Edward A. Flinn III (1931–1989)

Edward A. Flinn III (known to all as Ted) was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on August 27, 1931. He died on August 13, 1989, after a long illness. He is well remembered by his friends and colleagues not only for his scientific accomplishments but for his quick wit, sense of humor, keen perception of life, and ability to discourse on an astonishing range of topics.

Flinn attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1949 to 1953 as the William Barton Rogers Scholar, receiving his undergraduate degree in the geosciences. He held a Fullbright Scholarship at the Australian National University in Canberra from 1958 to 1960 and was awarded a Ph.D. in geophysics and mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 1960. Upon returning to the United States, Flinn joined United Electrodynamics, where he worked on the underground nuclear test detection program. During this period, he led the effort to apply digital signal processing techniques and statistical methods to seismology. He also made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the Earth’s interior, including studies of the upper mantle and the discovery of seismic waves reflected from the inner core. In 1962, with C. H. Dix, he translated the classic 1939 memoir by L. Cagniard, Reflection et Refraction de Ondes Seismiques Progressives, thereby helping to open up the field of synthetic seismograms to a larger community.

Characterization of the world’s earthquake zones through the Flinn-Engdahl seismic and geographical regions is probably Flinn’s most widely known achievement. This scheme became the standard one for earthquake regionalization throughout the world. He was chairman of an International Association of Seismology and Physics of the Earth’s Interior working group attempting to overlay the F-E regions with a third tier of arbitrarily shaped seismotectonic local regions. This work is now nearing completion as his colleagues carry out the projects that Flinn initiated.

In 1975, Flinn became Director of NASA’s Division of Space Science Lunar Program, and he was instrumental in arranging the display of Moon rocks at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. During his career at NASA, he was Deputy Director of the Lunar and Planetary programs as well as Chief Scientist of the Geodynamics Program, and he served on numerous scientific committees. He was awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 1979. He was also active on committees and boards of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Geophysical Union. In the late 1960s he was Meetings Chairman for AGU, and he served from 1973 to 1978 as Editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research—Solid Earth and Planets.

In the mid-1970s, Flinn served as an officer on several committees of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, Secretary of the Inter-Association Committee on Mathematical Geophysics, and Chairman of the Commission on Planetary Sciences. As Secretary-General of the Inter-Union Commission on the Lithosphere from 1980 to 1985, he oversaw the development and coordination of international planning for lithospheric research.

In 1988, Flinn was honored in Munich, Germany, by the WEGENER Consortium, a group of 14 European and Middle Eastern countries working with NASA to study the deformation of the Mediterranean Basin. In 1969 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and in 1989 he was elected Fellow of AGU. During his career he published over 40 articles in scientific journals.

E. R. Engdahl

—U.S. Geological Survey

Denver, Colorado