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Peter Vail

Peter Vail, Ph.D. 1956

Senior Research Scientist, EXXON (retired)
W. Maurice Ewing Professor Emeritus of Oceanography,
Rice University, Houston, Texas

Peter Vail single-handedly revolutionized the interpretation of seismic data in oil exploration. He proved that reflections - lines on seismic sections- correlate with global sea level changes. Indeed, these sea level curves are now universally referred to as "Vail curves". Vail's research grew out of his work with Northwestern professors Larry Sloss and Bill Krumbein, from their ideas on sediment sequences on the North American continent.

In 2003 he was awarded the prestigious Penrose medal by the Geological Society of America. In his citation, Robert Mitchum (Northwestern, Ph.D. 1954) summarized:

"His early years in geophysics were very difficult times for Pete. The value of his work was not recognized, and he was ranked very low in geophysical technical appraisals. In addition, he was subject to ridicule and opposition from other geologists as well. In spite of this opposition, Pete persevered almost single-handedly in showing the relationship of seismic reflection patterns to chronostratigraphy. This was the 'Eureka!' event for Pete, because it showed that seismic data could be used for putting stratigraphy into a geologic time framework for mapping."

Peter Vail has played many important roles in industry, government, and academia. His numerous awards include the Sidney Powers Memorial Award of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, the AAPG President's Award and Matson Award for best papers, an Individual Achievement Award from the Offshore Technology Conference, and also the Twenhofel Medal by SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology). His extensive list of publications and the citations of this work attest to the fundamental significance of his research.

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