International Association of Seismology
and Physics of the Earth's Interior


Alan Douglas (1936 - 2015)


Professor Alan Douglas, retired head of the Forensic Seismology department at AWE Blacknest, United Kingdom, died on 12 March 2015 after a short illness. Alan's main contribution during his career was to the science underpinning verification of international treaties limiting or banning nuclear-test explosions. For the detection of explosions detonated underground the key technology is seismology, and this became Alan's area of expertise, with over 85 papers published in international peer reviewed journals during a career spanning half a century.

Alan was born in Maryport, now in Cumbria, in 1936, and grew up on a series of local farms. After reading Geology at the University of Leeds, and completing a masters in geophysics at Imperial College in London, Alan started work as a government prospector in the outback of Australia. However, after four years, on realising he was “going bush'', he returned to England, and started work at Blacknest in 1964. The seismology research group at Blacknest had been established in 1961 with Dr Hal Thirlaway as its head, after the government of Harold Macmillan recognised the potential of using seismology to verify compliance with a treaty banning underground nuclear-tests.

Alan was awarded the first Bullerwell lecture in 1981 by the then Joint Association for Geophysics, which in 1997 was renamed the British Geophysical Association (BGA) - Alan was the BGA's first president. During Alan's 1981 lecture he outlined two challenges in Forensic Seismology; how to better exploit seismometer arrays, and understanding the magnitude-yield relationship at different test sites. In 2001 the Royal Astronomical Society and the Geological Society hosted a two-day meeting at Burlington House, in celebration of Alan's work on nuclear-test monitoring. At the meeting Alan's contribution to resolving the challenges he identified in 1981, and many others since, were reviewed.

In 2005, Alan's contribution was recognised by receiving the "service for geophysics" award from the Royal Astronomical Society, and in 2013, after many decades of drafting, Alan finally published his book, titled "Forensic Seismology and Nuclear Test Bans", published by Cambridge University Press. The book brings together the significant results from research by the seismology group at Blacknest, of which he was head from 1982 to his retirement in 2001. After 2001 Alan continued his enduring commitment to maintaining the scientific research effort and capability of Blacknest.

The science of seismology in Alan's book is placed in the geo-political context - reflecting the long path to a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was first proposed in 1958, and finally opened for signature in 1996. The completion of negotiation of the CTBT in 1996 was the culmination of the tireless work of the "dynamic duo" of Alan and his colleague and friend Peter Marshall, CMG OBE.

Alan leaves a tangible legacy not only in his extensive published works, but also in the numerous students he taught, who have gone on to become university lecturers, work in industry, or as scientists in international organisations, such as the CTBT organisation in Vienna. The research group Alan led at Blacknest continues to provide technical advice to the United Kingdom Government on the CTBT.

Alan's wife Ann, their three children and families survive him. They remember his commitment and enthusiasm for his work. He was often heard to say "I have never had that Monday morning feeling" - quite a claim for someone who cycled to work, come rain or shine, for 50 years.

David Bowers, AWE Blacknest