A tribute to Norman R. Paterson


A tribute to Norman R. Paterson

09 February 2023

The geophysical community lost a giant on December 22, 2022 when Norm Paterson passed away, a month short of his 97th birthday. Norm’s remarkable career spanned a range of techniques and several companies that built strong legacies, with contributions to the full exploration cycle from instrument development to interpretation. He touched and influenced many prominent geophysicists along the way, in Canada and worldwide.

Norm attended the University of Toronto, graduating with a B.Sc. in Engineering Geophysics in 1950, and continuing his education by earning an M.Sc. at the University of British Columbia in 1952, followed by a Ph.D. from U of T in 1955, where he was one of Tuzo Wilson’s first post-war graduate students.

Norm’s first working experience in geophysics was as a seismologist in hydrocarbon exploration. However, he spent most of his distinguished career in geophysics applied to mining exploration. He participated in or was responsible for the discovery of more than twenty commercial or potentially commercial ore deposits in Canada and in many other parts of the world.

After receiving his Ph.D. in 1955, he began his career with Dominion Gulf in Toronto. He then joined Hunting Survey Corp. in Toronto as Chief Geophysicist. There he managed ground and airborne geophysical surveys in Canada and in many other countries. In 1964. , he formed Huntec Limited, which rapidly gained a reputation as a leading manufacturer of geophysical instruments, as well as a skilled consulting and contracting company in geophysical surveys. In 1970, he left Huntec to form a consultancy, which in 1973 became Paterson, Grant & Watson Limited, joining with other well-known geophysicists Dr. Fraser Grant (1926-1984) and Roger Watson (1936-2021). PGW rapidly became a world leader in geophysical consulting and project management for mineral exploration. Within PGW, as it was universally known, recognizing the growing importance of computer applications, he established Geosoft Inc. headed by Ian Macleod, which is now a division of Bentley Systems and the dominant world supplier of software for processing and interpreting geophysical and geochemical data.

Norm’s career at PGW and earlier took him across the world. He had a particular affinity for contributing his knowledge and expertise in the developing world, across Africa, India and elsewhere, with involvement in many projects funded by CIDA. Although his reputation usually preceded him, admiration by other geoscientists only grew once they experienced direct interaction. He was a mentor to and collaborator with multiple generations of geophysicists from the start of his career and his influence and inspiration endure. Norm’s published technical contributions approached eighty, including seminal journal articles, and his book Mining Geophysics: A Canadian Story.

READ: The making of a mining geophysicist
Long-esteemed mining geophysicist Norman Reed Paterson recently talked with CIM Magazine to discuss his new book, "Mining Geophysics: A Canadian Story," published by CIM

Norm retired from full-time practice in 1995 but continued in consulting. Like many in the profession, he once said that geophysics was so interesting that he could not contemplate leaving it, even in retirement, and he was always interested in discussing new developments with visiting former colleagues.

His contributions to the geophysical industry have been recognized in several significant ways. In 1997, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, citing his work in the geological interpretation of magnetic surveys. In 1999, he was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame. He was also recognized as a notable pioneer by the KEGS Foundation.

Bill Scott, a noted early collaborator, offered the following reminiscence: I first had the privilege of working for Norm Paterson at Hunting Survey Corp. after my first undergraduate year, in the summer of 1959. It was an exciting summer which confirmed my interest in becoming a geophysicist. In addition to infecting me and my fellow summer students with his enthusiasm, Norm taught us a great deal about the importance of high-quality data, and about the need to understand the meaning of what we were finding. I can still remember a discussion with him on the implication of the number of significant figures in a number (measurement), a lesson I never forgot. Over the years, I have worked on other programs for and with Norm and remember them as greatly enjoyable and instructive times.

Stephen Reford reminisced: I had the honour of working for and with Norm at PGW from 1981 until his retirement. He conducted himself with professionalism, dedication and grace, and instilled these qualities in his employees and colleagues. I recall a field trip with Norm to Burkina Faso in the mid-80’s, part of a CIDA geophysical interpretation project to assess mineral potential. It was focused on ground truthing aeromagnetic anomalies, first proving their location in the days prior to GPS and secondly, hoping to find an outcrop amongst the dark red soil characteristic of the Sahel. This remains the toughest field work of my career due to the extreme heat and new cuisine. Norm soldiered on as leader of the team. Partway through a traverse, we settled under a large tree for a break from the heat. It was in a field outside a local village. Soon after, a small delegation from the village brought water for our group. An elder presented Norm with a live pintade, a domestic fowl. Norm accepted this gift as a deep sign of respect from one elder to another, and later gifted it to the local geophysicist who was guiding us. After we completed the project, of his own volition Norm dug back into the data, extracting numerous examples and published a journal article to show how these data could be applied to groundwater exploration, a sorely needed resource in the Sahel.

- Bill Scott & Stephen Reford, with contributions from the Paterson family, Jerry Roth and others

Obituary and funeral details