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Richard T. Buffler, GCSSEPM Honorary Member

bufflerOne of the last frontier exploration areas in the United States is the deep and ultradeep waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico Basin. Hundreds of millions of dollars are now spent yearly in the acquisition, processing, and interpretation of seismic reflection data, as well as in lease acquisition, and in the drilling of wells. Twenty-five years ago, precious little was known about the geology of the deep-water Gulf of Mexico. At that time, an important relationship began at the University of Texas Marine Geophysics Lab in Galveston, Texas that led to extensive scientific investigations of the deep Gulf of Mexico Basin. One of the main architects of the collection and interpretation of the geologic and geophysical data collected was Richard T. Buffler. It is altogether fitting as our industry expends major effort and money in the deciphering the deep Gulf of Mexico, that the GCSSEPM recognizes one of the original workers for his important contributions to our understanding of the Gulf of Mexico Basin.

Richard T. Buffler was born on November 4, 1937 in Troy, New York. His family moved to Austin, Texas when he was young. He attended UT-Austin and majored in geology, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in May 1959. After graduation, Dick spent two years on the Active duty with the US Navy as a communications officer.

During this period he met his life’s partner, Patricia, and they married in 1962. So began a rather extraordinary two career family from which many different scientific disciplines have benefited. They have two grown children, and two grand-children. After his discharge from the Navy, Dick attended the University of California at Berkeley and received his Ph. D. in 1967. His Ph. D. dissertation research was on the Miocene Browns Park Formation in northwestern Colorado. From 1967–1971, Dick worked with Shell Oil Company in a variety of roles; first in Los Angeles, and later as a research scientist at the Bellaire E and P Research Center in Houston. Rufus LeBlanc recalls the stories of Dick doing field work in the nude in Utah, although Dick claims it is a typical Rufus embellishment, that he merely sunbathed during lunch hours.

Seeking newer horizons, Dick, Pat and family left for Alaska in 1971, where he worked part-time for the University of Alaska at Anchorage, part time for Arctic Environmental Information center doing resource analyses, and part-time for the Fairbanks geology department teaching graduate courses in Anchorage.

In 1975, Pat took a job at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Upon the return from her interview, she informed Dick that there was a new marine geosciences institute associated with the Medical Branch in Galveston founded by “Doc” Ewing. They needed staff to help with upcoming multichannel seismic cruises, and thus, began Dick’s long affiliation with the Gulf Basin geology. He insisted on taking the second AAPG Seismic Stratigraphy School that was taught in Houston, TX, where he became a convert to seismic/sequence stratigraphy.

Since that time, Dick has been involved with 18 different cruises, twelve of them in the Gulf of Mexico (1976–1984), and was the chief scientist on five of them. The seismic and geologic data collected from these cruises is what formed the initial basis for defining the deep Gulf of Mexico structure and stratigraphy. Dick was the co-chief scientist (with Wolfgang Schlager) of the DSDP Leg 77 in 1980–1981, an especially important leg in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. The sites were especially important for establishing the age of the mid-Cretaceous Sequence Boundary (MCSB), and for better defining the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous history of the Gulf Mexico, including the documentation of deepwater Cretaceous source rocks.

Dick has collaborated with many people in these cruises, building lasting relationships with many people. His work has resulted in many important papers the deep Gulf geology, including important DNAG volume contributions. Dick has been a prolific researcher, publishing 80 papers on various aspects of the Gulf Basin geology. His approach has been one of complete integration of disciplines, including papers on the stratigraphy, structure, and geophysics, which has led to a robust, integrated understanding of the basin. He served as an AAPG Distinguished Lecturer in 1979–1980, and has received several awards for his research including the AAPG 1990 Wallace E. Pratt Memorial Award for the best paper in the Bulletin in 1988, “Paleogeographic Evolution of Early Deepwater Gulf Of Mexico and Its Margins: Jurassic-Middle Cretaceous,” co-authored with Charles Winker. Most recently Dick is working with William Galloway on a major synthesis of the Cenozoic history of the entire basin, and he also is co-editing a major new AAPG volume on the geology of the western Gulf of Mexico basin and adjacent Mexico.

In 1983, the Institute for Geophysics was moved from Galveston to Austin, and Dick became a faculty member with the UT-Austin Department of Geological Sciences. Dick was instrumental in this move, which was essential to continue to keep The University of Texas as one of the leading earth science schools in the world. Dick has been a superlative mentor and advisor for many students. He has supervised 34 students during the past 20 years, 16 of which worked in the Gulf Basin, and he has served on countless more graduate committees. Dick also has been associated extensively with the Ocean Drilling Project, working from 1985–1987 as the Associate Program Director for Science for The ODP (Ocean Drilling Program.) at NSF in Washington, D. C., and also participating on Leg 123 off northwest Australia.

Like all geologists, Dick has desired to work in other areas, and recently he has been involved in a major field project to study the rift history of the northern Danakil-southern Red Sea region of Eritrea, Africa. His investigations have made important contributions to the evolution and migration of early man. He also has several students working in Mexico, New Mexico, and Arizona on a variety of strati-graphic problems. At a time where record water depths for exploration drilling are being broken almost yearly, and several wells have now been drilled in the abyssal plain, the GCSSEPM bestows honorary membership on one the pioneers, Richard T. Buffler, for his important contributions to our understanding the deep Gulf geology.

Paul Weimer