GSA Medals & Awards

George P. Woollard Award

Alan Levander
Alan Levander
Rice University

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All 2007
Division Award Recipients

Presented to Alan Levander

 Citation by Eugene D. Humphreys

Alan brings to the investigation of the Earth a combination of an industry-based technical perspective and a science-based desire to discover the undiscovered, find the fundamental and seek questions not previously asked. His accomplishments are derived from an effort to make real progress in Earth science and this runs through all of his efforts, whether they involve developing new ways of analyzing data, imaging the Earth, defining new directions for science, or serving a leadership position.

Much of Alan’s scientific research is aimed at revealing structural aspects of the Earth. Representative works include: imaging crust and mantle structure of many orogenic settings (e.g., Alaska, California, Venezuela, Rocky Mountains); imaging environmental sites; developing the wave propagation code now widely used; developing stochastic methods of scattering imaging, and developing migration methods for teleseismic waves to image the upper mantle. More than just a list, what is seen throughout this work is a motivation to image physical structures authentically and address the underlying processes from which the structures originated.

Alan pursues the goals of resolving Earth structure with vigor and rigor. If progress requires organizing the larger community, he directs his abundant energy toward this. For instance, reflected in his publications one will find: early (perhaps initial) large off-shore on-shore investigations; organization of the Deep Probe investigation of the U.S. and Canadian Rocky Mountains (longest refraction experiment in recent history); pioneering efforts in applying industry techniques to crustal imaging; and he is now involved in developing imaging methods that integrate diverse seismic data types into a self-consistent image. This latter effort includes bringing people together, as in various collaborations and workshops, or as in the long effort toward developing a facility to image continental crust at a continental scale; among other things, USArray, and hence its outgrowth EarthScope, trace their roots back directly to these efforts. I can say with certainty that it was Alan’s confidence and persistence that kept the idea of USArray alive for years until NSF finally picked up the idea. All this illustrates a persistence, patience and eventual success of a single individual that I’ve not seen elsewhere. His overall influence is such that it is difficult to imagine the state of lithospheric imaging or understanding of continental processes if one were to remove Alan’s influence on the field over the last 15 years; his influence in many realms has brought our science forward, oftentimes in fundamental ways.

On a more personal note, I add that I’ve seen many people in our field who have made strong and important contributions in a wide variety of ways. Among them, Alan’s ambition for accomplishment, joy of collaborative effort and a pleasure in taking, sharing and reflecting credit stand out for the breadth of success fostered and resulting significance to our field and those of us within it.

For these reasons, I am proud and happy to see Alan Levander receive the George Woollard Award.

 top 2007 George P. Woollard Award - Response by Alan Levander

First I’d like to thank Gene Humphreys for his generous words about my career, and I’d also like to thank the GSA and particularly the Geophysics Division for the George P. Woollard Award. Geophysics is a small part of a very large discipline, yet we have an unusual level of influence on the Earth Sciences if not on the GSA as an organization: Where would Earth Science be without geophysics for subsurface illumination, and equally important, where would geophysics be without geologists to keep us honest?

I’m honored, and of course pleased, to receive this award. To a large measure the pleasure comes from knowing most of the people who have received the Woollard Award in previous years. The first recipient of the Woollard Award was George Thompson, who was on my dissertation committee. The second, Manik Talwani, is a long time colleague at Rice, and last year’s recipient, Ken Kodama, was a fellow student in graduate school. Among other Woollard recipients are five people I have collaborated with, some I’ve served on committees with, and all but two I’ve met at various times. I’ve explored Alaska with Walter Mooney, traversed most of the Rockies with Randy Keller and Ron Clowes, and I’ve surfed in La Jolla with Dave Sandwell. It’s both gratifying, but also humbling to be included in the company of such an exceptional group of scientists and people.

Someone I never met was George Woollard, although I roughly knew his contributions from references in my introductory geophysics texts. From web research I learned that he taught at Princeton, and moved to the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1949. The UW-Madison Geology and Geophysics webpage gives him given credit for founding the geophysics program there. In 1963, he moved to Hawaii, where he became the first director of the Hawaii Institute for Geophysics. Among other things, Woollard established a standardized international gravity network, and an Antarctic geophysics program. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1941, and has a mountain named for him in Antarctica, Mt. Woollard. In 1943, he published a paper in the GSA Bulletin entitled: Transcontinental Gravitational and Magnetic Profile of North America and Its Relation to Geologic Structure.

Imagine doing a transcontinental geophysical survey in 1943! Even a trip across the country was a major undertaking then, much less with delicate geophysical equipment. This contribution might be considered the potential fields forerunner to EarthScope.

My wife Caroline, who is an English professor, thinks that Earth scientists as a group are very nice people. Despite the fun of field work, I think that there is something both challenging and humbling about having to gather your basic data by traveling around on the surface of the Earth, even with today’s transportation and communication systems. I think that the difficulties associated with field work make Earth scientists a bit unusual in the academy. The weather can be miserable, the mountains are steep, the wildlife and indeed the natives can be unfriendly, the equipment fails, vehicles break and crash, and one can just lose heart at times. I think that all of this makes Earth scientists both more pragmatic and more appreciative of their colleagues’ efforts than one might find in other fields. Now that we are engaged in the EarthScope endeavor, I’m confident that we have the community élan to fully realize its potential.

As a group I’d like to thank you for this honor and the pleasure of working in Earth science. I’d again like to thank my long-time friend Gene Humphreys. In closing I’d especially like to thank my wife Caroline, who didn’t quite know the boundary conditions associated with marrying an Earth scientist, but has shown remarkable patience and understanding along the way, and has always been an inspiration to me.