The calculus of geology

Calculus is the tool for studying things that change. Even so, in the midst of the dynamic and heterogeneous earth, calculus is an under-practised and, around the water-cooler at least, under-celebrated workhorse. Maybe that's because people don't realize it's all around us. Let's change that. 

Derivatives of duration

We can plot the time f(x) that passes as a seismic wave travels though space x. This function is known to many geophysicists as the time-to-depth function. It is key for converting borehole measurements, effectively recorded using a measuring tape, to seismic measurements, recorded using a stop watch.

Now let's take the derivative of f(x) with repsect to x. The result is the slowness function (the reciprocal of interval velocity):

The time duration that a seismic wave travels over a small interval (one metre). This function is an actual sonic well log. Differentiating once again yields this curious spiky function:

Geophysicists will spot that this resembles a reflection coefficient series, which governs seismic amplitudes. This is actually a transmission coefficient function, but that small detail is beside the point. In this example, the creating a synthetic seismogram mimics the calculus of geology. 

If you are familiar with the integrated trace attribute, you will recognize that it is an attempt to compute geology by integrating reflectivity spikes. The only issue in this case, and it is a major issue, is that the seismic trace is bandlimited. It does not contain all the information about the earth's slowness. So the earth's geology remains elusive and blurry.

The derivative of slowness yields the reflection boundaries, the integral of slowness yields their position. So in geophysics speak, I wonder, is forward modeling akin to differentiation, and inverse modeling akin to integration? I find it fascinating that these three functions have essentially the same density of information, yet they look increasingly complicated when we take derivatives. 

What other functions do you come across that might benefit from the calculus treatment?

The sonic log used in this example is from the O-32-B/11-E-64 well onshore Nova Scotia, which is publically available but not easily accessible online.