David Hale

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David Hale
Dave Hale headshot.jpg
Latest company Colorado School of Mines
BSc Physics
PhD Geophysics
BSc university Texas A&M University
PhD university Stanford University

Ira David (Dave) Hale is the former Charles Henry Green Chair in Exploration Geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines and a former director of the Center for Wave Phenomena. He retired in June 2015 and now writes computer software with Dean Witte.

Dave Hale received a BS in Physics from Texas A&M University in 1977 and a PhD in Geophysics from Stanford University in 1983. At Stanford, he studied with the Stanford Exploration Project. He has worked as a field seismologist and research geophysicist for Western Geophysical, as a senior research geophysicist for Chevron, as an associate professor at the Colorado School of Mines, as a chief geophysicist and software developer for Advance Geophysical, and as a senior research fellow for Landmark Graphics. While at Mines, he worked with the Center for Wave Phenomena. In 2005, he returned to Mines as the C.H. Green Professor of Exploration Geophysics.

Dave received the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal from the Society of Exploration Geophysics in 1989 for his work on dip-moveout processing of seismic data.He taught the SEG's first course in dip-moveout processing as part of the SEG Continuing Education program, and was editor of "DMO Processing", volume 16 of the Geophysics reprint series.

Dave also received the SEG's awards for:

Dave's most recent areas of research include smooth dynamic warping of seismic data, the development of algorithms for the determination of fault surfaces and fault throws from 3D seismic data, dynamic warping of seismic images, structurally oriented bilateral filtering of seismic data, and tensor guided interpolation on nonplanar surfaces.

Fall 2014 SEG/AAPG Distinguished Lecturer

3D seismic image processing for interpretation of faults and horizons

Fault surfaces are an important aspect of subsurface geology that we can extract from 3D seismic images. Estimates of fault slips are important as well, as they enable correlation across faults of subsurface properties. Moreover, with estimated fault slips, we can undo faulting apparent in 3D seismic images. After unfaulting, seismic reflections should be more continuous across faults, and this increased continuity facilitates unfolding of 3D seismic images so that reflectors are horizontal. The composite process of unfaulting and unfolding is equivalent to the construction of an entire 3D volume of chronostratigraphic horizons.

Although all of this image processing can be performed automatically, limitations inherent in seismic imaging and computing systems suggest that human interaction will continue to be desirable. But this interaction can be enhanced. For example, instead of picking or tracking horizons one at a time, we might interactively select scattered sets of points in a 3D seismic image that correspond to multiple horizons, while automatically updating a complete 3D horizon volume to honor those interpreted constraints.

This semi-automatic 3D interpretation of faults and horizons overcomes a fundamental limitation of the human visual system, that we can see simultaneously only a few 2D seismic sections and horizon surfaces. Computer programs do not suffer from this limitation. A 3D image is stored and manipulated in computer memory much like a 2D image. So as we interactively select points on 2D sections, our software can update consistently a complete 3D interpretation.

Another advantage of semi-automatic 3D interpretation is that our software may be less biased than a human interpreter. In geophysical exploration, we often see what we expect to see, and are simply trying to determine where it is or how it has changed. But we can be surprised, especially when using software that does not share our expectations. For example, the software that I developed to extract fault surfaces from 3D seismic images one day surprised me by creating surfaces that have conical shapes. Although conical faults were unexpected (by me) and seem to be rare, they are clearly apparent in 3D seismic images displayed in cylindrical coordinates; and they raise interesting geologic questions that we might never have asked, had we required faults to have more familiar shapes.

Interview with David

Please tell us a little bit about yourself (your education and work experience, why you became a geophysicist, etc.). After earning a BS in Physics at Texas A&M University in 1977, I began working with Western Geophysical, first as a seismologist on a field crew in Venezuela. But I knew almost nothing about geophysics, much less seismology, so some folks in the Houston office sent three books, classics by Dobrin, Slotnick, and Nettleton. Slotnick's Lessons in Seismic Computing was especially helpful in my new job. Several months later I returned to Houston, where I processed seismic data and wrote computer programs for Western, while studying books by Robinson, Treitel, and Claerbout. I found Jon Claerbout's book almost impenetrable, which somehow led me to study with him at Stanford, where I earned a PhD in Geophysics in 1983. Since then I have worked in both industry and academia, with all sorts of companies, large and small. A common theme in all of these contexts was an opportunity to write computer programs that could improve the way others work. In my current role as the C.H. Green Professor of Exploration Geophysics at Colorado School of Mines, I teach courses in both geophysics and computer science.

Would you like to mention anything about your personal attributes that helped you achieve the professional status you enjoy today; was it self-belief, hard work, a mentor, or something else?' I've had some great teachers. ˞Ken Larner taught me to never be impressed by complexity; rather, to look for simple insights, especially in scientific writing and speaking. Jon Claerbout taught me seismic imaging and founded the Stanford Exploration Project, where I was able to learn even more from my fellow graduate students. Rutt Bridges taught me that there is much more to a successful business than a good idea or computer program.

Why did you choose this lecture topic? Why is it important? Because this lecture is sponsored by both SEG and AAPG, I chose a topic that is relevant to both geophysicists and geologists. I also most enjoy speaking about recent research, topics on which my students and I continue to work. Again, for me it is about computer software that can enhance the way we all work, in this case, new algorithms for image processing that enhance seismic interpretation.

Could you tell us in a few sentences what your lecture objectives are? My primary objective is for the audience to understand what I present well enough that they become as enthusiastic about it as I am. A lecture tour like this one is wonderful teaching opportunity, and I do not want to waste it.

Are there any more specific areas that you want to emphasize? These will depend on the audience, which will vary among the different organizations that host the lecture. For example, with students I might highlight ways to acquire the computational skills needed to do the sort of work presented.

What do you hope people will have learned after they attend your lecture? This too will vary with the audience, but everyone should have raised expectations of what is possible with computer software in seismic image processing for interpretation.

You have quite a busy year ahead. Do you enjoy traveling? Will it be difficult to balance the tour with your work? I tend to travel only when absolutely necessary, so friends who know me well think I am now crazy; but they are also giving me lots of advice on ways to travel more efficiently. Fortunately, and this is a big deal, Andreas Rueger of Landmark will teach my course on digital signal processing at Mines this fall; my students will be in good hands.

What advice would you give to geophysics students and professionals just starting out in the industry? Study, and continue to study, so you can always find work that you enjoy so much you would do it for room and board. You will make money, because your skills are valuable and not easily acquired, and you will save money because you will be too busy to spend it while working (playing) at what you enjoy.

Biography Citation for the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal 1989

Contributed by L. C. Lawyer

To be eligible for the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal, the recipient must have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the science of geophysical exploration during the previous five years. In Dave Hale's case, clearly both the contribution and the contributor can be described as outstanding. The contribution centers around Dave's work at Stanford where he received his Ph.D. under the direction of Jon Claerbout.

During graduate school at Stanford, Dave established himself as the primary worker on the theory and application of dip moveout processing or partial migration. While not the originator of the method, his innovations moved it quickly into the mainstream of geophysical technology.

Of Dave's work, Jon Claerbout says: "Proper imaging of reflection seismic data requires a knowledge of the seismic velocity. But finding the velocity is itself a goal of the imaging process. This bootstrapping is an area of intense commercial competition and academic theorizing. In the early 1970s, John Sherwood introduced a concept, dip moveout, but did not reveal the underlying analysis. I recognized the value of the concept and to some degree, with my student, Öz Yilmaz, gave it an analytic foundation. But the foundation was weak. Then Fabio Rocca found a geometric description of how to define the travel times correctly to all angles. But few people understood Rocca's theory, and it did not deal satisfactorily with amplitudes and phases. Dave Hale then invented a Fourier analysis approach to the problem that got correct all angles, amplitudes, and phases. Hale's method also had the virtue of being readily understood, and people nowadays put Hale's solution in the class of Bob Stolt's landmark work on migration by Fourier transform. Following Hale's first presentation, the number of workers in this formerly arcane area rapidly ballooned. It became the most active area of data processing research and development in the SEG. Of the thirty students I have guided to Ph.D., there is no doubt that Dave's work has had the greatest impact on the activities of researchers at other institutions."

Don Paul, manager of Chevron's geophysical research says: "Dave was a member of the Geophysics Division at Chevron Oil Field Research in La Habra, California, from 1983 to 1988. His research in super-computer applications to velocity analysis and prestack seismic imaging made significant technical contributions to Chevron's exploration efforts in several areas of complex structures." He further states, "His thesis, Dip Moveout by Fourier transform, has become the reference work on the subject."

Dave worked for Western Geophysical in seismic research from 1977 to 1979. It was from this background that he was able to contribute through the Stanford Exploration Project. Ken Larner, then with Western and now a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, says: "Since the award is for a major technical contribution within the past five years, it should be added that since his development of the DMO method, Dave has contributed greatly to the profession through the clarity and completeness of his insights into not only the DMO process but also seismic imaging in general. He has conveyed these insights in the highly popular and well received SEG Continuing Education course on DMO and in the outstanding graduate courses in seismic migration and data processing that he has conducted at Mines.

"Dave is a great guy! His change of career paths from industry to academia was motivated primarily by a strong desire to share his knowledge with students and to help develop research skills among graduate students. His courses are a joy, a remarkable blend of theory, computation, and the practical. Students not only learn from him exciting insights into theory, they also get a great sense of why things are done the way they're done in industry. As a result, he prepares students well to contribute effectively in industry.

"Any activity that bears Dave's imprint is stamped with excellence. So far, our profession has had only a small taste of the many breakthrough contributions yet to come from him."

Dave is currently an associate professor of geophysics at Mines, but no discussion of Dave can be considered complete without mention of the support he has received from his wife, Laura, who is a geophysicist in her own right. After Laura received her M.S. degree from Stanford in geophysics, she was employed by Chevron in San Francisco. Interestingly, it was Laura that introduced both partial migration and Dave to Chevron. While working on a difficult and complex seismic line from the Gulf of Suez, she strongly suggested that the solution to the problem was partial migration and that Dave Hale (at Stanford) could process the line through DMO and greatly enhance the data. I don't recall whether the data were improved or not, but I do remember Laura's dedication to partial migration (and to Dave).

I am honored in being asked to write this citation, and I thank Jon Claerbout, Don Paul, and Ken Larner for their input. I know these people have been important to Dave, and we believe there will be future citations for this highly inventive and energetic person. [4]


  1. Hale, D. and Groshong Jr., R.H., 2014, Conical faults apparent in a 3D seismic image: Interpretation, 2, no. 1, T1-T11.
  2. Hale, D., and Emanuel, J., 2002, Atomic meshing of seismic images: 72th Annual International Meeting, SEG, Expanded Abstracts, 2126-2129.
  3. Hale, D., Ross Hill, N., and Stefani, J., 1992, Imaging salt with turning seismic waves: Geophysics, 57, no. 11, 1453-1462.
  4. Awards Citations of the SEG-- Page 188, Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Tulsa.

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