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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 86, No. 1 (January 2002), P. 129ñ144.

Copyright ©2002. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

Seismic simulations of experimental strata

Lincoln Pratson,1 Wences Gouveia2

1Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, 27708; email: [email protected]
2ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company, 3319 Mercer Street, Houston, Texas, 77027-6019; email: [email protected]


Lincoln F. Pratson is an assistant professor at Duke University. He holds a B.S. degree in geology from Trinity University, an M.S. degree in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island, and a Ph.D. in geology from Columbia University. He was a research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research of the University of Colorado before joining the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University in 1998. He researches seascape evolution and strata formation along continental margins through numerical and experimental modeling and the analysis of sedimentologic, stratigraphic, and geophysical data.

Wences P. Gouveia received his B.S. (1986) and M.S. (1990) degrees in electrical engineering from the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and his Ph.D. (1996) in geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines. He joined Mobil Technology Company in 1996 where he conducted research in the fields of seismic waveform and pressure data inversion, optimization-based geological modeling, and stratigraphic numerical and experimental simulations. He is currently a member of the ExxonMobil Time-Lapse Seismic research team, where his activities have special emphasis on the development of algorithms for quantitative four-dimensional seismic interpretation.


Our study was partially supported by grants to Lincoln F. Pratson from the National Science Foundation (NSF EAR Grant No. 98-96392), the Office of Naval Research (ONR Grant No. N00014-99-1-0044, part of the STRATAFORM program), and a consortium of oil companies, including Amoco, Conoco, Exxon, JAPEX, Mobil, and Texaco. Wences Gouveia thanks Mobil Oil Co. for supporting his involvement in the study. We gratefully acknowledge the help and input of several colleagues. C. Paola provided the stratigraphic simulation used in the seismic modeling. R. Courtney, J. Syvitski, D. O'Grady, and, particularly, E. Hutton helped at various stages with the normal-incidence modeling. R. Sarg and S. Cullick provided constructive criticism during preparation of the article.


Experimental strata formed in the new Experimental Earthscape (XES) basin at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory of the University of Minnesota offer a realistic model for simulating the seismic response of natural strata and thus for advancing understanding of the geologic information that can be extracted from seismic data. A new method is presented here for using digital photos of the experimental strata to generate synthetic seismic data at the length scales and frequencies relevant to oil and gas exploration. In the method, the digital photos are transformed into models of acoustic velocity and bulk density, which are then input into algorithms that generate synthetic seismic data. Three such algorithms are used to demonstrate the approach: a convolutional algorithm, which produces the equivalent of ideal, poststack, time-migrated seismic data; an exploding-reflector algorithm, which produces unmigrated, poststack seismic data; and a full-wave equation algorithm, which we use to produce a synthetic version of prestack, unmigrated, multichannel seismic data. Data generated by the latter two algorithms are processed to compare their information content against both the experimental strata and the ideal seismic data derived from the convolutional algorithm. The qualitative comparison nicely illustrates the filtering of geologic information in seismic data and its further degradation by wave-propagation phenomena, such as diffractions, multiples, and interbed reverberations.

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