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


Freeman Gilbert (1931 - 2014)


James Freeman Gilbert, a renowned professor emeritus of geophysics in the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, died in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 15, 2014, from injuries related to a car accident. He was 83 years old.

A leading contributor in computational geophysics, seismology, earthquake sources, and geophysical inverse theory, Gilbert was the author of numerous research papers, book chapters, reviews, and other publications.

Gilbert was a leading expert in seismic research. With his Scripps colleague George Backus in the 1960s, Gilbert pioneered a method of inverting data for problems such as Earth structure, a theory that changed the course of modern geophysical sciences and that is used throughout all physical sciences.

He was instrumental in establishing modern seismograph networks, most notably the International Deployment of Accelerometers (IDA), a network built with the backing of his friend Cecil Green, co- founder of Texas Instruments that has transformed modern earthquake studies as well as areas such as nuclear test-ban treaty monitoring.

Born in Vincennes, Indiana, USA, in August 1931, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and received a B.S. in 1953 and a Ph.D. in geophysics in 1956. While at MIT, he was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and a research associate (1956-57). He was an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1957-59, followed by two years as a senior research geophysicist at Geophysical Service Inc. in Dallas, TX. After joining Scripps, he held two Guggenheim Fellowships, in 1964-65 and in 1972-73.

Gilbert was the second director of IGPP from 1976 to 1988, following in the steps of founding director Walter Munk. Together, they established IGPP as a leading geophysical institute in the world – a role it continues to occupy to this day.

In 1972, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and in 1981, he was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal. He was the 1985 recipient of the Council of the Geological Society of America’s Arthur L. Day Medal for outstanding contributions to geologic knowledge and in 1990, he won the Balzan Prize from the Fondazione Internazionale Premio E. Balzan in Milan, Italy. In 1994, he was awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa at Utrecht University and, in the same year, was named Foreign Associate of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome. In 1999, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) awarded Gilbert the William Bowie Medal, the organization’s highest honor that recognizes outstanding contributions to fundamental geophysics and for unselfish cooperation in research.

Gilbert received the 2004 Medal of the Seismological Society of America for outstanding contributions in seismology and earthquake engineering. Also in 2004, he received an honorary doctor of engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines.

He served on several boards and committees, including the National Research Council and National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Earth Sciences and Resources. He was a senior fellow of the San Diego Supercomputer Center, an honorary foreign fellow of the European Union of Geosciences, and a fellow of the Geological Society of America, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, AGU, and the Explorers Club.

He is survived by Sally Gilbert, his wife, his children and grandchildren.

Adapted after the obituary published on Scripps website,
Peter Suhadolc