Geophysicists couldn’t practice geophysics without models. Models help to confirm an interpretation and also to predict responses.

But typically models are used to solve a single problem or answer a single question to move on to the next step. Public domain models, on the other hand, tackle thorny geophysical problems that plague the entire industry.

Bill Abriel, a geophysical consultant with Chevron and part of the SEG Advanced Modeling Corp. (SEAM), discussed the importance of public domain models at a recent gathering of the Geophysical Society of Houston. While proprietary models focus on a proprietary problem, he said, public domain models work on a general problem. They maximize the number of researchers, increasing the likelihood of coming to a solution, and they provide a platform for common discussion. Additionally, they provide a focal mechanism for teaching, becoming an icon for the “problem du jour.”

They can also have a profound impact on the science of geophysics.

The French model from the 1970s, for instance, provided a way to illustrate geophysical theory to geologists, but more importantly it advanced the cause of 3-D seismic acquisition, which at the time was considered expensive and not particularly useful. The Marmousie model promoted the concept of time and depth migration while advancing the development of 2-D tomography, imaging, and inversion. It’s still considered a standard benchmark in the industry.

The SEG/EAGE salt model has been widely used for testing algorithms to image beneath salt and has led to the development of technologies such as reverse time migration. And the SMAART joint venture has led to advanced surface-related multiple elimination, which has in turn led to the advancement of wide-azimuth acquisition and processing.

The SEAM project hopes to continue this kind of impact. Already Phase I is complete, although an additional investment by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) has allowed it to add additional goals to that phase. Phase I has resulted in a 3-D Gocad model, an acoustic benchmark, 200 terabytes of simulated acoustic data, and clastic data subsets. The RPSEA money will allow researchers to examine absorbing boundaries, gravity, tilted-transverse isotropy, elastic simulation, controlled-source electromagnetics, and magnetotellurics as well.

Phase II will focus on land seismic and the host of issues it presents, including fractured shales, desert topography, karsts, glacial areas, volcanics, and dunes.

SEAM currently comprises 23 “participant” companies, both oil and service, which provide US $100,000 over a two-year period plus the brain power of their people. “We have 23 dedicated companies that want to solve hard problems,” Abriel said.

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