Whilst brainstorming ideas for future focus topics for the RECORDER this Spring with the other members of the CSEG RECORDER committee, I proposed an edition focused on geophysical research at Canadian universities, largely because I was wondering what the hot topics are in research these days, and who is working on them. My first quick internet search located a technical luncheon abstract written on a related topic by Professor Larry Lines in the RECORDER from April 1998, but not much else.

A speculative email to Professor Larry Lines got the ball rolling. It turns out that Larry, quite serendipitously, had spoken at an APEGA meeting on the value of university geophysical research consortia less than one month earlier. Larry graciously volunteered an article on this topic and this forms the first part of the focus section. He tracks the history of industry-funded research consortia at various North American universities, gives us an update on their current projects, and ends with some positive thoughts for the future.

As Larry mentions, only about one third of all university geoscience research is supported by consortia. Keeping in mind Rob Vestrum’s (our current CSEG President’s) comment that CSEG is not an acronym for the ‘Calgary Society of Exploration Geophysicists’, I naively decided to solicit short articles from all of the Canadian universities with geophysical departments describing highlights of their current geophysical research programs that align with the objectives of the CSEG (“to promote the science of geophysics, especially as it applies to exploration, and to promote fellowship and co-operation among those persons interested in geophysical prospecting”). How hard could this be – off the top of my head I could think of maybe 4 or 5 universities? Well, it turns out there are far more geophysical departments spread across our land than I thought! We ended up receiving articles from twelve universities showcasing aspects of their research. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of geophysical research projects, or even of Canadian universities with geophysical research departments. At least three universities were unable to contribute articles due to scheduling conflicts. Despite this, I think that the contributions are reasonably representative of the breadth and depth of geophysical research activities at our universities.

In the second section of the focus articles you will find short stories submitted by the contributing universities based on the application of the full spectrum of geophysical tools and techniques. Their stories describe geophysical research from coast-to-coast-to-coast for many topical applications including exploration and exploitation (petroleum – conventional, unconventional, heavy oil, onshore and offshore; mineral deposits and water), monitoring (hydraulic fracturing, waste water disposal and earthquakes), archaeological and environmental studies, and CO2 sequestration.

I am very grateful to all of the authors who were able to take time out from their busy summer research season to contribute these articles. One was away on a “research” cruise. Another was prospecting in the Arctic, apparently “battling mosquitoes the size of seagulls” – I am not sure he didn’t just put this in his email to cheer me up as I sat in my small office cubicle looking through the grimy window at the beautiful, clear blue sky outside.

To me, the value of our university research programs shines through these articles. Our researchers diligently chip away at the tough, sometimes esoteric problems that those of us in industry would like to work on but cannot due to (1) our short business cycles, (2) our lack of resources, and (3) our lack of brain-power; until their projects reach a stage that they are adopted by industry to create new business opportunities and jobs. Research students learn life-long problem-solving, project management and communication skills that carry over into the workplace. Finally, universities provide the necessary safe harbour for researchers with a social conscience, and for projects that benefit our society without requiring a profit – a prime case in point being the University of Calgary geophysical study of faults beneath Christchurch, New Zealand following the devastating earthquake of February 22nd, 2011 (e.g. Lawton et al., 2011).

I hope you, the reader, enjoy this edition of the RECORDER.



About the Author(s)

Rob Holt has a B.Sc. in Physics from the University of Birmingham, a M.Sc. in Exploration Geophysics from the University of Leeds, and a Ph.D. in Geophysics from University College London. He left academia to work as a seismic processor in Houston, and moved to Calgary in 2000. After gaining Canadian citizenship, Rob joined Shell in 2008 and has been working on production and research projects since then. Rob is currently developing a new workflow for characterizing unconventional reservoirs, which involves integrating geophysical (seismic) data with data from other disciplines including rock physics, petrophysics and geomechanics. Rob is a member of the CSEG, SEG, EAGE and APEGA.


Lawton, D., et al., 2011, Post-earthquake seismic reflection survey, Christchurch, New Zealand, CREWES Research Report – volume 23 (2011), p.1-16.


Join the Conversation

Interested in starting, or contributing to a conversation about an article or issue of the RECORDER? Join our CSEG LinkedIn Group.

Share This Article