We calibrate geophysical models with physical measurements of the earth’s properties. It is therefore important that we understand how the data are acquired and processed before landing on our desks for interpretation. Conversely, understanding how the data will be interpreted helps the acquisition and processing teams produce the best product.
To improve the interpretability of geophysical data, whether it’s surface seismic, VSPs, well logs, gravity, magnetic, or some new technology, we should know the theory, help plan acquisition and processing, get out into the field as often as practical, quality check data processing, and help spread knowledge between teams.
Know the theory so that you can push the limits of interpretation without over-interpreting the data or falling into pitfalls. This is especially important when evaluating or applying new technologies. Ask questions, consult experts, and improve your understanding as the technology progresses.
Help plan acquisition and processing so that it is fit for purpose. Survey designs and processing parameters depend on a number of factors including regional versus focused targets, depth of investigation, structural or stratigraphic interpretation, and required resolution.
Get into the field as often as practical to understand both the general acquisition process and the specific conditions under which the data are being acquired. Each survey is slightly different and the crew rotates regularly, so seeing the field conditions and talking to people often helps you identify when things are going wrong. On a specific seismic survey, the hole in the survey may be avoiding a swamp, the geophones may be poorly planted due to freezing conditions, and the line deviation in a marine survey may be due to icebergs or existing infrastructure.
Quality check data processing so that you understand how the final measurements were derived from the field data. More importantly, add input where needed (for example, ensuring that velocities are geologically reasonable), build a rapport with the processing team, and ensure that the data are fit for purpose.
Spread knowledge between teams so that everyone is aligned in acquiring good geotechnical measurements. This might be needed in unexpected places. Recently, I visited a frontier exploration rig that had failed to find hydrocarbons at the target. Morale was low and the crew was mentally ready to pack it in. They didn’t see much use in spending time recording final logs or a VSP. Most had no geoscience background and didn’t understand why we would drill in that location in the first place. I heard things like ‘what on earth are we doing out here?’ So, to give the project context, I gave an impromptu presentation on frontier exploration covering the identification of a basin, understanding the petroleum system, putting the geotechnical story together, and, most importantly, the value of acquiring data. I told them that if we rush the data acquisition we may walk away with nothing, but if we ensure that we at least take away good data then we have something to build the story upon and are more likely to be successful in the future. By hearing how we used the data, the crew had more ownership of the process and became part of the exploration team.