Allied Geophysical Laboratories

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The University of Houston's Allied Geophysical Laboratories (AGL) has become the world's leading center for seismic physical modeling research. One hundred seventy-seven graduate degrees, 142 master's degrees and 35 PhDs have been awarded based on research conducted at the AGL. Graduates are employed by almost every major oil company in the U.S. and by many contractors. Individuals from 37 different countries have been involved in research or have studied at AGL. Its staff and students have been consistent contributors to SEG meetings and workshops, averaging some 8-12 papers per year, and two books on physical modeling have been published by AGL-based researchers.

The Seismic Acoustics Laboratory (SAL) from which AGL grew was created in 1977 by Fred Hilterman and Keith Wang, an associate professor of electrical engineering. Their first report stated the lab's objective was "to investigate seismic data acquisition, processing, and interpretation in order to increase 3-D resolution of reservoir acoustic properties. This will be accomplished by a two-fold development: first, a physical modeling system will be built and operated and, second, theoretical inverse models and interpretational techniques will be found."

The first emphasis was on the design and implementation of a high-quality physical modeling system. Gulf Laboratories in Pittsburgh had done acoustic modeling in a small water tank and generously shared it as SAL undertook larger and more complex models.

By March 1978 the lab had 32 sponsors contributing about $10,000 each (23 oil companies and nine geophysical contractors). Initially SAL supported nine graduate students and had eight nonsupported grad students. The first budget slated 33% for student support and summer support of the principal investigators, 21% for computer operations, and most of the remainder for building the model system. The reports for the first year and a half were primarily devoted to building the physical modeling system, testing modeling materials and transducers, and writing computer code.

In 1981 research activities expanded to include a Keck Research Computation Laboratory (RCL), a Cullen Image Processing Laboratory (IPL), a Field Research Laboratory (FRL), and a Well Log Research Laboratory (WLL). These labs and SAL were designated the Allied Geophysical Laboratories, the name which continues today.

Along with oil industry exploration, AGL contracted in the late 1980s and early 1990s. WLL, already a going concern, continued its independent life and was never really integrated into AGL. IPL ceased as a separate entity in 1988; RCL dissolved in 1992; and FRL was taken over by Curtin University. Support for AGL diminished as sponsoring companies merged, and by 1990 there were only 14 sponsors. The loss in income was partially offset by federal and state grants. Today AGL continues to support students in carrying out seismic research. This year the number of sponsors increased, but the program is presently limited by the number of available students.

AGL's physical modeling capabilities and work has continually been expanded, in many cases with the direct involvement of industry. The lab includes the Milton Dobrin Library, which was combined with the SEG library and is available to outsiders. In 1988 a solid modeling system was added so that both acoustic and elastic waves can be studied.

In addition to its work in physical and numerical modeling, AGL has pioneered work in migration, deconvolution, velocity estimation, wavelet shaping, shear wave and anisotropic studies, depth migration, DMO, prestack imaging, and slant stack studies. Ongoing programs include the physical modeling and processing of subsalt and vertical-cable data, studies of subsalt multiples and converted waves and their effects on AVO analysis, the reflection tomographic solution for interfaces and velocities simultaneously, spatial sampling and resolution, seismic anisotropy and fracture detection, and time-lapse work.

Although this award really goes to all the students and scientists who have worked at AGL, certain individuals merit special recognition: G. H. F. Gardner and John McDonald, former co-directors; Dan Ebrom, former acting director; Roice Nelson and K. K. Sekharan, AGL managers; Barbara Murray, administrator; Bob Tatham, Hua-Wei Zhou and Fred Hilterman who have been very supportive.