James Freeman Gilbert, a renowned professor emeritus of geophysics in the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, died in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 15 of injuries related to an auto accident. He was 83.
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, he pioneered a method of inverting data for problems such as earth structure, a theory that changed the course of modern geophysical sciences and is used throughout all physical sciences.
He was instrumental in establishing modern seismograph networks, most notably the International Deployment of Accelerometers, a network built with the backing of his friend and Texas Instruments co-founder Cecil Green, that has transformed modern earthquake studies and areas such as nuclear test-ban treaty monitoring.
Born in Vincennes, Ind. in August of 1931, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a bachelor of science degree 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. He was an assistant professor of geophysics at UCLA in 1957-59, followed by two years as a senior research geophysicist at Geophysical Service Inc. in Dallas. After joining Scripps, he held two Guggenheim fellowships.
Gilbert was director of La Jolla's Institute of Geophysical and Planetary Physics (IGPP) from 1976 to 1988, following in the steps of founding director Walter Munk. In 1972, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and in 1981 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.
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, the IGPP external advisory committee, and the UC Santa Cruz Institute of Tectonics’ external advisory committee.
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 of 55 years; his children, Cynthia, Sarah and James; sons-in-law Henry and Francisco; daughter-in-law Jennifer; and grandchildren Dominic, Elena, Stuart and Tash.
Colleagues wishing to express condolences are invited to submit messages for web posting to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arrangements for memorial services are pending.