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.