Joe Sanders

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Joe Sanders
Latest company Fairfield Industries

Joe I. Sanders (July 1, 1942 - January 26, 2008) was a leading figure in the development of offshore data acquisition technology. He was awarded SEG's Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award for his work in commercializing the dual-sensor technique for ocean-bottom cable applications.


Contributed by Tim Rigsby

Joe Sanders, a leading figure in the development of offshore data acquisition technology, died on 26 January 2008.

Perhaps the proudest moment in his career was receiving SEG’s Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award in 1995 for his work in commercializing the dual-sensor technique for ocean-bottom cable applications. So, this summary of his career will include and update the information in the Kauffman citation written by W. L. Keaton.

Joe Sanders was born 1 July 1942 in the small town of Smackover, Arkansas, some 80 miles east of Texarkana. He earned a degree in mathematics (1966) from Louisiana State University (where he also played center on the LSU football team) and arrived in the Midland, Texas offices of Geophysical Services Incorporated (GSI) in February 1967. Sanders called it “chance” but admitted that he was inspired by the accomplishments of his uncle, John J. Babb, who obtained a patent in 1947 for work done with seafloor geophones while working for GSI.

Whatever the reason, the time and place were optimal for launching a career in geophysics. The advent of digital seismology allowed the concentration of the scientific talent in one location where cross-training among geophysicists, geologists, mathematicians, physicists, and engineers was the order of the day. Research and development funding was available from contractors and petroleum companies. Also, the Permian Basin was one of those rare areas where a party chief could set field geometry, process data, interpret, map, and present it. Sanders spent about five years here gaining experience; then, in 1972, he was transferred to GSI/TI in Dallas to take part in the supercomputer concept for processing seismic data. There he was at the center of software and hardware development and traded ideas with research geophysicists such as Marion Bone, Milo Backus, Mel Carter, and Ed Tegland, who recruited Sanders into the area geophysicist group to specialize in 3D processing. While here, he supervised the first marine 3D project and stayed on for 12 years, discovering that 3D made sense of a lot of mysteries in seismic exploration.

In 1984, Sanders moved to Houston to begin work on ocean-bottom cable acquisition, which was still evolving. As the work moved further offshore and into deeper water, problems grew with properly locating receivers on the seabed, addressing the receiver ghost, and working within the limitations of analog cables. Cam Wason of GSI research suggested using geophones along with hydrophones to attack the receiver ghost. Sanders actively pursued this idea. Working with his colleagues at GSI, he designed and built a dual-sensor test cable with some gimbaled geophones he borrowed from Sensor. After going to the field and acquiring and processing the first dualsensor tests, he found the geophone data noisy. But the summed data were sufficiently encouraging to convince ARCO to fund the first commercial dual-sensor DFS V analog cable. Meanwhile, Sanders, with Bill Cafarelli, solved the receiver location problem, using first-break techniques and the TI innovation of real-time data capture hardware.

After the GSI-Geosource-Halliburton merger, Fred Barr had the foresight to set up a data acquisition research group for this set of problems as well as for others. He and Sanders collated all of the applicable theory and pushed the development and field implementation of the engineering technology. Together they created the industry’s first viable digital telemetry, dual-sensor, ocean-bottom cable system. This changed bay cable operations from an often unreliable fill-in tool in areas inaccessible to streamer crews, to a valuable asset, which often produces data superior to conventional streamer data. This development constituted a major advancement in the state-of-the-art of offshore prospecting and earned Sanders and Fred Barr the 1995 Kauffman Gold Medal. Today, virtually all seabed seismic operations around the world use the dual-sensor method and first-break positioning.

From 1993 to 2003, Sanders was vice president of geophysics at PGS Ocean Bottom Seismic where he was involved in some of the early development of 4-C and deepwater ocean-bottom cable methods. He concluded his career as an area geophysicist at Fairfield Industries. Sanders was a member of SEG, EAGE, and the Geophysical Society of Houston. He held seven patents in seismic acquisition and processing.

In a recent correspondence, Fred Barr stated, “Joe is about the most can-do geophysicist I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.” Sanders had a knack for seeing a problem and finding a solution that really worked in the field. He will be remembered for his perseverance and his love for geophysics. Sanders’ contributions to the industry have been many, and he will be remembered and missed by all his friends and those who had the wonderful experience of observing his creative abilities at work.

Sanders is survived by his wife, Linda, and a son and daughter.