SEG machine learning contest: there's still time

Have you been looking for an excuse to find out what machine learning is all about? Or maybe learn a bit of Python programming language? If so, you need to check out Brendon Hall's tutorial in the October issue of The Leading Edge. Entitled, "Facies classification using machine learning", it's a walk-through of a basic statistical learning workflow, applied to a small dataset from the Hugoton gas field in Kansas, USA.

But it was also the launch of a strictly fun contest to see who can get the best prediction from the available data. The rules are spelled out in ther contest's README, but in a nutshell, you can use any reproducible workflow you like in Python, R, Julia or Lua, and you must disclose the complete workflow. The idea is that contestants can learn from each other.

Left: crossplots and histograms of wireline log data, coloured by facies — the idea is to highlight possible data issues, such as highly correlated features. Right: true facies (left) and predicted facies (right) in a validation plot. See the rest of the paper for details.

What's it all about?

The task at hand is to predict sedimentological facies from well logs. Such log-derived facies are sometimes called e-facies. This is a familiar task to many development geoscientists, and there are many, many ways to go about it. In the article, Brendon trains a support vector machine to discriminate between facies. It does a fair job, but the accuracy of the result is less than 50%. The challenge of the contest is to do better.

Indeed, people have already done better; here are the current standings:

Team F1 Algorithm Language Solution
1 gccrowther 0.580 Random forest Python Notebook
2 LA_Team 0.568 DNN Python Notebook
3 gganssle 0.561 DNN Lua Notebook
4 MandMs 0.552 SVM Python Notebook
5 thanish 0.551 Random forest R Notebook
6 geoLEARN 0.530 Random forest Python Notebook
7 CannedGeo 0.512 SVM Python Notebook
8 BrendonHall 0.412 SVM Python Initial score in article

As you can see, DNNs (deep neural networks) are, in keeping with the amazing recent advances in the problem-solving capability of this technology, doing very well on this task. Of the 'shallow' methods, random forests are quite prominent, and indeed are a great first-stop for classification problems as they tend to do quite well with little tuning.

How do I enter?

There is still over 6 weeks to enter: you have until 31 January. There is a little overhead — you need to learn a bit about git and GitHub, there's some programming, and of course machine learning is a massive field to get up to speed on — but don't be discouraged. The very first entry was from Bryan Page, a self-described non-programmer who dusted off some basic skills to improve on Brendon's notebook. But you can run the notebook right here in (if it's up today — it's been a bit flaky lately) and a play around with a few parameters yourself.

The contest aspect is definitely low-key. There's no money on the line — just a goody bag of fun prizes and a shedload of kudos that will surely get the winners into some awesome geophysics parties. My hope is that it will encourage you (yes, you) to have fun playing with data and code, trying to do that magical thing: predict geology from geophysical data.


Hall, B (2016). Facies classification using machine learning. The Leading Edge 35 (10), 906–909. doi: 10.1190/tle35100906.1. (This paper is open access: you don't have to be an SEG member to read it.)