Michael Batzle

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Michael Batzle
Mike Batzle recent.jpeg
Latest company Colorado School of Mines
BSc Geology
PhD Geophysics
BSc university Universidad of California, Riverside
PhD university Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Mike Batzle passed away on January 10, 2015. As a geophysicist, it is a great loss to our profession, as Mike was a wealth of knowledge on many topics and was a pioneer in laboratory measurements of fluids and rock properties. On a personal level, it is an even greater loss, as Mike brought a personality, sense of humor, and humility to an industry that is, at times, in desperate need of it.

Mike was probably one of the most humble people you could possibly meet in life, let alone as a geophysicist. At the Green Center at Colorado School of Mines (CSM), where Mike had taught since his ‘retirement’ from ARCO in 1994, he would introduce himself to new students as “the janitor they keep locked in the basement”. I thought he was serious until someone told me he was a PhD Geophysicist from MIT, a Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal award winner from the SEG, and one of the fathers of the Batzle-Wang fluid properties equation. This was a man who dressed for the lab, so much so that while at ARCO, people thought he would show up naked for casual Friday.

Batzle was a consummate workaholic who lived most of his life in his lab, in the classroom, and in the field. He gave so much to the discipline of geophysics, but especially to his students at CSM and around the world. He received a BS in geology from the University of California, Riverside, and a PhD in geophysics from MIT. His main interests were rock properties research primarily for engineering and geophysical purposes. Mike's laboratory had a wide range of equipment to measure seismic and acoustic properties of rocks and fluids, including low-frequency and low-amplitude velocity, attenuation, and modulus measurements.

Batzle served as the 2010 SEG Honorary Lecturer and was awarded the SEG Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal in 2002, along with Zhijing (Zee) Wang, for their original and continual development of the petrophysical transforms that estimate the elastic properties of pore-fluid saturations. The work of Mike and Zee is an integral part of today’s fluid-subsitution techniques that are employed in all seismic amplitude and AVO interpretations.

The science of geophysics is not the same without him.[1]

2010 SEG Honorary Lecturer,

It's the fluids that count

Detecting pore fluids and their effects are the ultimate goals of almost all geophysical and petrophysical investigations. We strive to identify fluid types, extract their properties, predict pore pressures, and detect fluid motion. The important aspects of fluids are as much a function of their chemistry, distribution, and mobility as well as their simple bulk properties. Common pore fluids include hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, drilling mud filtrates, water, and brines. Properties can be quite diverse. Hydrocarbons can range from light gases to semi-solid heavy oils. Heavy oils are of particular interest recently because of their new significance as a dominant hydrocarbon resource. Seismic properties of these fluids, such as bulk and shear moduli (yes, heavy oils have a shear modulus) are dominated by the content of high-molecular-weight components. As we broaden our search for new energy sources and as our geophysical data and resolution continue to improve, we will also need to be concerned with issues such as phase changes, fluid-rock interaction, compositional heterogeneity, and thermal effects.

Additional Resource

A recording of the lecture is available.[2]

Biography Citation for SEG Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award 2002

Contributed by John Castagna

Writing a citation for someone as modest as Mike Batzle is no easy task.

Although readily admitting that he was “born at an early age,” he has not been very forthcoming with additional information. As Mike has steadfastly refused (to his credit) to play the publications game, or follow others who have pursued mastery of the art of self-aggrandizement, it is a testament to the ability and sophistication of the SEG Honors and Awards Committee that Mike’s important contributions to rock physics are here being recognized—as well they should be.

Mike’s work in rock physics began when he was a graduate student at MIT, where he apprenticed under the likes of Gene Simmons, Nafi Toksoz, Bill Brace, and Joe Walsh. He joined the research group of ARCO Oil and Gas where he established an experimental rock physics laboratory in 1979. There he conducted early experiments in seismic anisotropy, compressional and shear-wave velocities and attenuation, fluid substitution, and rock mechanical properties, and investigated seismic and sonic log interpretation applications. It was shortly thereafter (1981) that I was fortunate enough to be mentored by Mike in rock physics; our informal discussions ultimately resulting in publication of the ARCO mudrock line in 1985.

In the early 1980s, Mike also embarked on one of the most technically ambitious and successful experimental development programs that I have witnessed, perfecting (over a period of about 10 years) the unique seismic frequency velocity measurement apparatus now at the Colorado School of Mines.

Simultaneously, Mike concentrated on building a rock physics database of laboratory measurements that led to a number of internally successful interpretation applications. In the late 1980s, a summer intern from Stanford by the name of Zhijing Wang had the most productive summer internship ever seen at ARCO expanding upon some of his thesis work on the properties of oils in Mike’s laboratory. This collaboration ultimately led to the now famous Batzle and Wang fluid properties synthesis published in 1992 in GEOPHYSICS [3], which, along with subsequent work in collaboration with De-hua Han, ultimately led to this citation. The equations, and recent updates, have become standards within the industry, and are used by any commercial software packages that are serious about doing fluid substitution.

Mike separated from ARCO in 1994 after inquiring of the vice-president of Technology if “any of you turkeys in L.A. know what the hell you are doing” in front of the entire Plano staff at a major organizational meeting, although his separation was in fact nine years after this statement. Notably, a task force of ARCO DHI practitioners convening in 1995 concluded that ARCO’s rock physics technology was the company’s greatest strength in direct hydrocarbon indication—a direct testimonial to Mike Batzle’s legacy.

In 1994, Mike and his lab moved to the Geophysics Department at the Colorado School of Mines. His research program, which is supported by most major oil companies, includes low-frequency measurements of sonic dispersion and attenuation and the geophysical signature of fluids in rocks. [4]


  1. CSEG Recorder, 2006, An interview with Mike Batzle
  2. https://seg.org/Education/SEG-on-Demand/id/6184
  3. Batzle, M., and Wang, Z., 1992, Seismic properties of pore fluids: Geophysics, 57, no. 11, 1396-1408
  4. Hilterman, F., 2002, Awards citations, The Leading Edge, 21, no. 11, 1156-1168.

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Michael Batzle
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