UH Professor Leon Thomsen Awarded SEG’s Maurice Ewing Medal

Award is SEG’s Highest Honor

Professor Leon Thomsen was selected to receive the highest medal award from the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, an international academic organization present in 114 countries with more than 11,400 members.

Maurice Ewing Medal

According to SEG, the Maurice Ewing Medal is awarded to a person who, by a unanimous vote of both the Honors and Awards Committee and the Board of Directors, is deserving of SEG’s highest honor through having made distinguished contributions both to the advancement of the science and to the profession of exploration geophysics. 

Thomsen has served as a research professor of geophysics at the University of Houston’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences since 2008.

His research has profoundly changed the landscape of exploration seismology. In 1986, Thomsen published his paper titled “Weak elastic anisotropy,” which is one of the most cited papers in the history of geophysics. He introduced three parameters – now called Thomsen parameters – which became fundamental concepts in seismic imaging.

Leon Thomsen

Thomsen also contributed influential work in theoretical rock physics that has been critical for researchers to understand the roles of fractures, fluids and anisotropy. Recently, he contributed to understanding anisotropy in deep earthquakes with EAS Professors Yingcai Zheng and Tom Lapen.

Thomsen received his B.S. from Caltech in 1964 and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1969. He then became a tenured professor at SUNY Binghamton where his early research topics included finite-strain theory and noble gas evolution of the Earth. He then changed his career path to the oil industry and began a long career with Amoco and later BP where he rose to the position of Principal Geophysicist.

He is an Honorary Member of the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers and also of the Geophysical Society of Houston. Thomsen received SEG’s Reginald Fessenden Award in 1993, which is given to a person who has made a specific technical contribution to exploration geophysics, such as an invention or a theoretical or conceptual advancement.

Thomsen served the Society of Exploration Geophysics as President in 2006-07. In this role, he was the de facto head of the international profession of applied geophysics. Prior to that, he held several elected SEG positions and chaired several important committees. He also served as SEG/EAGE Distinguished Instructor (2002) and SEG Distinguished Lecturer (1997). From 2001-04, he served on the Advisory Board to the Associate Director for Geosciences, National Science Foundation.

Previous winners of the Maurice Ewing Medal from University of Houston include: Robert E. Sheriff (1998), Gerald H. F. Gardner (1999), Fred Hilterman (2006) and Arthur B. Weglein (2016).

Winners of the Maurice Ewing Medal since its inception in 1978