Dick Thorup was one of the pioneer geologists of central California. He knew more about the geology of Monterey County, California than anyone else. In addition to field geology, his expertise reached into petroleum geology, stratigraphy, and hydrogeology.
He was born in Salinas, California on December 13, 1912. His father served as mayor of Salinas and his family socialized with the family of the famous author, John Steinbeck. Dick graduated from Stanford University in 1934, two years ahead of Tom Dibblee. After graduation, he was a professional land surveyor at the still-in-business firm of Monterey County Surveyors
In 1940, he returned to Stanford for graduate work under Professor Hubert Schenck. His M.S. thesis was on “The stratigraphy of the Vaqueros Formation at its type locality, Monterey County, California.” This study was a notable contribution because it resulted in a satisfactory, acceptable definition of the type Vaqueros, which was previously poorly defined.
During World War II, Dick enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a Lt. Commander in reconnaissance. Following his honorable discharge in 1946, he returned to King City, California as a consulting geologist specializing in oil and groundwater. Dick and his family leased thousands of acres in the Salinas Valley in search of oil (his father imbued him with the belief that oil was here to be found). In 1959, just as he accepted a foreign job, he drilled his Doud No. 2 well and discovered the King City Oil Field. In recognition of his outstanding work, the 1963 AAPG-SEPM Salinas Valley Guidebook was dedicated to Dick.
He moved to Monterey in 1963 and concentrated on finding groundwater. His idea of a “deep aquifer” beneath the Fort Ord area turned out to be correct. The “deep aquifer” now supplies the rapidly growing city of Marina with 85 percent of its water. Dick also helped make Monterey County safer from earthquakes by preparing the geologic maps for the county’s 1975 Seismic Safety Element.
Although most of his maps remain unpublished, his work was widely used and incorporated by the U.S. Geological Survey and the California Geological Survey. Although he went to the great outcrop on September 23, 2004, he left his mark by introducing many geologists to the geology of an exceedingly complex area and by providing Monterey County with abundant oil and groundwater reserves.