Targets, technology, and training in the 2020s: Where is exploration geoscience going?

Targets, technology, and training in the 2020s: Where is exploration geoscience going?
By Robert R. Stewart Society of Exploration Geophysicists and University of Houston

Tuesday 19th February 2019 , time: 5:00 PM
ADNOC HQ, 38th floor, Abu Dhabi.


Dr. Robert R. Stewart
SEG President


Much of exploration geoscience started in the early 1900s with the discovery that the vast new energy source (oil) could be found using newly established gravity and seismic methods. Professional Societies formed to help develop the new sciences and people of petroleum geology (American Association of Petroleum Geologists founded in 1917) and exploration geophysics (Society of Exploration Geophysicists in 1930). Additional Societal goals were to educate, connect, and advance their members and increase prosperity. Exploration geoscientists searched not only for oil and gas, but resources of all types including precious metals and gems, minerals, aggregate, and ground water. However, the size of the petroleum industry dwarfed most other subsurface-related pursuits. Geoscientists over the years, with a host of new instruments and methods, have sought oil and gas in increasingly difficult terrains, ocean depths, and trap types. The advent of “unconventional” petroleum resources (those reservoir rocks having low permeability or high viscosity fluids) with current production of some 8 million bopd in the US and 3.5 million bopd in Canada have revolutionized the energy sector. But, environmental concerns have complicated the future. Other groups of geophysicists applied their techniques to mining, archaeology, various branches of engineering, agriculture, and defense.

Applied geoscience has been closely tied to the energy sector. However, our geoscientific mandate is much larger. The recent American Geophysical Union Meeting in Washington, DC hosted some 28,000 attendees. We anticipate searching for resources in wider geographic areas – from Madagascar to Mars (using the recently landed InSight instruments). As human needs and the infrastructure of prosperity change, different resources will be required including more exotic metals and rare earth elements. Protecting infrastructure and lives from natural hazards and disasters will become a more essential part of geophysics. Our means of understanding the earth (with drones, DAS, nodes) and representing it (3D-printing, virtual reality) have vastly expanded. Faster machines, larger storage, rapid data flow, cloud computing have all provided opportunities to enhance our images, improve their interpretation, and leverage their use. To apply all of this though, we must motivate and educate people. Training and knowledge transfer can be aided by blended learning: online, face-to-face, and hands-on. Sports training provides a successful example of experiential learning with theory, drills, games, replays, and critique – all repeated until the skills are second nature. Geophysics can learn from athletics (and music). We anticipate that exploration geoscientists will use their advanced training and tools across a greater scope of practices in discovering, recovering, monitoring, and optimizing a wide range of resources along with mitigating hazards and impacts.


Dr. Robert R. Stewart,.B.Sc., Ph.D., P.Geo. (Alberta), P.G. (Texas), and 2018-2019 President, Society of Exploration Geophysicists, received his B.Sc. from the University of Toronto in math and physics and Ph.D. in geophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was employed with Chevron’s Oil Field Research Lab, California; ARCO in Dallas; and Veritas Software, Calgary. Dr Stewart was Professor of Geophysics at the University of Calgary and held its Chair in Exploration Geophysics. In 2008, he joined the University of Houston (UH) as Professor of Geophysics, holds the Cullen Chair in Exploration Geophysics, and is Director of the Allied Geophysical Laboratories. He founded and directs UH’s Field Camps and has led expeditions to NASA’s High Arctic Haughton-Mars Project, Belizean archaeological ruins, and Haiti’s earthquake zones. Dr Stewart has published over 150 articles in geoscience journals and magazines.

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