In early October I attended the SEG annual convention in New Orleans. In addition to the usual activities such as attending technical talks and checking out what was new on the exhibit floor, in my capacity as CSEG President I also attended the annual SEG Council Meeting, essentially its AGM. The following are some of my impressions.
The most common questions I’ve had on my return are concerning the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. Well, if all a person saw was the airport, the French Quarter, and the view from the highway in between, then he would think that the city had recovered quite well. However, I spoke with people who had driven through other parts of town, and seen entire neighbourhoods bulldozed into big piles that were still waiting to be cleaned up. I understand many residents who left after the hurricane have not returned, so I wonder if those areas will ever be rebuilt.
The French Quarter is the oldest settled area in New Orleans, and naturally was built on the highest ground, albeit still below sea level. So the flooding there wasn’t as bad as in lower lying areas, but of course would still have seriously damaged the plumbing and electrical infrastructure, not to mention created a lot of problems with mould, rot, and structural damage. Many street level buildings in the French Quarter are boarded up, and many others are being gutted and renovated. The work is slowed by a lack of labour. Perhaps more serious is the commercial damage. The French Quarter and Convention Center area is dependent on tourism, and the numbers of visitors right now simply can’t support all the stores and shops. I hope things recover, and I’m glad that the SEG was able to help by holding its convention in New Orleans.
The Council Meeting was as expected – somewhat dry, although there was some (almost) lively debate concerning an amendment that will make it a bit easier to apply for Active status with the SEG. As happens in these kinds of meetings, I found my mind wandering. The SEG seems to be in the middle of a change from being very US-centric to being more international in scope. Naturally there are some voices within the SEG who don’t like this change. The CSEG is in a somewhat similar situation. When you get right down to it, we’re all just clubs of one sort or another. What kind of club does the CSEG want to be, and how broad of a membership do we want to have? We could remain a small, Calgary focused club, or try to become more national in scope. One is really no better than the other, it’s just a matter of choice.
I bring this up because I see efforts and forces underway that are expansionary, such as some of our excellent Outreach programs, or the initiative to reinvent the Canadian Geoscience Council (which the CSEG is a member of) into an effective voice for the geosciences at the national level. Generally speaking I am in favour of these kinds of things. On the other hand, I know there are many CSEG members out there who think the CSEG should stick to the things it’s traditionally done well, such as the convention, RECORDER and social events. Tackling more initiatives will require more volunteer effort, and maybe we’re getting stretched too thin in that respect? At any rate, it’s a general topic that perhaps requires some discussion and member input.
Attending some of the talks, and checking out the exhibits, something struck me. The seismic industry hasn’t come up with any major advancements for some time, and I find that worrying. Increasingly complex new approaches are yielding increasingly smaller incremental gains. I found myself sitting t h rough talks that were so complicated that they were completely beyond my comprehension, and yet when real before / after data examples were shown, I was left asking, “All that trouble for an almost negligible improvement?” Really, the last big impact step forward was 3D seismic. Remember the first time you saw a 3D time slice showing a complex river channel system? There was absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that this new tool was a huge step forward and that it would quickly become indispensable. Where is our next big step forward going to come from? As an industry we seem to be like mediaeval monks coming up with slightly better inks for our hand written bibles, but what we really need is to invent a printing press.
Of course I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect, and there have been many fairly significant technical steps forward, for example in the areas of pre-stack depth imaging or multiple attenuation. But I don’t think anyone could argue that a new, big impact method or two would certainly help re-establish the value of geophysics to our business leaders who have lately tended to see us as overhead or a commodity.
One idea I have is that every one of our conventions could have a session entirely devoted to new ideas and methods, preferably things that are whacky and way out there, and question our traditional approaches. And perhaps the CSEG could put up an attractive prize for the top paper in that category. That would be one small way for our society to encourage some really innovative thinking, and help our industry get out of its conservative, incrementalist rut.