following the war, he and his family returned to Italy. He mapped a large and complex mountain called “La Madre Maiella” in the central Appenines for his dissertation at the University of Zurich, where he graduated in 1953.

    From 1954 to 1981, he worked for Shell Oil, starting in Canada. For those of us who followed structural geology, his Shell paper of 1966 with colleagues Gordy and Stewart on the thrust and folding dynamics of the Canadian Rockies was an absolute classic, and an introduction to the art of paleogeographic cross sections. After 1966 he was at Shell Development’s Bellaire lab, reaching the level of Technical Consultant in 1968. In about 1974 (?), he along with J.T. Smith and Higby Williams wrote an extremely prescient white paper for Shell Oil head office that outlined the direction of the next few decades of exploration in North America and beyond, and recommended steps that Shell should take in research to prepare for the move from an onshore focus to offshore continental margin exploration. From that beginning came a reorganization of the lab in 1975, with the founding of the Global Geology Group as well as a vigorous development of new geochemistry techniques at BRC that served the needs of both Shell Oil and Pecten. For those of us structural geologists who began our careers at BRC, he was a champion of the use of seismic data and careful palinspastic techniques to unravel the geologic history of continental margin basins. His periodic courses on regional geology were real highlights of the Shell geology training regimen.

    After retiring from Shell, Bert consulted for a time with Conoco, and then became Department Head at Rice. Even after retirement from his second career at Rice he continued his life’s work in regional geology, and published (with Dave Roberts) a three volume summary of the world’s Regional Geology and Tectonics in 2012. He was working on a revised, updated version of that work only months before his passing.

    A list of his academic and industry awards would be long indeed, but included the Sidney Powers Award for the AAPG, the William Smith Medal from the Geological Society of London, and the Gustave Steinmann Medal from the Geologische Vereinigung of Germany. He was the Centennial President of the Geological Society of America in 1988, where he spearheaded the twenty-or-so volumes of the Decade of North American Geology project.

    He was a mentor and a friend, and I shall miss him.

    Dan Worrall

    Reply
    • Dave Lawrence
      Dave Lawrence says:

      Beautiful history of the remarkable life of a groundbreaking, prolific, brilliant geologist and outstanding mentor to so many. My greatest sympathy and condolences to all Bert’s family and to his many friends, colleagues and students.

      Reply
  5. Mark Gordon
    Mark Gordon says:

    Although I had met him earlier and read his “foothills” paper (among others), I really became acquainted with Bert when I started a postdoc at Rice in 1992. He reached out to Hans Ave Lallemant and I to compare notes about Central America and Mexico. He figured that since they were working on Mexico and we were working in Honduras, we should all know what the others were doing. While at Rice, we also enjoyed his wonderful and encyclopedic knowledge of Venezuela which helped delineate Caribbean tectonics. I did not see much of Bert once I started working in industry. Then to my surprise, when I started at Shell, I was told that Bert had an office at Shell. He was a great source of information for a project I was doing in Asia. He had geologic maps that nobody else had. We had a great time interacting for a few years. When Mexico opened to international companies, he invited those of us working in industry to come to Rice in order to share his knowledge of Mexico with us. Bert gave generously of his time and knowledge. Talking with him was a pleasure as well as being enlightening. He will be greatly missed.
    Mark Gordon

    Reply
  6. Cin-Ty Lee
    Cin-Ty Lee says:

    I was fortunate to get to know Bert in the last decade or so of his life. As a former chair, he would often drop by my office and chat about his experiences. I learned a lot about the history of our department and what makes a good department. I was grateful to hear about his struggles, which helped me put things in context. Bert would also show me his maps. He was always concerned that the new generation of geoscientists weren’t being trained to look at maps. When he began scaling down his operations, I made sure to save and organize all his maps in the hopes that some time down the road, we would build a more permanent archive. Bert wanted students to see maps as much as possible, so one day he came by and showed me a picture of a globe with Earth’s geology laid out on it. He thought that having students see a geologic map in 3-D would be amazing and wanted me to buy it for the department. The only issue was that it was a bit too expensive for me to purchase it and I really didn’t know the quality of the product, so I told Bert I’d think about it. Half a year later, we still hadn’t purchased it, but at the Denver GSA conference, I happened to be wandering the halls and bumped into the maker of these globes. Bert was right. They were exactly what we needed and the vendor offered a huge discount if I bought it right there. I quickly emailed Bert and he told me to buy it immediately and he’d reimburse me when I got back. And that was that.

    About a year earlier, right when I became chair, Bert came to my rescue. I had been in the process of remodeling our house and had been looking around granite countertop stores for tiles. I happened to stumble across a most fascinating piece of rock called Meteor Shower Satin. At these countertop stores, they usually don’t know where any of these rock slabs come from or even what they are. This was a mylonitized pelite, but there were a diversity of clasts in it, ranging from metasediments to igneous rocks. I thought it might be a glacial diamictite protolith, and the fact that it was mylonitized, got me thinking about where in the world glacial sediments may have had the chance to be caught up in some orogeny. I didn’t know, but I suspected it might well have been Precambrian. I had to have this rock, so I bought it. The problem I realized very soon afterwards was that I had no place in my house to put it and that it would be much better for the department, so I explored the possibility of hanging it up on the wall of our foyer. The only problem was that it cost another $2000 to hang it up, which I didn’t have! I went to Bert and told him about this rock I bought and my little problem. He came up with the other half, and that’s how we got that on the wall!

    Bert’s impact on my scientific career was profound. He just knew so much. When we started exploring the possible connection between volcanic ash and hydrocarbons, we weren’t confident about our ideas. I asked Bert if this was crazy. He said, “No, it’s not crazy, that’s what I thought back when I was a student”. I asked if he had ever published that because it didn’t seem to be widely accepted or even discussed, and he said that he hadn’t published that because he said nobody would believe him! He was right after all. And over a course of the year, he helped me connect with other examples where ash and source rocks occurred together.

    During this time, Bert was also putting together a whole set of geological and geophysical maps for the world. These maps were highly simplified, but his goal was to compile everything and put them in an accessible format so that everyone, even if they weren’t field geologists, could learn. It was a monumental effort and he eventually succeeded in getting these out in a three volume set. This happened when I think he was well into his 80s. He would tell me though that the one thing he never could put together was a map of all the plutonic rocks through time and he had urged me to do it. Of course, these days, with the pressures that junior faculty have to publish and get tenure, it just wasn’t something I could do. So everyday he would come and ask if I had done it, and I would always disappoint him. Fast forward several years, we were working on the episodicity of continental arcs through time. I had a post doc Wenrong Cao, now a professor at the University of Nevada Reno. Wenrong was a field geologist, and together we worked on compiling geologic maps across the world, resulting in a map of how the extent and distribution of plutonism varied on Earth back to 750 Ma. We consulted Bert regularly during this project.

    One of Bert’s other great interests was the unconformity. He would talk about this to me all the time, and I must admit that initially, I didn’t find it all that interesting. But over the course of ten years, the significance and mystery of unconformities grew on me. A couple years ago, just as Bert foresaw, I had published a paper on the origin of unconformities. And right now, we are studying unconformities in the forearc and backarcs of arc systems.

    Bert had a nose for important problems and questions. I learned quickly that with Bert, one should just listen and go along for the ride. It always took you somewhere, sometimes you didn’t even know it took you somewhere until you look back. In all the above projects, I asked Bert to be a coauthor because of how he inspired me or my group to work on these topics. He always declined, saying I’m done fighting the fight.

    As I write, I am now working on seaward dipping reflectors, yet another topic that Bert pushed me to study. Coming to Rice set me on paths I had never expected to take. I learned quickly that the energy industry community was an entity one wanted to embrace rather than divest from. I learned that by learning from each other, everyone benefits and everyone’s minds are broadened. That wasn’t what I thought when I walked into Rice 18 years ago, coming from the east and west coasts. I credit Bert for truly broadening my mind.

    Rest in peace, Bert.

    Cin-Ty

    Reply
  7. John B Anderson
    John B Anderson says:

    Many of us lost a dear friend and colleague this week with Bert’s passing. He was a generous man and esteemed scientist.

    I am one of the few remaining faculty who was here when Bert took over as Department Head. At that time the department had lost some of its most prominent faculty and was struggling to get back on track. Bert wasted no time in negotiating with the administration for new faculty positions and funding that allowed us to avoid what could have been a downward spiral. He did so by uniting every member of the department and convincing us that our department was destined to be one of the best in the country.

    I have many fond memories of Bert and our time together. One of my most vivid memories is the time we drove to the Woodlands together for a meeting at the Houston Area Research Center. On our trip to the Woodlands I could not help but notice a loud bumping sound. Bert insisted on continuing to the Woodlands because we were running late. When we arrived I was amazed to observe a large knot on the tire easily half a football in size. When the meeting ended I offered to replace the tire only to discover that there was no spare or jack. Bert insisted that we drive back to Houston by avoiding the interstate. I did not know that you could drive from the Woodlands to Houston mostly on back roads, but we managed to make it back to Rice after what was a long but enjoyable trip of storytelling and reassurances from Bert that we would be fine. Being Bert, I never doubted. I wonder if he ever got a spare or jack after that incident. The man simply did not have the time for mundane things like changing tires.

    Our department has many new faculty and students who never had the opportunity to know Bert well. He was a kind and gentle giant within our field. His legacy will live on through his work and his students. Rest in peace Bert, we will miss you.

    John

    Reply
  8. Jonathan Sadow
    Jonathan Sadow says:

    As an undergraduate at the beginning of Prof. Bally’s tenure at Rice, I didn’t interact with him that much. However, he was one of the instructors for the Field Methods course that I took in Spring 1983, and the quote from Cin-Ty’s posting summarized Prof. Bally’s views on geologic understanding precisely:

    “He was always concerned that the new generation of geoscientists weren’t being trained to look at maps.”

    In class he once told us that, upon coming across a new publication of interest, the first thing he would do was to examine the accompanying map. Ninety percent of the information in the publication, he said, was contained in the map. The accompanying text simply filled in the margins of knowledge about the map. This was perhaps the wisest thing I ever learned about geology. Over the course of time, I came to teach introductory courses in geology to community college students, and I was always careful to instruct my students about geologic maps and the wealth of knowledge that they contain. Hopefully, the department’s preservation of his maps will continue this legacy of geologic understanding.

    Reply
  9. A. M. Celal Sengor
    A. M. Celal Sengor says:

    I had the great fortune of meeting Alberto (as we called him on this side of the pond) when I was still a sophomore in the University of Houston in 1976. Alberto was then an advisor in Shell (the highest a geologist can climb in that company). I believe it was the late Prof. Milton Dobrin who introduced me to him. Ever since Alberto behaved like a guardian angel to me; I was in his house many times for dinner; his first wife, Nelly, used to cook Swiss specialities and enjoyed the opportunity to speak German with me. After I moved to Albany, Alberto did not lose contact with me. He invited me to the famous 1977 Penrose Conference in Ascona that he organised. Later he and Nelly came to Istanbul, from where we drove across western Turkey to a meeting in Antalya. During the drive, in the middle of the night, we needed to buy petrol in Afyon. So, we stopped at a Shell petrol station. Alberto produced his Shell credit card and said that he was told that that card should be valid in all Shell stations in the world. Naturally, the poor Turkish peasant, who operated the station at that time, had never heard of such a thing. I told him who was sitting in the car. Upon that he disappeared into the house next to the station and in a few minutes his entire family came out (obviously aroused out of bed) to meet the great Shell man. Alberto was terribly amused and complimented these nice people and gave them a big tip.

    When he retired from Shell he invited me to his office and told me that I could choose any book I wanted! I remember taking Anderson’s book on fault and dyke formation. I still cherish it in my library. When as a student in Albany, I was invited to Exxon in Houston as a consultant, I told about it to Alberto and he told me to stay with him and Nelly. In the evening before my appointment with the Exxon people, I told him that I would want no money, but would wish to see the confidential data in places I had an interest in. He said “Never! Never say you want no money. They will not respect you. Take the money and see the data too. But bring me the first dollar they will give you”. I did as I was told. When he took the one dollar bill, he made me to write on it that it was the first money I ever made in my life and to sign it. Many, many years later he sent it back to me, framed! I still have it in my study.

    When I was doing my PhD in the Albula Pass in Switzerland, ten minutes away from St. Moritz, Paul Jeffrey Fox (the later head of ODP) and his wife Janet had come visit me in the field. I suggested one day to go to St. Moritz for lunch. As we were coming out of the car in St. Moritz, who do we see coming towards us: Alberto and Nelly Bally! Of course, we walked to meet them. Alberto, without even saying hello to anybody, says to me: “You are supposed to be mapping in Albula, not feasting in St. Moritz!” Janet Fox burst into laughter saying “Oh Celal, it is so nice to see somebody who can give you the sort of crap you give to everyone else!” Then Alberto invited all of us to lunch. He later came to my field area to inspect me with his dear friend Prof. Daniel Bernoulli. It was a terrifying experience, but one that proved immensely useful to me. In Alberto, we lost not only a great geologist, but a very fine, generous, kind human being, for me a fatherly friend.

    Reply
  10. Anna Sommaruga - Jon Mosar
    Anna Sommaruga - Jon Mosar says:

    Born in 1925, Professor Albert Bally was educated for a large part in Switzerland, where he obtained a doctorate in geology from ETHZ in 1953 to become a “Swiss geologist”. In 1992, together, we started a fruitful collaboration on the Jura Mountains and the Swiss Molasse Basin, first at the University of Neuchâtel including scientific visits at Rice, and subsequently pursued at the University of Fribourg. Prof. Bally instigated new thinking on the links between the surface geology – very well known since decades from geological maps – and the subsurface geology illuminated by seismic profiles. The “Bally style” successfully conquered the Alpine foreland. In 2016 the University of Fribourg in Switzerland awarded Professor Albert W. Bally the Docteur Honoris causa of the Faculty of Sciences and Medicine. The laudation was for his exceptional scientific career, for his pioneering spirit in building bridges between the academic and professional worlds, and for his scientific contributions and the development of innovative geological concepts by combining classical geology and seismic profile interpretation. Albert Bally was not just a geologist, he was the embodiment of the Swiss geologist who went abroad and who contributed to the reputation of Swiss geology in the world.

    Bert Bally was, and will remain an inspirational scientist for all of us.

    On behalf of the Faculty of Sciences and Medicine and the Department of Geosciences of the University of Fribourg, we would like to express our deep sympathies and condolences to the family of Albert Bally.

    Anna Sommaruga, Jon Mosar
    University of Fribourg, Switzerland

    Reply
  11. Daniel Minisini
    Daniel Minisini says:

    Caro Maestro,
    it seems to me that, with your passing, Geology has lost some of its poetry: the stories, the fun to tell them; the maps, the space to keep them; the books, the time to read them; the field campaigns, the will to organize them.
    I feel I hear you…
    “Fly me over the rocky mountains. I need to know the regional context”
    “Don’t specialize too much, be a generalist”
    “Remember the importance of common sense”
    “Communicate with your colleague directly, not in a meeting”
    “Avoid bamboozling managers by too much information, simplify the message”
    “We need information, no hypotheses”
    “Drilling a dry hole is the most important experience you can have, it is important to be wrong”
    “Learn to forgive”
    “Enjoy people and respect people”
    “La vita del geologo e’ una vita santa: si mangia, beve e canta!”

    Cheers to your fun and exciting life!
    daniel

    Reply
  12. PRIYANK JAISWAL
    PRIYANK JAISWAL says:

    Dear Dr. Bally,

    I would not be where I am without your help and support. I am very fortunate to have spent time with you. I wish I had spent more. Your selfless sharing of knowledge and resources with one and all will always inspire me to strive to become a better human being. You will be dearly missed by many like me. Thank you for everything.

    May you rest in peace.
    – Priyank

    Reply

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