Careers in geophysics are typically characterized by constant change.
When I first transferred into a geophysics undergraduate program in the late 1980s, I was told that we are running out of hydrocarbons, so geophysics is a “sunset industry”. In the early 1990s, as a graduate student, many told me that the science of geophysics is mature, so there were limited opportunities research into new methodologies. Once I had my first industry job, the senior staffers suggested that I make alternative career plans, because the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin is a mature basin, so the exploration phase of hydrocarbon development was nearly over.
As I look back at those observations, I can see there was truth in each comment, and yet our profession – our industry – has evolved and adapted over the past 30 years – as I am sure it had done in the 30 years previous.
We are still running out of hydrocarbons, but many clever scientists have found ways to increase deliverability of conventional reservoirs with improved seismic resolution and seismic attribute analysis. And our industry has added to the potential availability of hydrocarbons thanks to a whole new category of play types that fall under the umbrella of “unconventional” reserves. Exploration and development levels have bounced up and down with vigour over these past decades.
One could argue that the science of geophysics is mature, especially with respect to seismic methods. I had a hearty chuckle at Sam Gray’s DL talk, when he showed us one of the early migration algorithms, from before his time, which is basically reverse-time migration – a major hotbed of research and software-development activity in our industry today. During my anisotropy researches, I found experimental observations of the sideslip effect from the 1950s – a phenomenon that I presented as a hot new research topic 40 years later. Some of the ideas are not new, but our ability to implement those ideas given the advances in computing power has provided many bright geophysicists with challenging careers.
As for Canada having mature basins, that is also true. We have a considerable amount of 3D coverage in Western Canada, and most of that data was processed and interpreted by highly competent geophysicists. As I mentioned above, geophysicists have created ways to get more out of a mature basin – to extract more from seismic data through processing and quantitative-interpretation methods. And, we have strong growth offshore East Coast and future potential off of our North Coast, in the Beaufort Sea.
Are these opportunities enough to keep geophysicists fully employed?
Apparently not, because many Canadian geophysicists have created opportunities to explore overseas. Many of my more adventuresome colleagues have taken their education and experience to far-flung regions of the globe. These scientists have collaborated with counterparts from other cultures and geologic settings, and many of them have come back to share their newfound knowledge with their Canadian colleagues.
Other geoscientists, like myself, have stayed in their area of interest and stayed in their home city, but work on projects around the globe. This is a diverse category of geophysicists, because explorationists come to Canada for all kinds of reasons: partners, consultants, services, or for investors who understand land exploration.
I am proud to be a Canadian geophysicist, and I believe that we are strong from our need to adapt to the constant changes in economics, technology, and evolution of exploration and development.