LeRoy Dorman, 1938-2024

Pioneered Study of Seismic Structure of Ocean Floor

Geophysicist LeRoy Dorman, who studied the seismic structure of the seafloor and developed key tools for the study of seismic and acoustic signals, died Feb. 13. He was 85.

Born Oct. 15, 1938, Dorman was the son of a U.S. Forester who moved his family to Georgia, where LeRoy grew up in Macon and attended the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corp, and then served in the Navy. He was assigned as the navigator on the USS Clymer, an attack-transport vessel, and deployed to South Vietnam in 1965-66. 

Dorman left the Navy to enroll in graduate school to study geophysics at the University of Wisconsin, where he received his PhD in 1969. Researchers at the university were active in developing marine gravity and seismology, and this set LeRoy off in the direction that he would spend the rest of his academic career pursuing. Following graduation, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Carnegie Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, D.C., and then was appointed as a research geophysicist at the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratories in Miami.

LeRoy Dorman seen early in his career aboard a research vessel. Date unknown
LeRoy Dorman seen early in his career aboard a research vessel. Date unknown

Dorman joined Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego in 1973 as an assistant researcher. He aided the development of ocean-bottom seismometers, instrument packages deployed for months or years at a time to record seismic activity before they are retrieved from the seafloor and their data extracted. He produced not only seismographs but also recording systems, microprocessors and calibration instruments that were capable of operating on the deep seafloor. These advances opened up new areas of research when they were made available to the marine science community. 

As a marine seismologist, Dorman was the chief scientist on several seagoing cruises. He was one of the pioneers in the study of the structure of mid-ocean ridges and was co-discoverer of zones of melt beneath these oceanic zones of volcanism. Within these zones, the material for new ocean floor emerges. 

Additionally, Dorman pioneered the study of Scholte waves – waves that travel along the interface between the ocean floor and the water above. These waves concentrate their energy along the interface, thereby barely reaching into the water or the seafloor, and are difficult to observe. Nevertheless, their analysis provides valuable and hard-to-come-by insight into the makeup of the shallow ocean floor.

Dorman was also a seasoned mentor, serving as an advisor and PhD committee member to former Scripps students such as Adrian Doran, who received his doctorate in 2019. Doran recalled LeRoy’s calming influence on entire science parties during research cruises that were fraught with challenges. 

“Leroy set for me an example of how a disciplined scientist could approach tough circumstances with excitement and even joy, and his example has informed my own approach to scientific work ever since,” said Doran. 

Beyond research, Dorman was an avid bird watcher and opera aficionado.

Dorman is survived by his son Eric of San Diego and daughter Elizabeth of San Francisco. He is preceded in death by wife Inez and daughter Elena, who passed away in 2011 and 2019, respectively. The Dorman family does not plan to hold a public memorial service. 


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