Rice mourns geologist Albert Bally

Rice University geologist Albert Bally, a beloved teacher and mentor, pioneer in the field of seismic structural geology and former chief geologist at Shell Oil Co., died July 30 in Houston after a short illness. He was 94.

Albert Bally

Albert Bally

As a petroleum geologist, Bally was a pioneer in integrating the methods of reflection seismology with stratigraphic and structural geology. In 1966, he was tapped to head Shell’s Research and Development Laboratory in Bellaire and a decade later he became chief geologist of Shell’s U.S. division.

Bally retired from Shell in 1981 and took his expertise to academia, joining Rice as chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics. He was appointed the Harry Carothers Wiess Professor of Geology, a position he occupied until his retirement from Rice in 1996.

Bally was born in The Hague, Netherlands, and spent his early years in Indonesia, Italy and Switzerland. He received his doctorate in geology from the University of Zurich in 1952 and joined Shell in 1954 after a postdoctoral appointment at the Lamont-Doherty Geophysical Observatory at Columbia University.

“Early in his career, Bert realized the importance of seismic reflection records and expertly combined his love of geologic mapping with his curiosity about regional geology through detailed analysis of (the records),” Cin-Ty Lee, chair of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, wrote in a tribute posted late last week. “He is considered the world’s leading expert in using seismic records in interpreting regional geology, especially in the area of folded mountain belts.”

Bally remained active after his retirement, serving as an industry consultant and participating in department events at Rice. He was in the process of completing a book of geological maps for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists at the time of his death.

His many honors included the German Geological Society’s Gustav-Steinmann Medal, the Geological Society of America’s Career Contribution Award, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ Sidney Powers Medal and the Geological Society of London’s William Smith Medal.

Bally was preceded in death by his wife, Elaine, on July 25.

A funeral service for both Albert and Elaine Bally is planned for 10 a.m., August 28 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Houston. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in memory of Albert and Elaine Bally to St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. 

The Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences is planning a reception to celebrate Bally’s life and accomplishments at 4 p.m., October 11 on the patio of Keith-Wiess Geological Laboratories.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.