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Must-read geophysics

If you had to choose your three favourite, most revisited, best remembered papers in all of exploration geophysics, what would you choose? Are they short? Long? Full of math? Well illustrated? 

Keep it honest

Barnes, A (2007). Redundant and useless seismic attributes. Geophysics 72 (3). DOI:10.1190/1.2716717
Rarely do we see engaging papers, but they do crop up occasionally. I love Art Barnes's Redundant and useless seismic attributes paper. In this business, I sometimes feel like our opinions — at least our public ones — have been worn down by secrecy and marketing. So Barnes's directness is doubly refreshing:

There are too many duplicate attributes, too many attributes with obscure meaning, and too many unstable and unreliable attributes. This surfeit breeds confusion and makes it hard to apply seismic attributes effectively. You do not need them all.

And keep it honest

Blau, L (1936). Black magic in geophysical prospecting. Geophysics 1 (1). DOI:10.1190/1.1437076
I can't resist Ludwig Blau's wonderful Black magic geophysics, published 77 years ago this month in the very first issue of Geophysics. The language is a little dated, and the technology mostly sounds rather creaky, but the point, like Blau's wit, is as fresh as ever. You might not learn a lot of geophysics from this paper, but it's an enlightening history lesson, and a study in engaging writing the likes of which we rarely see in Geophysics today...

And also keep it honest

Bond, C, A Gibbs, Z Shipton, and S Jones (2007), What do you think this is? "Conceptual uncertainty" in geoscience interpretation. GSA Today 17 (11), DOI: 10.1130/GSAT01711A.1
I like to remind myself that interpreters are subjective and biased. I think we have to recognize this to get better at it. There was a wonderful reaction on Twitter yesterday to a recent photo from Mars Curiosity (right) — a volcanologist thought it looked like a basalt, while a generalist thought it more like a sandstone. This terrific paper by Clare Bond and others will help you remember your biases!

My full list is right here. I hope you think there's something missing... please edit the wiki, or put your personal favourites in the comments. 

The attribute figure is adapted from from Barnes (2007) is copyright of SEG. It may only be used in accordance with their Permissions guidelines. The Mars Curiosity figure is public domain. 

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Reader Comments (11)

Keep going back to:
1) Net Pay Prediction by Cohen & Haefner (known as Shell's HSC method - Cohen talks about it here),
2) A decade of tomography by Woodward et al., 2000, Geophysics, v 73, No. 5
3) Understanding stochastic inversion Parts 1 and 2, Francis, 2006, First Break v. 24

Related: I never know how to organize my papers because, for example, "Extended EI for fluid & lithology prediction" by Whitcombe et al. can be filed under Inversion, Rock Physics and AVO.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaitri

Hey, thanks for the GSA Today Bond et al. article mention!

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKea Giles

@maitri: Funny you say that about organizing — I just wrote to AAPG about categorization and taxonomy (in response to this). It's such a tough problem, I don't think anyone's ever really nailed it.

I really like Mendeley... come to think of it, I should probably have just started a list in there. I just use it as a semi-organized dump, but I'm sure it has some cool sharing functionality. The tags in there might be the way to go. So much to explore...

And those papers by Ashley Francis — yes, great stuff. I don't know the other two.

@Kea: Open access too! Wonderful.

January 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterMatt Hall

Lists like this are so useful. Thank you (everyone).

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStudent

As a mere geologist, I confess to a sneaking admiration for Castagna, Swan & Foster,1998, Geophysics 63, 948-956, solely on the basis that it contains the line:

"Let us consider two semi-infinite isotropic homogeneous elastic half-spaces in contact at a plane interface."

Translated into geologist speak, this is more or less "Pretend there is a load of shale on top of a load of sand".

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichie B

@Richie: Good call. Remember that the shale must by massive and have semi-infinitely thick beds! In fact, it probably isn't allowed to be a shale at all, because you really can't build an isotropic one. It should be a semi-infinitely thick massive sandstone bed with slightly different acoustic properties to the other one.

And no, I do not know what semi-infinite means. "Much thicker than the longest wavelength in the signal" or something like that.

January 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterMatt Hall

@Matt Hall: I think it means "Infinite! But only in that direction away from the interface, not in this direction because the interface gets in the way."

I suspect that intepretation of this seismic is best left to a spherical massless frictionless geophysicist.

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichie B

Thank you Matt,
Coming from the Electrical Engineering field I really appreciate this must read list in Geophysics.
Regarding the papers organization. I use Mendeley as well and happy with it so far, but you should have a look at It is a research management software similar to Mendeley, proposed by the University of Oxford. COLWIZ = collective wisdom

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Whenever I think attributes, I think turner, and somehow I always end up staring at this page:

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterToastar

Nice post Matt

Thanks for putting together the list. There are several gems I'll have to read. On Barnes paper I could not agree more. I read it just about every time I have to learn a new interpretation program (last time? This year when I hd to dive into Petrel full time).

Desert island I would definitely have to take these three great articles by John Bancroft:



January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatteo

Thank you for all the references. I am presently enjoying the Blau paper, which makes alternatively giggle and tunr sad. It reminds me of what we in Norway denote the "alternative industry"; new age, auras, angels (no - not angles) and communicating with your inner self. I also enjoyed the phrase: The case is one of the best demonstrations of the truth of the statement, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

After reading the last paragraph, I have realised why the industry is male dominated, and that I have wasted too much time working in the oil industry. Will immediately start searching for a job more appropriate for my sex.

January 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnne-Kari Furre

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