Seismic survey layout: from theory to practice

Up to this point, we've modeled the subsurface moveout and the range of useful offsets, we've build an array of sources and receivers, and we've examined the offset and azimuth statistics in the bins. And we've done it all using open source Python libraries and only about 100 lines of source code. What we have now is a theoretical seismic program. Now it's time to put that survey on the ground. 

The theoretical survey

Ours is a theoretical plot because it idealizes the locations of sources and receivers, as if there were no surface constraints. But it's unlikely that we'll be able to put sources and receivers in perfectly straight lines and at perfectly regular intervals. Topography, ground conditions, buildings, pipelines, and other surface factors have an impact on where stations can't be placed. One of the jobs of the survey designer is to indicate how far sources and receivers can be skidded, or moved away from their theoretical locations before rejecting them entirely.

From theory to practice

In order to see through the noise, we need to collect lots of traces with plenty of redundancy. The effect of station gaps or relocations won't be as immediately obvious as dead pixels on a digital camera, but they can cause some bins to have fewer traces than the idealized layout, which could be detrimental to the quality of imaging in that region. We can examine the impact of moving and removing stations on the data quality, by recomputing the bin statistics based on the new geometries, and comparing them to the results we were designing for. 

When one station needs to be adjusted, it may make sense to adjust several neighbouring points to compensate, or to add more somewhere nearby. But how can we tell what makes sense? The points should resemble the idealized fold and minimum offset statistics bin by bin. For example, let's assume that we can't put sources or receivers in river valleys and channels. Say they are too steep, or water would destroy the instrumentation, or are otherwise off limits. So we remove the invalid points from our series, giving our survey a more realistic surface layout based on the ground conditions. 

Unlike the theoretical layout, we now have bins that aren't served by any traces at all so we've made them invisible (no data). On the right, bins that have a minimum offset greater than 800 m are highlighted in grey. Beneath these grey bins is where the onset of imaging would be the deepest, which would not be a good thing if we have interests in the shallow part of the subsurface. (Because seismic energy spreads out more or less spherically from the source, we will eventually undershoot all but the largest gaps.)

This ends the mini-series on seismic acquisition. I'll end with the final state of the IPython Notebook we've been developing, complete with the suggested edits of reader Jake Wasserman in the last post — this single change resulted in a speed-up of the midpoint-gathering step from about 30 minutes to under 30 seconds!

We want to know... How do you plan seismic acquisitions? Do you have a favourite back-of-the-envelope calculation, a big giant spreadsheet, or a piece of software you like? Let us know in the comments.