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Tectonophysics mourns the loss of Robert S. Yeats

By Jean-Philippe Avouac posted 01-14-2022 20:29

Dear Tectonophysics community,

 Dr. Robert S. Yeats, Oregon State University Professor Emeritus of Geology, died on Sunday December 5, 2021. Bob was an extraordinary geologist who made major contributions to tectonophysics through his research and teaching. Andrew Meigs, Professor at Oregon State University, provided the summary of Bob's outstanding career that follows. 

Born in 1931 in Florida, he received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington.  Bob, as he was known to his friends,  spent nearly 10 years with Shell Oil before moving to Ohio University, where he worked his way up the academic ranks to from assistant to full professor.  He joined the Department of Geology at Oregon State University in 1977.  Bob served as chair of the Department of Geology from 1977 to 1985 and retired in 1997. During his academic career, Bob supervised 53 MS and PhD students at Ohio University and at Oregon State University.  He and his students published more than 135 papers, most of which focus on earthquake geology in diverse settings on four continents.  In addition, he coauthored The Geology of Earthquakes, the only textbook to address earthquake science from a geological perspective.  Bob and his students pioneered the use of oil-company data in mapping earthquake faults, and as a result, many of his students went on to successful careers in the oil industry.  As a teacher and mentor, Bob insisted that students be well grounded in field geology, structural geology, stratigraphy, and geophysics.  Bob played a leading role in regional, national, and international committees charged with characterization of earthquake hazard and with policy formulation.  He along with colleagues organized a workshop to explore the seismic hazard posed by the Cascadia subduction zone in the late 1980’s, well before widespread recognition of the threat it posed to the greater Pacific Northwest region.  

The science community recognized Bob throughout his career.  He was a Geological Society of America Fellow and the Richard Jahns Lecturer in Engineering Geology.  In 2020, he received  the Career Contribution Award from the Structural Geology and Tectonics Division of the Geological Society of America.

Bob prioritized public communication of scientific knowledge throughout his career.  He published 4  non-specialist books that describe earthquake hazards and their societal implications for non-scientific audiences in the Pacific Northwest and California.  One of the books, Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest arose from a course of the same name he developed and that continues to be taught here at OSU both in-person and online.

After retirement he continued to be prolific as ever.  He published papers on southern California and the Himalaya, an editorial on the recognition of surface rupturing faults for engineering and geologist practices in the Pacific Northwest, two of his non-specialist books and published the 2nd edition of ‘Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest’.  Moreover, Bob continued to teach including his long-standing graduate course ‘Map Interpretation’ and created the on-line class ‘Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest’.

Outside of academia, Bob helped to form and served as Senior Consultant for Earth Consultants International.

In 2006, the Department of Geosciences (now part of the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU) established the R.S. Yeats Professorship in Earthquake Geology and Active Tectonics to honor Bob's long career and his many contributions to science and society.  

Bob is survived by his wife Angela and a boisterous clan of children and grandchildren brought together by the union of Bob and Angela.