Xukai Shen

From SEG Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Xukai Shen
Shen, Xukai.jpg

SEG J. Clarence Karcher Award 2021

Xukai Shen is a British Petroleum (BP) scientist credited in 2016 with developing an approach to full-waveform inversion (FWI) that integrated the use of sparse nodal acquisition at wide offsets to revolutionize imaging under salt. Shen’s contribution is credited with being instrumental in the discovery of the Atlantis Field, which has been appraised as a $2 billion asset for BP. As one nominator wrote, “This was such a significant technical and business result that the story, including a picture of Shen’s FWI result, was published on the front page of the Houston Chronicle newspaper.” Shen’s development of this FWI approach is an example of how advancing our science will help find more energy, a concrete example of why geophysics matters now more than ever in exploration. His technology has since been applied to exploration programs in the Caspian Sea where broadband FWI has been suggested to be better than state-of-the-art reverse time migration. Since Shen first introduced this innovative FWI method, several leading experts in this field have suggested it has become an industry standard. This landmark advancement of the science has been described as the result of exemplary dedication to challenging convention. Several technical giants of our science have stated that it is extremely rare when a junior member of an exploration team at a major develops a “step change technology” that revolutionizes that technology, so much so that in this case Shen’s innovative approach represents a major revision to the way subsalt is imaged throughout the industry.

Biography Citation for the J. Clarence Karcher Award

by John Etgen

I met Xukai Shen for the first time at the Stanford Exploration Project meeting in 2008, where Xukai was beginning his PhD studies with Jon Claerbout and Biondo Biondi. I remember being impressed by his curiosity, persistence, and carefully derived insights as we talked about interesting general scientific challenges as well as the state of the art in seismic imaging. Even at that first acquaintance, I knew he would go on to make big contributions to seismic imaging.

Fast-forward a few short years and Xukai was starting his new job working with the seismic imaging team at BP. While we always expect great things from our new scientists, I must admit I didn’t expect him to deliver so big and so soon. Xukai approached me one evening as we were both hanging out at the office a bit late. He wanted to show me a result he had been working on and ask for my advice. Xukai showed me a velocity model that he had created with a new flavor of full-waveform inversion (FWI) that he had just coded up. At the time, I was skeptical, as the resulting velocity model was “non-traditional.” It was supposed to be a model of a very complex salt body, and it had no defined salt boundary! Xukai asked if I thought it would be worth running a migration on the data set using this new model. I didn’t want to dampen his enthusiasm, so I said, “Sure, why not.” I must admit I did not have high expectations. When the migration finished a few days later, I was amazed, as was the whole imaging team. The image was the best image we had ever created of a very challenging subsalt field that we operated. The rumors of a big advance in FWI for subsalt imaging quickly spread through the company and then through the industry. Within a few days, even senior executives knew Xukai’s name. The story was even published on the front page of the Houston Chronicle. I think Xukai was more than a bit embarrassed by all the publicity and attention he received. He did not let all the attention distract him, and he kept his focus on continuing to advance his research focused on creating ever better images.

Not that much later, he surprised me once again. In a very different exploration setting, we were having trouble imaging a complex deep structure, even with the velocity model derived with his latest FWI method. We could not see all of the target, even with our best migration code. While it was known that the output of FWI can sometimes be directly interpreted, Xukai took that concept further and created a new way of turning FWI velocity models into interpretable images. Once again, everyone (except maybe Xukai himself) was amazed — we could see the target.

Exploration geophysics has always been blessed with energetic, insightful, and talented young scientists. It is a bit rarer to find a young scientist who has the maturity to stay humble and focused as they deliver big things. Xukai is one of those rare individuals who brings world-class insight to complex problems time and time again yet remains grounded, inquisitive, and gracious as their contributions transform science. It is a deep honor and privilege to work with Xukai, learn from him, occasionally challenge him, and, more importantly, to have the good fortune of watching him flourish.