Charles Mull Obituary (2022) – Fairbanks, AK
The geologist whose exploration of northern Alaska’s geology helped lay the foundation for Alaska’s oil and gas industry has died.
Charles Gilbert Mull died at age 86 of complications from Parkinson’s disease in Salt Lake City on October 4, 2021. He is survived by his wife, Yvonne; son, David Mull; daughter, Christina Beckmann; and his grandchildren, Atigun Mull, Parker Mull and Jack Beckmann.
He also leaves behind dozens of peers and friends who benefited from his leadership, teamwork and mentorship as they built their own careers in the world-class oil and gas industry of Alaska. Alaska’s North Slope has produced more than 18 billion barrels of oil since the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, with oil production becoming a major driver of economic growth in Alaska.
Described by friends and colleagues as “a giant among us” with an “encyclopedic memory” of Alaska’s geological outcrops, Gil played a key role in the discovery of Prudhoe Bay, a world-class oilfield the size of of the Persian Gulf which is the largest in North America. The discovery made global headlines, reshaped Alaska’s economy, and was crucial to building American energy independence during the oil shocks of the 1970s. It injected much-needed revenue into Native villages of Alaska and led to the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund, a trust fund that has grown to nearly $80 billion and pays annual dividends of more than $1,000 to every resident of Alaska.
The geological discovery of which Gil is most proud came shortly after the discovery of Prudhoe Bay. While guiding another geologist on Alaska’s North Slope, the pair noticed rock formations that his colleague suspected were caused by plate tectonics – a theory that had only been widely accepted. recently. Two years later, as Gil stood on the side of remote Mount Doonerak in Alaska, he noticed a distinctive rocky outcrop. He realized that this provided dramatic evidence of “hundreds of miles of crustal shortening”. It’s a discovery that has helped clarify the geological history of a large swath of northern Alaska and bolster the theory of plate tectonics. Gil described his discovery using one of his favorite phrases: “mind blowing.”
Born in 1935 in Edwardsville, Illinois, Gil’s father was a chemical engineer and his mother was a schoolteacher. Her upbringing was shaped by the experiences of her parents enduring the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Gil moved to Colorado in 1947, where his love of the southwest began for its rocks – rich in geological history – and skiing. He and his sister, Marilyn, inherited a collecting gene from their father, with Gil becoming particularly fascinated with Southwestern Native American blankets and basketry. As a sophomore at the University of Colorado in 1954, the chemistry major found himself staring out the windows of a smelly chemistry lab, mesmerized by the beauty of the Flatirons. He yearned for the outdoors and changed his major to geology as a way to get there.
While earning his master’s degree, Gil found summer jobs in the southwest as a geological field assistant with Richfield Oil Corporation, a junior oil and gas company. He spent months mapping Utah’s unique geology not too far from the same areas his own father had worked as a chemical engineer during Moab’s uranium boom. Richfield hired him after graduation and sent him to Alaska in 1961 and then to the North Slope in 1963. It was there that he and his field partner confirmed what only a few others before them had suspected: potential. They suggested that drilling an exploration well at Prudhoe Bay would be a good idea.
Gil has spent much of his 40+ year career in the remote wilderness of northern Alaska. During summer field-mapping seasons, he lived in an 8-by-10-foot canvas tent, slowly assembling a basement framework from the rocks he studied. Learning that his company might give him a big pay raise to move to Houston and run operations from an office in a high-rise, he dodged desk work and instead took a lower-paying job at the United States Geological Survey. . This was followed by positions with the Geological and Geophysical Survey Division of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and later, the Alaska Oil and Gas Division. Throughout his career, he has authored or co-authored approximately 60 technical papers and maps on North Slope geology and has mentored dozens of graduate geology students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He also took spectacular photographs of Alaska’s remote beauty, many of which were featured prominently in publications such as Alaska Magazine.
When he wasn’t studying northern Alaskan geology, he was building relationships in Anchorage. He met a young nurse with strawberry blonde hair after a day of skiing at Alyeska Resort. This nurse was called Yvonne, and she would become his wife. As a young couple, they moved to Denver, Colorado, then to Santa Monica and Redwood City, California. By the time they returned to Anchorage a few years later, they had two young children, Christina and David. Gil took over the entire basement of their home in Anchorage with his collections of vintage books, maps, Navajo art, and rock. Yvonne patiently accepted his relentless collection, which continued throughout their 54 years of marriage.
Gil and Yvonne retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2003. In his home office he maintained a collection of tribal art along with a plethora of old master samples, thousands of projector slides Kodachrome of his field days, books on the history of Prudhoe Bay, and hand-drawn geological sketches of the Southwest that looked more like art than science.
The geological community in Alaska and beyond regard Gil as a legend and have long treasured the photos and stories of the man who, boulder after boulder, became permanently woven into the Alaskan landscape. But it wasn’t just his work ethic or his unparalleled understanding of northern Alaskan geology that built his reputation – it was his curious, friendly, gentle, and supportive attitude toward everyone he encountered. Gil was loved and respected by all who knew him and we miss him dearly.
A celebration of life was held on December 17, 2021 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Published by Daily News-Miner on January 30, 2022.