Geophysical stamps 2: Sonic

Recently I bought some stamps on eBay. This isn't something I've done before, but when I saw these stamps I couldn't resist their pure geophysical goodness. They are East German stamps from 1980, and they are unusual because they aren't fanciful illustrations, but precise, technical drawings. Last week I described the gravimeter; today it's the turn of a borehole instrument, the sonic tool.

← The 25 pfennig stamp in the series of four shows a sonic tool, complete with the logged data on the left, and a cross-section on the right. Bohrlochmessung means well-logging; Wassererkundung translates as water exploration. The actual size of the stamp is 43 × 26 mm.

The tool has two components: a transmitter and a recevier. It is lowered to the bottom of the target interval and logs data while being pulled up the hole. In its simplest form, an ultrasound pulse (typically 20–40 kHz) is emitted from the transmitter, travels through the formation, and is recorded at the receiver. The interval transit time is recorded continuously, giving the trace shown on left hand side of the stamp. Transit time is measured in µs/m (or µs/ft if you're old-school), and is generally between 160 µs/m and 550 µs/m (or, in terms of velocity, 1800 m/s to 6250 m/s). Geophysicists often use the transit time to estimate seismic velocities; it's important to correct for the phenomenon called dispersion: lower-frequency seismic waves travel more slowly than the high-frequency waves measured by these tools.

Sonic logs are used for all sorts of other things, for example:

  • Predicting the seismic response (when combined with the bulk density log)
  • Predicting porosity, because of the large difference between velocity in fluids vs minerals
  • Predicting pore pressure, an important safety concern and reservoir property
  • Measuring anisotropy, especially due to oriented fractures (important for permeability)
  • Qualitatively predicting lithology, especially coals (slow), salt (4550 m/s), dolomite (fast)

Image credit: National Energy Technology Lab.Modern tools are not all that different from early sonic tools. They measure the same thing, but with better electronics for improved vertical resolution and noise attenuation. The biggest innovations are dipole sonic tools for accurate shear-wave velocities, multi-azimuth tools for measuring anisotropy, high resolution tools, and high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) tools.

Another relatively recent advance is reliable sonic-while-drilling tools such as Schlumberger's sonicVISION™ system, the receiver array of which is shown here (for the 6¾" tool).

The sonic tool may be the most diversely useful of all the borehole logging tools. In a totally contrived scenario where I could only run a single tool, it would have to be the sonic, especially if I had seismic data... What would you choose?

Next time I'll look at the 35 pfennig stamp, which shows a surface geophone.