Ilya Tsvankin

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Ilya Tsvankin
Ilya Tsvankin 2015 headshot.jpg
Notable works Seismic Signatures and Analysis of Reflection Data in Anisotropic Media, Third Edition; Seismology of Azimuthally Anisotropic Media and Seismic Fracture Characterization
Notable awards Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award; Best paper in GEOPHYSICS
Field seismic modeling, inversion, and processing for anisotropic media, fracture characterization, timelapse seismic, nonlinear elasticity
Latest company Colorado School of Mines
Membership Honorary
MSc geophysics
PhD geophysics
MSc university Moscow State University
PhD university Moscow State University

Ilya Tsvankin is a Professor of Geophysics and the Co-Leader of the Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP) at the Colorado School of Mines [1]. He is known for his research in seismic anisotropy, elastic wave propagation, and characterization of fractured reservoirs. In 1996 he received the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award from the SEG for developing the foundations of anisotropic velocity analysis of seismic reflection data. Ilya was awarded SEG Honorary Membership in 2015 in recognition of his contributions to exploration geophysics in the field of seismic anisotropy.

As an active SEG member, Ilya has served as Chair of the Translations Committee, SEG course instructor, special editor of Geophysics, and workshop organizer; he has also published two books and numerous papers through the Society.


Early Years and Education

Ilya graduated from Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1978 with a Diploma (equivalent to an M.Sc. degree) in Exploration Geophysics. From 1978 to 1989 he was a research scientist at the Institute of Physics of the Earth in Moscow, where he worked on nongeometrical waves, nonlinear phenomena in wave propagation, and seismic modeling for anisotropic media. His Ph.D. thesis (1982) was devoted to the kinematic and dynamic properties of nongeometrical modes in stratified media. For his achievements in wave-propagation theory Ilya was awarded the Gold Medal for Outstanding Young Scientists from the Soviet Academy of Sciences (1988).

Amoco Research Center

After moving from Russia to the United States in 1990, Ilya joined the Research Center of Amoco Production Company in Tulsa, OK. In Amoco he collaborated with Leon Thomsen on velocity analysis for transversely isotropic media and processing of multicomponent seismic data.

Colorado School of Mines

Since 1992 Ilya has been on the faculty of Colorado School of Mines in Golden, where currently he is a full Professor of Geophysics and Co-Leader of the Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP). CWP is an academic research consortium supported by hydrocarbon exploration companies and U.S. government agencies; from 2004-08 Ilya served as CWP Director. The research portfolio of his group is focused on seismic wave propagation, seismic processing, and fracture characterization, particularly on developing inversion and processing methods for anisotropic media.

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership 2015

By Boris Gurevich and Serge Shapiro

Ilya Tsvankin is awarded SEG Honorary Membership. Ilya has advanced the Society by his outstanding research contributions to the theory and applications of seismic anisotropy and to development of seismic exploration methods, as well as by his service to SEG in several capacities.

In the mid-1980s Ilya began working on seismic anisotropy. Ilya's contribution to that field has a fundamental character for both exploration and global seismology. His group at the School of Mines has essentially created a new direction in reflection seismology by developing practical methods for anisotropic velocity and amplitude analysis and by incorporating parameter-estimation results into efficient processing and imaging algorithms. Much of the progress made by the industry in seismic processing for transversely isotropic (TI) media can be traced back to the work done by Ilya and his students in the 1990s.

Despite the success of TI models, Ilya had the foresight to anticipate that transverse isotropy will become insufficient in both depth imaging and reservoir characterization. He has developed a comprehensive description of seismic signatures (based on an elegant notation) for more complicated, but more realistic orthorhombic media. His results have spearheaded extensions of velocity analysis to orthorhombic symmetry, which is rapidly becoming the model of choice for processing of wide-azimuth data. Although orthorhombic models are still relatively new in the industry, they have already produced significant improvements in imaging of wide-azimuth data in the Gulf of Mexico and other exploration regions.

Another important application of azimuthally anisotropic models is in characterization of fractured reservoirs. Ilya's group has developed the foundations of azimuthal moveout and amplitude analysis of seismic reflection data for fracture detection. In particular, Vladimir Grechka and Ilya have introduced the concept of the NMO ellipse and demonstrated the advantages of multicomponent data in seismic fracture characterization.

His mentorship of CWP students has produced a number of excellent researchers for both industry and academia. Ilya's former graduate students Tariq Alkhalifah, Jyoti Behura, Pawan Dewangan, Andreas Rüger and former post-doctoral fellow Vladimir Grechka have received the SEG Clarence Karcher Award.

Ilya has a strong commitment to geophysical education programs for both graduate students and professionals. Since 2002 Ilya and Vladimir Grechka have been teaching a short course on anisotropy for the SEG Continuing Education Program. The course consistently ranks among the top SEG offerings in terms of both attendance and evaluations.

The Society and our profession have greatly benefited from Ilya's scientific, educational, and professional activities over the years. The SEG Honorary Membership is a well-deserved recognition of his contributions.

Biography Citation for the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award 1996

Contributed by Leon Thomsen

The Virgil Kauffman Medal for 1996 is today being awarded to Ilya Tsvankin. When I first met Ilya, in 1986 in Moscow, I confess that I underestimated him severely. Of course, his remarkable abilities were immediately obvious, but I figured it would be 20 years or more before we gathered in this way to honor him. Instead, a short 10 years later, his considerable contributions to the science and practice of exploration seismology have already elevated him into the illustrious company of the previous Kauffman medalists. It is worthwhile to recount here the turning points of this remarkable flowering of achievements.

Ilya graduated from Moscow State University in 1982, a product of the long and illustrious Russian tradition in anisotropy studies. In 11 years at the Institute of Physics of the Earth (of the Soviet Academy of Sciences), he published, mostly in Russian, over 40 papers on exotic seismology: non-geometric, non-linear, non-isotropic. Evidently, Ilya found conventional seismology too simple to provide any real challenge.

In 1989, at the urging of his wise and beautiful wife Olga, Ilya and family emigrated to the U.S., during an interval when the window of immigration opportunity was temporarily open. At Amoco in those days, we had a post doctoral program, a legacy of Gordon M. Greve's leadership as Manager of Geophysical Research. When Ilya called me, upon his arrival in America, I was therefore able to respond with an offer of temporary employment. Thus was born one of the most satisfying collaborations, both personal and professional, of my career. With Ilya providing the theoretical muscle, we began to work out the implications, for exploration seismology, of the new parameterization and simplified velocity equations for anisotropic media which had been developed in 1986.

In 1992, the Colorado School of Mines conducted a worldwide search for an additional faculty member in exploration geophysics; their two top candidates both came from Amoco's Research Center in Tulsa. (Amoco was in the midst of restructuring at the time, and could not encourage them to stay.) Unable to choose between the two, CSM created a second position, and both Ilya and John Scales moved to Golden. There, in the extraordinary environment that has grown at CSM since Ken Larner joined Norman Bleistein and Jack Cohen, Ilya's creative output has been simply sensational. Together with colleagues and students, he has since published 15 seminal papers on the analysis of seismic waves in anisotropic media, and the practical processing of data from such media, with many more on the way (and already available to sponsors of the Center for Wave Phenomena at CSM).

With this work, we are at last able to design and apply seismic-processing technology which relaxes one of our most serious approximations to real-world conditions. Our assumption of seismic isotropy was imposed upon us in the 1950's (despite the obvious contradiction with rock physics and the geometry of sedimentary layering) by the paucity of computing power in that day. As time went on, we became more and more entrenched in this paradigm, because the step to anisotropic processing seemed so large: it seemed that we needed to estimate four elastic moduli at every point in the earth, instead of one velocity.

As our computers grew faster, we found ourselves computing more and more intensively, but with the wrong physical assumptions, and the inherent contradictions became ever more obvious. Perhaps the turning point came with the independent development of AVO. Driven (by the desire for AVO leverage) to acquire progressively longer offsets, we all began to see nonhyperbolic moveout, and non-isotropic amplitude effects in our data. And, with the work of Ilya and colleagues around the world, we find that we do have practical analytic and processing tools to handle such data. Perhaps the most fundamental contribution is the understanding that we need only three parameters (cleverly chosen) for full anisotropic P-wave processing in most situations, and only two if we content ourselves with time-domain kinematic processing. This, we can cope with.

Ilya's quiet leadership has been crucial throughout this development. Through his analytical skills and keen scientific insight, he always finds the best way to approach any problem, instinctively rejecting solutions not supported by the data. Through his collegial skills, he draws to himself talented students and colleagues, generating a school of thought in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. At CSM, he has found a fertile environment which energetically breeds ideas and nurtures talent. I expect that the exploration industry worldwide will benefit from this happy confluence for years to come.

Publications and Awards

Ilya has published over 130 papers (not counting articles in Russian) in leading journals. He has written two popular books on seismic anisotropy. His monograph "Seismic signatures and analysis of reflection data in anisotropic media" went through three editions (2001 and 2005 by Elsevier and 2012 by SEG). In 2011 SEG published the book "Seismology of azimuthally anisotropic media and seismic fracture characterization" co-authored by Ilya and Vladimir Grechka.

Best Paper in Geophysics 2009

Ilya Tsvankin shares the 2009 Best Paper in Geophysics Award with Jyoti Behura for their paper Role of the inhomogeneity angle in anisotropic attenuation analysis.[2]

Honorable Mention (Geophysics) 2002

Vladimir Grechka and Ilya Tsvankin received 2002 Honorable Mention (Geophysics) for their paper PP + PS = SS.[3]

Honorable Mention (Geophysics) 1995

Tariq Alkhalifah and Ilya Tsvankin received 1995 Honorable Mention (Geophysics) for their paper Velocity analysis for transversely isotropic media.[4]


  1. Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP): Faculty
  2. Behura, J. and Tsvankin, I., 2009, Role of the inhomogeneity angle in anisotropic attenuation analysis: Geophysics, 74, no. 5, WB177-WB191.
  3. Grechka, V. and Tsvankin, I., 2002, PP + PS = SS: Geophysics, 67, no. 6, 1961-1971
  4. Alkhalifah, T. and Tsvankin, I., 1995, Velocity analysis for transversely isotropic media: Geophysics, 60, no. 5, 1550-1564

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Ilya Tsvankin
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