University of British Columbia Geophysical Inversion Facility

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University of British Columbia Geophysical Inversion Facility
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SEG Distinguished Achievement Award 2017

The University of British Columbia-Geophysical Inversion Facility (UBC-GIF), [1] under the long-time stewardship of Doug Oldenberg, is awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award. Oldenburg and his group have been leaders for many years in the areas of electromagnetics and potential fields. Their research in modeling and inversion has contributed significantly to solving a range of applied problems. The success of UBC-GIF is deserving of recognition.

Citation for the SEG Distinguished Achievement Award 2017 [2]

by Misac Nabighian

Doug Oldenburg started the University of British Columbia-Geophysical Inversion Facility (UBC-GIF) in 1987 with funding from the BC Science and Technology Development Fund. The mandate was to develop a facility to interface between industry and academia and advance research in inversion to help solve applied problems. A research program, Joint and Cooperative

Inversion of Geophysical and Geological Data, was soon launched in partnership with 12 mining companies. Initial codes for inverting 2D resistivity and induced polarization (IP) data, followed by 3D inversions of potential field data, and frequency and time domain electromagnetic (EM) data in 1D, were geophysical firsts.

The 2D DCIP inversion allowed geophysicists to unravel complexities of pseudosections and led to many instances where data, previously thought to contain no useful geologic information, revealed valuable insights. The formulation of 3D inversions for magnetic and gravity data, enabled by the introduction of depth weighting, soon became routine in industry. The 1D inversion of EM data quickly found use in laterally homogeneous environments and also proved valuable in processing EM data from more complicated terrains. These codes remain workhorses for industry and academia. This was recognized in 2001 by GIF being given the NSERC Synergy Award for: “An established innovative model of long-standing university-industry partnership in precompetitive R&D that has improved the general well-being of an industry.” Subsequent achievements, accelerated by advances in computer hardware and scientific computing, include: the first 3D inversion of ZTEM data, 3D inversion of EM data with many sources, and inversion of airborne TEM data to recover 3D IP models. These have established GIF as a center of excellence for solving quantitative geoscience problems.

The success of GIF is attributable to its brilliant young scientists, including Yaoguo Li, Colin Farquharson, and Eldad Haber, who now have university academic careers and mentor their own students, as well as more than 40 other graduate and postgraduate researchers who have become leaders in industry and government labs. GIF researchers have been recipients of numerous prestigious awards, and many have spawned their own companies. A unique aspect of GIF has been its efforts to convert research codes into useable software for industry. This success is principally attributable to Roman Shekhtman, who has been a programmer for GIF and a liaison with industry.

In addition to its research achievements, GIF is commended for its continual efforts on outreach, through which it has promoted the use and usefulness of geophysical inversions and encouraged best practices. It has made software freely available for academic use and presented workshops to explain the basics of inversion and show applications. Its efforts also include the development of open-source, web-based educational resources: “Inversion for Applied Geophysics,” “Geophysics for Practicing Geoscientists” (, and “EM GeoSci” (, along with computational software “SimPEG” (http://simpeg. xyz), which collectively have been used by tens of thousands of people worldwide.

After a quarter century, GIF continues to be a center of excellence for applied geophysics. Visiting scientists interested in problems such as ground-water issues, dam safety, unexploded ordnance, and resource exploration find the availability of inversion software and supportive personnel to be a fruitful environment in which to carry out research. GIF continues with its mission to make geophysics more useful. The latest consortium focuses on using multiple geophysical and geologic data sets to improve inversion results. Notably, it is sponsored by seven mining companies that have continuously sponsored GIF for the last 26 years. This is a testament to the value that GIF research provides and makes it most deserving of SEG’s Distinguished Achievement Award.


  2. (2017). ”Honors and Awards.” The Leading Edge, 36(10), 806–819.