Xianhuai Zhu

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Xianhuai Zhu
Xianhuai Zhu headshot.png
Latest company Forland Geophysical Services, LLC
BSc Geophysics
PhD Geosciences
BSc university China University of Petroleum
PhD university University of Texas at Dallas



Xianhuai Zhu and Jie Zhang are recognized for their outstanding joint contributions to the development of seismic tomographic solutions to the problem of accurate imaging with complex near-surface geology. Their idea and development from the turning ray tomography to full wave front first arrival travel time tomography enabled a more robust imaging approach, with less reliance on the initial model. The vast application areas of this method include many shallow water and land data imaging challenges associated with shallow gas, sand dunes, and structural overthrusts, among others. Xianhuai Zhu founded Forland Geophysical Services in 2016.

Biography Citation for the Reginald Fessenden Award

Contributed by Öz Yilmaz


It is most appropriate for SEG to recognize Xianhuai Zhu with the Reginald Fessenden Award for his pioneering work on turning-ray tomography. Modeling the near-surface in exploration seismology has been a challenge to us all. The works of Xianhuai Zhu and Jie Zhang have indeed made possible the practical applications of turning-ray tomography and nonlinear tomography, respectively, to estimate near-surface models to correct for the deleterious effect of the complex near-surface more accurately than any other method to date. Moreover, modeling the complex subsurface still poses more challenges. The work of Xianhuai and Jie has inspired many researchers to strive to develop methods for accurate modeling of the subsurface.

Xianhuai started his industry career by joining a seismic crew in Jiangsu Oil Field in China when he was only 18 years of age. Since then, he has been continually engaged in seismic data acquisition, processing, and interpretation.

Although his early training was in exploration seismology, as a student at the China University of Petroleum (CUP), he had interest in shallow basin structural styles and deep seismic soundings for mapping the Moho. In 1985, as a visiting scientist at Cornell, he learned about “diving waves” in earthquake seismology and tectonics from Sidney Kaufman, Jack Oliver, and Larry Brown. His short stay at Cornell made a significant impact on Xianhuai’s life.

A year after arriving in Ithaca, Xianhuai transferred to the University of Texas at Dallas where he became George McMechan’s first graduate student from mainland China. Xianhuai completed his first paper with George on RTM imaging for crosshole surveys, then switched his research interest from RTM to tomography so as to provide RTM what it really needs — an accurate velocity-depth model. Soon, Xianhuai and George developed “divingwave” tomography to solve near-surface problems.

At Anadarko, together with David Sixta and Burke Angstman, Xianhuai applied diving-wave or turning-ray tomography to estimate accurate near-surface models for improved statics corrections. The term “tomostatics” was coined by them and appeared for the first time in 1992 in their paper The Leading Edge titled “Tomostatics: turning-ray tomography + static correction.” Xianhuai extended the application of turning-ray tomography beyond the near-surface modeling — to structural imaging and reservoir characterization. He applied the method worldwide in various projects, including the thrust belt of the Rocky Mountains, Canadian Foothills, Saudi-Arabian sand dunes, basalt and carbonate outcrops in Egypt and the Sichuan Basin in China, and Bohai Bay gas clouds. He has published more than 15 papers related to turning-ray tomography, and offered an online short course on turning-ray tomography and tomostatics to MIT students.

Xianhuai has worked for SINOPEC, UPR, PGS and Fusion and has held both technical and management positions. More recently, he has been working on elastic modeling, scattering and full-waveform inversion (FWI). Currently he is a team leader of Geophysical Technology Group at ConocoPhillips where he applies advanced 3D modeling and RTM imaging for acquisition design. In addition to his numerous seismic acquisition and processing activities, he has also worked on interpretation projects. He generated a prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, which was later developed by horizontal drilling, resulting in a commercial gas field.

Xianhuai’s paper, co-authored with Suat Altan and Jianchao Li, titled “Recent advances in multicomponent processing,” was selected as the Best Paper in The Leading Edge in 1999. He is a member of the SEG Research Committee and the Technical Program Committee and is currently the 2012 President of the Chinese American Petroleum Association (CAPA). Xianhuai continues to work on challenging exploration and development projects. His inventive mind is now recognized by the SEG Reginald Fessenden Award.

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