Joshua Ronen

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Joshua Ronen
Shuki Ronen headshot.jpg
Latest company Sercel, Totum, Stanford
MSc Geophysics
PhD Geophysics
PhD university Stanford

Joshua (Shuki) Ronen wrote this biography on 3/30/2022.

I am the Marine Chief Geophysicist of Sercel since 2021, the owner of Totum Geophysical Solutions since 2016, and an adjunct professor of Geophysics at Stanford University since 2008. I studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and then at Stanford University in California. My first professional job was an algorithm engineer at Saxpy Computer Company. I then became a visiting professor at the Colorado School of Mines. Then a geophysicist at the Israeli Geophysical Institute. I then worked for Schlumberger in France and then in England, for Veritas in England and then in Houston, for Chevron in California, for Seabird mainly in Angola, for CGG, for Seabed Geosolutions, and for Dolphin. After I was laid off by Dolphin I started Totum Geophysical Solutions and then co-started Low Impact Seismic Sources (LISS) which after 5 years was acquired by Sercel.

I had the fortune to work with many good people and publish on a few subjects that at the time were just beginning and later became well known and important: stack power maximization, which later became part of full waveform inversion, least squares DMO, which later became least squares migration, parallel computing, interpretation of seismic attributes using what was then called neural networks and would later be called machine learning, marine vibroseis source motion correction, shear waves processing, ocean bottom nodes and their combination with streamers, and most recently low-frequency and low-impact pneumatic seismic sources. The many good people I worked with are too numerous to list here. We always published and they were all always my co-authors. For what I think was one of my less significant contributions, in 2002 I received a Special Commendation Award from the SEG. In 2012 I was the SEG North American Honorary Lecturer.

2012 SEG Honorary Lecturer, North America

Ocean-bottom acquisition and processing: Past, present, and future

Sometimes it is a good idea to put receivers on the seabed. Sometimes it is not. There are several considerations when deciding whether to opt for ocean-bottom technology and if so, how. Seismic surveillance for reservoir production monitoring is done in busy and noisy oilfields that are partially obstructed by production and drilling surface facilities, which present more safety and quality challenges to surface towed streamers than to seabed receivers. In addition, permanent or accurately repositioned receivers have improved repeatability for reservoir production monitoring. Other motivations to put receivers on the seabed apply also to development and exploration. With a large and dense shot carpet, seabed receivers provide full-azimuth and well-sampled common-receiver gathers. Such data are useful for imaging below complex overburden including subsalt, sub- and intrabasalt, under gas clouds, and in fault shadows. Full azimuth is also good for multiple suppression. Interestingly, multiples don't always need to be suppressed. Mirror imaging turns multiples from noise to signal. In addition to improved P-wave imaging, multicomponent seabed receivers record shear waves that propagate in solids but not in liquids. Shear waves carry valuable information about lithology and fractures, and can help distinguish between effects of fluid change and pore-pressure change. Currently, however, shear waves are hardly used. The reason is that, as an industry, we are poor at managing expectations. There seem to be two groups of people: those who expect too much, and those who expect nothing at all. People move from the first group to the second, going all the way without stopping somewhere in the middle. The middle is that while we must not expect shear waves to replace P-waves, we ought to expect them to add value, because if we expect nothing we will get nothing.

The talk will review the history and the various types of ocean bottom technologies, with emphasis on ocean-bottom seismic nodes. A number of case histories, which are now public, provide valuable lessons that can prevent costly future mistakes. One type of mistake is to use ocean-bottom receivers or sources where and when they are not useful. Another type of mistake is to allow too little time or money to make a survey successful. Arguably, the most common mistake is to not go to the seabed and miss a great opportunity. This lecture will be a good opportunity for those who have done ocean bottom surveys to compare notes. For those who have never done ocean bottom surveys—sooner or later you will.

Additional Resources

A recording of the lecture is available.[1]

Slides from the lecture also are available.[2]


The SEG asked for either a pre-tour or an interview article. Why did you choose the interview rather than the pre-tour article? I chose the interview option because the introduction I recently wrote for the special section on marine and seabed technology in the April issue of The Leading Edge is more or less a pre-tour article.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. (e.g., your education and work experience, why you became a geophysicist, etc.) I became a geophysicist because I was interested in the Earth, and I liked physics, geology, computer programming, mathematics, and signal processing. My undergraduate was at the Hebrew University in physics and geology and, my PhD is in geophysics from Stanford. My first job during and after school was in Saxpy Computer. I then moved on to Colorado School of Mines, Institute for Petroleum Research and Geophysics, Schlumberger, GeoQuest, Geco-Prakla, WesternGecoi, Veritas, Chevron, Seabird, and now CGGVeritas. I also worked for a Silicon Valley start up computer company, a university, the government, a wireline company, seismic contractors, oil companies, and a shipping company. I did algorithm engineering, teaching, software engineering, data processing, interpretation, and acquisition – first one by one and then all together at the same time.

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? Mostly mentors. I also learned a lot from peers and from people who I mentored and supervised, but to keep it short, I'll just answer the mentor question. I became a geophysicist thanks to Dan Kosloff whose somewhat mathematical geophysics courses I took in Jerusalem. At Stanford, Jon Claerbout taught me to trust my intuition – to relentlessly pursue what I have passion for and to drop what does not make sense to me. Fabio Rocca taught me that if I too quickly drop what I don't understand I would solve only easy problems. I learned a lot about software engineering from Einar Kjartansson, Stew Levin, and other students at Stanford. Jack Cohen taught me the value of what we do depends on how well other people use it. Phil Schultz gave me an opportunity to learn and do joint surface and borehole seismic and non-seismic data interpretation. Oz Yilmaz challenged me with all processing – not just imaging but everything in the book. Alexey Arkhipov and Leon Walker taught me to be holistic; to do acquisition, processing, and interpretation all together. Finally (so far) Dave Robson and the management team he cultivated showed me how truth creates value.

Why did you choose this lecture topic? Why is it important? In the last 15 years I worked mainly with ocean bottom technology and business. If SEG had asked me to give this lecture 15 years ago, I would have chosen to talk about least squares migration. Twenty years ago I would have talked about estimating reservoir properties from seismic attributes, thirty years ago about stack optimization statics. The fact is that SEG did not ask me to give this lecture then; they asked me now. Why did the SEG ask me now and not before? Probably because as the low hanging fruits of exploration and production have already been picked, it increasingly makes economical sense to go to the seabed.

Could you tell us in a few sentences what your course objectives are? I want to encourage people to know where and when and how to put seismic receivers on the bottom of the ocean. More importantly, I want people to know what to expect, learn from successes, from mistakes, and share their lessons with everybody.

What do you hope people will have learned after they attend your lecture? How is it different from other lectures? One thing I hope people will learn is to manage expectations. This is not something you can learn in a lecture, but you can become aware of the issue in a lecture and then learn as you go. Managing expectations is not unique to my lecture, but it seems it pertains more to multicomponent seismic methods than to other methods that do not have to promise a lot of added value to justify their cost.

You have quite a busy year ahead. Do you enjoy traveling? Will it be difficult to balance the tour with your work? Yes, it will be, and my work will be compromised. I thank my company, CGGVeritas, for tolerating the compromise. It is of course not completely altruistic, but they know my lecture is not going to be commercial. I will fairly present competing providers and competing technologies.

Would you share with us one or two of your most exciting successes? Most important was "inversion to zero offset" (IZO). IZO was a forerunner of what later became least squares migration. Geophysically, it was understanding the difference between imaging and inversion, mathematically between the transpose and the inverse.

The most exciting success was less mine personally and more a success of the seismic method, but I had the excitement of discovering it. In the early 90s when we could put together 3D seismic data and well logs, we produced software that inverted seismic data, and generated other seismic attributes, extracted properties from well logs, and then cross-plotted seismic attributes against reservoir properties. I will not forget how acoustic impedance predicted porosity time after time. We then observed multidimensional relations like porosity-impedance- gamma ray (shaliness)-instantaneous frequency. I still find it amazing that surface seismic data are not only good for imaging structures but also good for estimating porosity and lithology. The amazing thing is that the data measure echoes are just a few fractions of a micron large, and we estimate things that are thousand of meters deep.

How about a couple of disappointments? So far least squares migration (LSMIG) has not become a useful tool, but I don't think we have seen and heard the last word on LSMIG.

Permanent reservoir monitoring (PRM) is another disappointment. When I was asked to manage the data processing of Foinaven's baseline survey back in 1996, I was sure that PRM would be the future of reservoir geophysics. That has not happened. On the positive side, the reason that PRM has not happened is that nonpermanent technology, including streamers and nodes provide proper reservoir monitoring, which is also PRM.

What advice would you give to geophysics students and professionals just starting out in the industry? Say what you think. Do what you say.

Also, never fall in love with your theory. It would sour the relations with other people who are not in love with your theory.

Special Commendation 2002 [3]

SEG in honoring the Center for Wave Phenomena, Department of Geophysics, Colorado School of Mines] for developing and freely disseminating the Seismic Unix package (SU). Many individuals have contributed and are contributing to SU. However, at this time, SEG wishes to particularly cite four individuals—John W. Stockwell Jr., Jack K. Cohen, Einar Kjartansson, and Joshua (Shuki) Ronen—for their exceptional contributions to this project. The success of SU is understated by the statistics but they are, nonetheless, impressive—the number of verified installs exceeds 3000, representing users in over 60 countries. The objectives of SEG to promote and foster the scientific interests of geophysics are clearly reflected by the SU project. SU is used by exploration geophysicists, earthquake seismologists, environmental engineers, and software developers. The spectrum of users includes oil companies, contractors, government researchers, and academics.

Citation for SEG Special Commendation 2002

Contributed by Norman Bleistein and Ken Larner

Throughout the history of applied geophysics, advances have come in many forms, but mainly as new scientific ideas and technological innovations. Over the past 17 years, the geophysical research has benefited from a novel and powerful tool—initiated and developed within academia with contributions from researchers across the industry—that is neither a scientific idea nor simply a technological invention.

CWP/SU: Seismic Unix (SU) is an open software processing package developed at the Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP) within the Department of Geophysics, at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). SU provides an instant research and processing environment, in the form of full source code, at no cost. It runs under all UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems, including Cygwin 32 on Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X on Macintosh. SU provides many modeling/data processing utilities, and a base of source code for development of new applications. In recent years, SU has become a vehicle for geophysicists to make their software available to the worldwide community.

Seismic Unix evolved from Jon Claerbout’s Seismic Exploration Project (SEP) at Stanford University in the late 1970s when graduate student Einar Kjartansson wrote a package called SY—12 programs in C to run under UNIX. This, in itself, was revolutionary, as contemporary industry practice was to write code in FORTRAN under the Vax VMS system. Code was also written by Stew Levin, Chuck Sword, and Claerbout himself. To this day Levin contributes importantly to SU. Einar continued to work on SY after joining the faculty at the University of Utah. He brought SY back to Stanford when he visited (as a faculty member) in 1984 and introduced graduate student Shuki Ronen to the concept. With Claerbout’s permission, Shuki brought SY to CSM in 1985 under a postdoctoral appointment at the Center for Wave Phenomena, then directed by Norman Bleistein and Jack Cohen.

In the same year Jack visited Texaco’s Houston Research Center to study how seismic processing was done in industry. Inspired by this experience, Jack and Shuki conceived a bold plan—to create a seismic processing line that would be used by everybody. Of course, in 1985 “everybody” consisted mainly of a handful of expert seismic programmers. The name was changed from SY to SU (standing simultaneously for Stanford University and Seismic Unix) and additional libraries and utilities were written. The package became an instant hit with CWP students, with contributions by almost every CWP member—notably Chris Liner, Brian Sumner, and Craig Artley.

In 1987 John Stockwell became CWP systems administrator and codeveloper of SU with Jack. In 1989, Dave Hale joined and made major contributions that expanded the package’s capabilities and portability. Prior to 1992, SU had been ported to only a handful of sites, mainly oil-company sponsors of CWP.

The first truly public release of SU was in September 1992, via an ftp site at CWP (several years before the World Wide Web was created). Stockwell has subsequently been the main contact for questions related to SU and its principal investigator since Cohen’s death in 1996.

The success of the SU project has been due in large part to John’s skill in helping users, his responsiveness to questions and comments, and his desire and commitment to continually improve the package. Since 1992, SU has been verifiably installed at more than 3000 sites (a gross underestimate of the total use of the package) in 60 countries.

With SU, the geophysics industry experienced a revolution in the way that it works with computer technology. Previously, software developed within universities was lost upon graduation of a student developer or commercialized. The revolution that SU brought was introducing free software to the geophysics community. A walk through the exposition during any SEG Annual Meeting will reveal SU in use on various computers, as well as its ubiquity in technical presentations and papers


  3. Fred Hilterman (2002). ”2002 Awards Citations.” 2002 Awards Citations, 21(11), 1156-1168. doi: 10.1190/tle21111156.1

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