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The science of exploration geophysics normally advances at an evolutionary pace; each new piece of technology becomes a building block for further advancement. But, breakthrough advances have from time to time occurred which, because of their ultimate impact, are considered to be revolutionary in scope. The advent of digital recording and processing was one such breakthrough. The development of 3-D data collection and processing was another, a technological revolution which is still in progress.

Major technological advances are occasionally made possible by other, less spectacular but very necessary developments. By 1974, all of the elements were in place to permit collection of marine seismic data which could be processed in three dimensions except the means to establish the relative position of each hydrophone group. Fortuitously, at that time a small company in New Orleans, DigiCourse, had recently completed initial development of a small, digitally read compass which was the result of an invention by James M. Lapeyre, the company's founder.

The now well-known optical compass, first produced in 1972, was originally intended for shipboard use, binnacle mounted with a remote readout. By 1974, it had been developed into a small, rugged underwater sensor for use by the U.S. Navy in towed arrays. A major seismic contractor became aware of the compass at this stage and worked with DigiCourse to quickly adapt it for use in a streamer cable. The compasses were successfully used in the first commercial 3-D marine survey in the early summer of 1975.

The original compasses used for 3-D seismic were hand-assembled by skilled technicians whose art surpassed their science. Over the nearly 20 years since its introduction, the compass' resolution and accuracy have been substantially improved. Today, a majority of vessels in the seismic fleet use these heading sensors to dynamically determine the shape of each streamer in a multiple array.

Lapeyre's invention and his foresight and perseverance in making his heading sensor into a useful, reliable device have been of great benefit to the successful development of 3-D marine seismic data acquisition. After his death, DigiCourse continued as an innovative developer of streamer positioning and location devices and a dependable supplier to the industry, a company which, as the definition of the Distinguished Achievement Award says, "substantially advanced the science of exploration and geophysics."