# White magic: calibrating seismic attributes

This post is part of a series on seismic attributes; the previous posts were...

Last time, I hinted that there might be a often-overlooked step in attribute analysis:

Calibration is a gaping void in many published workflows. How can we move past "that red blob looks like a point bar so I drew a line around it in PowerPoint" to "there's a 70% chance of finding reservoir quality sand at that location"?

Why is this step such a 'gaping void'? A few reasons:

• It's fun playing with attributes, and you can make hundreds without a second thought. Some of them look pretty interesting, geological even. "That looks geological" is, however, not an attribute calibration technique. You have to prove it.
• Nobody will be around when we find out the answer. There's a good chance that well will never be drilled, but when it is, you'll be on a different project, in a different company, or have left the industry altogether and be running a kayak rental business in Belize.
• The bar is rather low. The fact that many published examples of attribute analysis include no proof at all, just a lot of maps with convincing-looking polygons on them, and claims of 'better reservoir quality over here'.

This is getting discouraging. Let's look at an example. Now, it's hard to present this without seeming over-critical, but I know these gentlemen can handle it, and this was only a magazine article, so we needn't make too much of it. But it illustrates the sort of thing I'm talking about, so here goes.

Quoting from Chopra & Marfurt (AAPG Explorer, April 2014), edited slightly for brevity:

While coherence shows the edges of the channel, it gives little indication of the heterogeneity or uniformity of the channel fill. Notice the clear definition of this channel on the [texture attribute — homogeneity].
We interpret [the] low homogeneity feature [...] to be a point bar in the middle of the incised valley (green arrow). This internal architecture was not delineated by coherence.

A nice story, making two claims:

1. The attribute incompletely represents the internal architecture of the channel.
2. The labeled feature on the texture attribute is a point bar.

I know explorers have to be optimists, and geoscience is all about interpretation, but as scientists we must be skeptical optimists. Claims like this are nice hypotheses, but you have to take the cue: go off and prove them. Remember confirmation bias, and Feynman's words:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.

### The twin powers

Making geological predictions with seismic attribute analysis requires two related workflows:

1. Forward modeling — the best way to tune your intuition is to make a cartoonish model of the earth (2D, isotropic, homogeneous lithologies) and perform a simplified seismic experiment on it (convolutional, primaries only, noise-free). Then you can compare attribute behaviour to the known model.
2. Calibration — you are looking for an explicit, quantitative relationship between a physical property you care about (porosity, lithology, fluid type, or whatever) and a seismic attribute. A common way to show this is with a cross-plot of the seismic amplitude against the physical property.

When these foundations are not there, we can be sure that one or more bad things will happen:

• The relationship produces a lot of type I errors (false positives).
• It produces a lot of type II error (false negatives).
• It works at some wells and not at others.
• You can't reproduce it with a forward model.
• You can't explain it with physics.

As the industry shrivels and questions — as usual — the need for science and scientists, we have to become more stringent, more skeptical, and more rigorous. Doing anything else feeds the confirmation bias of the non-scientific continent. Because it says, loud and clear: geoscience is black magic.

The image is part of the figure from Chopra, S and K Marfurt (2014). Extracting information from texture attributes. AAPG Explorer, April 2014. It is copyright of the Authors and AAPG.