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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Professor Neil Goulty, MA (Oxon), PhD (Cantab)

(18 June 2018)

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Professor Neil Goulty on the 6th June; a highly regarded and much-admired member of the Department of Earth Sciences for 36 years until his retirement in 2016, to an emeritus but still research active role.

Neil started out on his geophysical path with a degree in Physics from Oxford. This background led him to Cambridge to build, with Geoff King, a laser strainmeter which was applied to measure Earth tides, and then to measure movement across major faults underpinned by time spent in the USA at Caltech in Pasadena studying the San Andreas fault system. Neil subsequently returned to the UK joining the National Coal Board and leading their field-based exploration.

In 1980, Neil joined our department bringing seismic exploration skills, both practical and theoretical, to the teaching and research portfolio, becoming leader of the Geophysics Group and being instrumental in reshaping the undergraduate course into its currently highly regarded form. He was a dedicated teacher and researcher of the highest calibre; an awesome intellect, who demonstrated the highest academic standards with precision and rigour, to both students and colleagues alike.

Neil’s research spread into many realms from moonquakes to Earth strain, from subsurface imaging to mining subsidence, from sediment compaction to magmatic intrusion and even to dissolution of gypsum, all supported by an extensive and broad spectrum of academic papers, book contributions and invitations to speak at conferences. Neil more recently took on the polygonal fault enigma and the understanding of pressure within sedimentary rock formations, both of great interest not only to the academic community but also the hydrocarbon industry. With Richard Swarbrick, this research led to the highly successful GeoPOP project, which started in 1994 with investment from a small consortium of hydrocarbon companies. In 1998, phase two swiftly followed, then phase 3 in 2012 with an expansion to 12 companies, and now soon to be phase 4; still thriving on the very firm foundation that Neil and Richard established.

In 2015, the esteem in which Neil was widely held was demonstrated by the award of an Honorary Fellowship of the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, for which he was Chief Editor of their journal First Break and their Publications Officer, and in 2016, the bestowing of their Norman Falcon Award.

For many years Neil led the MSc in Applied Geophysics, a course highly regarded internationally and which drew industry support via studentships and from which graduates were in hot demand due to their breadth and depth of skills and knowledge. In addition, Neil illuminated our undergraduates on the joys of numbers and theoretical derivations. Challenging certainly, both for Neil to deliver and the students to learn, enjoyed by all and always remembered by the many, many students who always kept in touch. Their high esteem for Neil as a teacher was demonstrated in 2014 when he was awarded the University of Durham’s Science Lecturer of the Year – at the nomination of the students themselves. 

Many of us enjoyed Neil’s enthusiastic and ever cheerful company during field trips, the right anecdote for the right occasion always lifted spirits in the heaviest of rain, and with colleagues and students invariably being “shown the way” by being out hammered during seismic data acquisition, despite being decades younger.

However, above all, it will be Neil's unswerving friendship, integrity, counsel, kind and generous spirit that we will always cherish and remember, together with his colourful turn of phrase delivered at just the right moment.

A gentleman and a scholar to the end – Neil will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

We send our sympathies to his wife Veronica and his family.