Albert W. Bally

Emeritus Professor
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Biographical Info

(from Manik Talwani's citation for Bert's SEG Commendation Award)

Bert Bally has had an extraordinary scientific career that he is still pursuing very actively.

Born in The Hague, The Netherlands, he spent his early years in Indonesia, Italy, and Switzerland. At the University of Zurich (where he specialized in paleontology) he wrote his PhD thesis on the mapping of an area in the Central Apennines.

For a major part of his career, Bert worked for Shell Oil. While with Shell Canada, he spent several summers mapping the Rocky Mountains and foothills of Alberta. Later he became their chief geologist, then transferred to Shell USA and progressed from manager of geologic research to chief geologist to senior consultant. In 1981 he joined Rice University as chairman of the Department of Geology and Geophysics. He was also appointed the Harry Carothers Weiss Professor of Geology, a position he still occupies.

Early in his career, Bert realized the importance of seismic reflection records and expertly combined his love of geologic mapping with his curiosity about regional geology through detailed analysis of seismic reflection records. He is considered the world's leading expert in using seismic records in interpreting regional geology, especially in the area of folded mountain belts.

Bert's impressive list of publications includes his paper, coauthored with Gordy Steward, on the structure and orogenic evolution of the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains (1966) in which he established (1) the role of regional seismic data in understanding fold belts, (2) that fold belts overlie vast monoclines of underlying foreland basement, (3) the justification for balanced cross sections, (4) the reintroduction of listric normal faulting, and (5) the importance of the relationship of foredeep subsidences to activities in the folded belt.

With T. Cook he published a Stratigraphic Atlas for North and Central America (1975) which, in more than 250 maps, shows the Phanerozoic stratigraphy of North America. Most geologists are familiar with Bally's work through his two three-volume sets of seismic atlases (1983) that popularized the use of industrial reflection techniques for scientific purposes. As a counselor with the Geological Society of America, he proposed the DNAG project, a large multivolume encyclopedia on the geology of North America, for the GSA centennial celebration. With Peter Palmer, he edited the introductory volume, which many consider the most comprehensive introduction to the geology of North America.

At Rice University, Bert has successfully built bridges between academia and industry. His worldwide recruiting brings together students from various national oil companies, and they in turn bring their data (seismic records, well logs, etc.). Bert spends countless hours working with them, often synthesizing data of the study areas.

Bert has received numerous honors, including the William Smith medal (London Geologic Society), the Gustav Steinmann Medal (Geologische Vereinigung), and honorary fellowship (AAPG and European Union of Geophysicists).

Besides being dedicated to his science, to the formulation of new ideas, to his students and colleagues, Bert's most notable characteristic is his personal warmth which promotes a deep friendship with all his associates. Bert Bally richly deserves SEG's Special Commendation Award.


PhD , University of Zurich

Awards & Honors

President of the Geological Society of America (1988)
Sidney Powers Medal from the AAPG (1998)
Society of Exploration Geologist's Commendation Award (SEG)
OTC Distinguished achievement Award (2003)
OTC Career Contribution Award for Structural Geology
President of the Inter-Union Commission of the Lithosphere (1990-1992)


geology, exploration geophysics


Bally has dedicated his career to the complicated task of geophysical interpretation and analysis of complex subsurface structures. He realized that seismic reflection data was key to unraveling highly deformed rocks. His research on fold-thrust belts, basin analysis and the concept of orogenic float is classic work. Bally is a pioneer in thin-skinned tectonics originally from research in the Canadian Rocky Mountain fold and thrust belt. His work has provided excellent guidance to geologists drilling for oil in deformed tectonic provinces.

Upon retirement from Shell after 27 years, he became Harry Carothers Weiss Professor of Geology at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He was department chairman at Rice early in his career, and established the department's geophysics program. His insight in melding geology and geophysics has been the hallmark of his research and teaching. A major focus of investigation has been on reconciliation of the complex structural geology of the earth's upper crust with lower crust and mantle. Bally is now Rice emeritus professor, yet very active in current research. For example, he has co-edited a two-volume book called The Phanerozoic Geology of the World.

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