What is an unsession?

Yesterday I invited you (yes, you) to our Unsolved Problems Unsession on 7 May in Calgary. What exactly will be involved? We think we can accomplish two things:

  1. Brainstorm the top 10, or 20, or 50 most pressing problems in exploration geoscience today. Not limited to but focusing on those problems that affect how well we interface — with each other, with engineers, with financial people, with the public even. Integration problems.
  2. Select one or two of those problems and solve them! Well, not solve them, but explore ways to approach solving them. What might a solution be worth? How many disciplines does it touch? How long might it take? Where could we start? Who can help?Word cloud

There are bright, energetic young people out there looking for relevant problems to work on towards a Master's or PhD. There are entrepreneurs looking for high-value problems to create a new business from. And software companies looking for ways to be more useful and relevant to their users. And there is more than one interpreter wishing that innovation would speed up a bit in our industry and make their work a little — or a lot — easier. 

We don't know where it will lead, but we think this unsession is one way to get some conversations going. This is not a session to dip in and out of — we need 4 hours of your time. Bring your experience, your uniqueness, and your curiosity.

Let's reboot our imaginations about what we can do in our science.

An invitation to a brainstorm

Who of us would not be glad to lift the veil behind which the future lies hidden; to cast a glance at the next advances of our science and at the secrets of its development during future centuries? What particular goals will there be toward which the leading [geoscientific] spirits of coming generations will strive? What new methods and new facts in the wide and rich field of [geoscientific] thought will the new centuries disclose?

— Adapted from David Hilbert (1902). Mathematical Problems, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 8 (10), p 437–479. Originally appeared in in Göttinger Nachrichten, 1900, pp. 253–297.

Back at the end of October, just before the SEG Annual Meeting, I did some whining about conferences: so many amazing, creative, energetic geoscientists, doing too much listening and not enough doing. The next day, I proposed some ways to make conferences for productive — for us as scientists, and for our science itself. 

Evan and I are chairing a new kind of session at the Calgary GeoConvention this year. What does ‘new kind of session’ mean? Here’s the lowdown:

The Unsolved Problems Unsession at the 2013 GeoConvention will transform conference attendees, normally little more than spectators, into active participants and collaborators. We are gathering 60 of the brightest, sparkiest minds in exploration geoscience to debate the open questions in our field, and create new approaches to solving them. The nearly 4-hour session will look, feel, and function unlike any other session at the conference. The outcome will be a list of real problems that affect our daily work as subsurface professionals — especially those in the hard-to-reach spots between our disciplines. Come and help shed some light, room 101, Tuesday 7 May, 8:00 till 11:45.

What you can do

  • Where does your workflow stumble? Think up the most pressing unsolved problems in your workflows — especially ones that slow down collaboration between the disciplines. They might be organizational, they might be technological, they might be scientific.
  • Put 7 May in your calendar and come to our session! Better yet, bring a friend. We can accommodate about 60 people. Be one of the first to experience a new kind of session!
  • If you would like to help host the event, we're looking for 5 enthusiastic volunteers to play a slightly enlarged role, helping guide the brainstorming and capture the goodness. You know who you are. Email hello@agilegeoscience.com

The integration gap

Agile teams have lots of ways to be integrated. They need to be socially integrated: they need to talk to each other, know what team-mates are working on, and have lots of connections to other agile teams and individuals. They need to be actively integrated: their workflows must complement one another's. If the geologist is working on new bulk density curves, the geophysicist uses those curves for the synthetic seismograms; if the geophysicist tweaks the seismic inversion result, the geomodeller uses that volume for the porosity distribution.

But the agile team also needs to be empirically integrated: the various datasets need to overlap somehow so they can be mutually calibrated and correlated. But if we think about the resolution of subsurface data, both spatially, in the (x,y) plane, and vertically, on the z axis, we reveal a problem—the integration gap.


This picks up again on scale (see previous post). Geophysical data is relatively low-resolution: we can learn all about large, thick features. But we know nothing about small things, about a metre in size, say. Conversely, well-based data can tell us lots about small things, even very small things indeed. A vertical well can tell us about thick things, but not spatially extensive things. A horizontal well can tell us a bit more about spatially large things, but not about thick things. And in between this small-scale well data and the large-scale seismic data? A gap. 

This little gap is responsible for much of the uncertainty we encounter in the subsurface. It is where the all-important well-tie lives. It leads to silos, un-integrated behaviour, and dysfunctional teams. And it's where all the fun is!

† I've never thought about it before, but there doesn't seem to be an adjectival form of the word 'data'. 

UPDATE This figure was updated later: