Fold for sale

A few weeks ago I wrote a bit about seismic fold, and why it's important for seeing through noise. But how do you figure out the fold of a seismic survey?

The first thing you need to read is Norm Cooper's terrific two-part land seismic tutorial. One of his main points is that it's not really fold we should worry about, it's trace density. Essentially, this normalizes the fold by the area of the natural bins (the areal patches into which we will gather traces for the stack). Computing trace density, given effective maximum offset Xmax (or depth, in a pinch), source and receiver line spacings S and R, and source and receiver station intervals s and r:

Cooper helpfully gave ballpark ranges for increasingly hard imaging problems. I've augmented it, based on my own experience. Your mileage may vary! (Edit this table)

Traces cost money

So we want more traces. The trouble is, traces cost money. The chart below reflects my experiences in the bitumen sands of northern Alberta (as related in Hall 2007). The model I'm using is a square land 3D with an orthogonal geometry and no overlaps (that is, a single swath), and 2007 prices. A trace density of 50 traces/km2 is equivalent to a fold of 5 at 500 m depth. As you see, the cost of seismic increases as we buy more traces for the stack. Fun fact: at a density of about 160 000 traces/km2, the cost is exactly $1 per trace. The good news is that it increases with the square root (more or less), so the incremental cost of adding more traces gets progressively cheaper:

Given that you have limited resources, your best strategy for hitting the 'sweet spot'—if there is one—is lots and lots of testing. Keep careful track of what things cost, so you can compute the probable cost benefit of, say, halving the trace density. With good processing, you'll be amazed what you can get away with, but of course you risk coping badly with unexpected problems in the near surface.

What do you think? How do you make decisions about seismic geometry and trace density?


Cooper, N (2004). A world of reality—Designing land 3D programs for signal, noise, and prestack migration, Parts 1 and 2. The Leading Edge. October and December, 2004. 

Hall, M (2007). Cost-effective, fit-for-purpose, lease-wide 3D seismic at Surmont. SEG Development and Production Forum, Edmonton, Canada, July 2007.