Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Booker Receives 2017 William Gilbert Award

John R. Booker will receive the 2017 William Gilbert Award at the 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held 11–15 December in New Orleans, La. The award recognizes “outstanding and unselfish work in magnetism of Earth materials and of the Earth and planets.”



John R. Booker, recipient of the 2017 William Gilbert Award.
John R. Booker

The 2017 William Gilbert Award is given to Prof. John Booker in recognition of his outstanding leadership and service to the Geomagnetism, Paleomagnetism, and Electromagnetism (GPE) community and of the impact of his work in elucidating lithospheric and mantle structure.

Prof. Booker has made diverse contributions to geophysics using electromagnetic (EM) methods, magnetotellurics (MT), in particular, as tools to illuminate the physical, chemical, and rheological state of the lithosphere. Over the course of his career, Prof. Booker has made important contributions in theory, methodology, application, and the implications for Earth processes. He led development of “the gold standard of EM data processing” and of inversion codes that have been freely distributed to the community and that have had enormous impact in the reduction and inversion of EM/MT data. In the early 1980s, he led the first large-scale community MT experiment, EMSLAB, which imaged the resistivity structure of the subducting Juan de Fuca plate and provided the first concrete evidence for sediment subduction and the accompanying release of dehydration fluids. Prof. Booker went on to be the instigator (and later principal investigator) of the first community-use MT instrument facility (EMSOC) that laid the groundwork for the incorporation of EM/MT into the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope program. Even while devoting incredible energy to bringing MT into the limelight as a major, and necessary, component of regional geophysical investigations, Prof. Booker’s own research program has been vibrant and active. The work from his group has continued to elucidate lithospheric and mantle structure, in particular, at compressional plate boundaries and along major transform faults. Finally, Prof. Booker has been a strong supporter of the GPE section and of students and junior scientists throughout his career.

—Catherine Johnson, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., Canada


I feel very honored to be receiving the William Gilbert Award. My work in geomagnetism and EM geophysics began as a first-year grad student when I worked with one of the pioneers in this field, Ted Madden, who was then on sabbatical at Scripps. I then spent nearly 5 years working on time variations of Earth’s main field with George Backus, one of the truly outstanding scientists in our field. However, after my Ph.D., I was waylaid into fluid mechanics and seismology, and it was more than a decade later that my research on thermal convection confined me to a room with no windows. Lawrie Law of the Pacific Geoscience Center suggested that I should get back into geomagnetic induction, get out in the woods, and offered to loan me equipment.

I then had the great good fortune to have two extraordinary graduate students: Gary Egbert and Torquil Smith. It is they who deserve the real credit for the advances outlined in the citation that have had a major impact on magnetotellurics. EMSLAB came to be as result of serving on an NSF panel where I realized that to make real progress we would need a major community effort to justify increased funding for fieldwork and equipment. Colleagues including Alan Jones and Phil Wanamaker were very much responsible for the success of EMSLAB. This led to further projects in Tibet, on San Andreas Fault, and in Argentina, which all sharply increased the visibility of our field. I am no longer heavily involved in the largest U.S. effort in MT as part of Earthscope, but I take great pride in how far MT has come in little more than two decades. Thank you for this honor.

—John R. Booker, University of Washington, Seattle

Citation: AGU (2017), Booker receives 2017 William Gilbert Award, Eos, 98, Published on 25 October 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0