Geologic modelling

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Geological mapping software displaying a screenshot of a structure map generated for an 8500ft deep gas & Oil reservoir in the Earth field, Vermilion Parish, Erath, Louisiana. The left-to-right gap, near the top of the contour map indicates a Fault line. This fault line is between the blue/green contour lines and the purple/red/yellow contour lines. The thin red circular contour line in the middle of the map indicates the top of the oil reservoir. Because gas floats above oil, the thin red contour line marks the gas/oil contact zone. Contour map software screen snapshot of isopach map for 8500ft deep OIL reservoir with a Fault line.jpg
Geological mapping software displaying a screenshot of a structure map generated for an 8500ft deep gas & Oil reservoir in the Earth field, Vermilion Parish, Erath, Louisiana. The left-to-right gap, near the top of the contour map indicates a Fault line. This fault line is between the blue/green contour lines and the purple/red/yellow contour lines. The thin red circular contour line in the middle of the map indicates the top of the oil reservoir. Because gas floats above oil, the thin red contour line marks the gas/oil contact zone.

Geologic modelling,geological modelling or geomodelling is the applied science of creating computerized representations of portions of the Earth's crust based on geophysical and geological observations made on and below the Earth surface. A geomodel is the numerical equivalent of a three-dimensional geological map complemented by a description of physical quantities in the domain of interest. [1] Geomodelling is related to the concept of Shared Earth Model; [2] which is a multidisciplinary, interoperable and updatable knowledge base about the subsurface.


Geomodelling is commonly used for managing natural resources, identifying natural hazards, and quantifying geological processes, with main applications to oil and gas fields, groundwater aquifers and ore deposits. For example, in the oil and gas industry, realistic geologic models are required as input to reservoir simulator programs, which predict the behavior of the rocks under various hydrocarbon recovery scenarios. A reservoir can only be developed and produced once; therefore, making a mistake by selecting a site with poor conditions for development is tragic and wasteful. Using geological models and reservoir simulation allows reservoir engineers to identify which recovery options offer the safest and most economic, efficient, and effective development plan for a particular reservoir.

Geologic modelling is a relatively recent subdiscipline of geology which integrates structural geology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, paleoclimatology, and diagenesis;

In 2-dimensions (2D), a geologic formation or unit is represented by a polygon, which can be bounded by faults, unconformities or by its lateral extent, or crop. In geological models a geological unit is bounded by 3-dimensional (3D) triangulated or gridded surfaces. The equivalent to the mapped polygon is the fully enclosed geological unit, using a triangulated mesh. For the purpose of property or fluid modelling these volumes can be separated further into an array of cells, often referred to as voxels (volumetric elements). These 3D grids are the equivalent to 2D grids used to express properties of single surfaces.

Geomodelling generally involves the following steps:

  1. Preliminary analysis of geological context of the domain of study.
  2. Interpretation of available data and observations as point sets or polygonal lines (e.g. "fault sticks" corresponding to faults on a vertical seismic section).
  3. Construction of a structural model describing the main rock boundaries (horizons, unconformities, intrusions, faults) [3]
  4. Definition of a three-dimensional mesh honoring the structural model to support volumetric representation of heterogeneity (see Geostatistics) and solving the Partial Differential Equations which govern physical processes in the subsurface (e.g. seismic wave propagation, fluid transport in porous media).

Geologic modelling components

Structural framework

Incorporating the spatial positions of the major formation boundaries, including the effects of faulting, folding, and erosion (unconformities). The major stratigraphic divisions are further subdivided into layers of cells with differing geometries with relation to the bounding surfaces (parallel to top, parallel to base, proportional). Maximum cell dimensions are dictated by the minimum sizes of the features to be resolved (everyday example: On a digital map of a city, the location of a city park might be adequately resolved by one big green pixel, but to define the locations of the basketball court, the baseball field, and the pool, much smaller pixels – higher resolution – need to be used).

Rock type

Each cell in the model is assigned a rock type. In a coastal clastic environment, these might be beach sand, high water energy marine upper shoreface sand, intermediate water energy marine lower shoreface sand, and deeper low energy marine silt and shale. The distribution of these rock types within the model is controlled by several methods, including map boundary polygons, rock type probability maps, or statistically emplaced based on sufficiently closely spaced well data.

Reservoir quality

Reservoir quality parameters almost always include porosity and permeability, but may include measures of clay content, cementation factors, and other factors that affect the storage and deliverability of fluids contained in the pores of those rocks. Geostatistical techniques are most often used to populate the cells with porosity and permeability values that are appropriate for the rock type of each cell.

Fluid saturation

A 3D finite difference grid used in MODFLOW for simulating groundwater flow in an aquifer. MODFLOW 3D grid.png
A 3D finite difference grid used in MODFLOW for simulating groundwater flow in an aquifer.

Most rock is completely saturated with groundwater. Sometimes, under the right conditions, some of the pore space in the rock is occupied by other liquids or gases. In the energy industry, oil and natural gas are the fluids most commonly being modelled. The preferred methods for calculating hydrocarbon saturations in a geologic model incorporate an estimate of pore throat size, the densities of the fluids, and the height of the cell above the water contact, since these factors exert the strongest influence on capillary action, which ultimately controls fluid saturations.


An important part of geologic modelling is related to geostatistics. In order to represent the observed data, often not on regular grids, we have to use certain interpolation techniques. The most widely used technique is kriging which uses the spatial correlation among data and intends to construct the interpolation via semi-variograms. To reproduce more realistic spatial variability and help assess spatial uncertainty between data, geostatistical simulation based on variograms, training images, or parametric geological objects is often used.

Mineral Deposits

Geologists involved in mining and mineral exploration use geologic modelling to determine the geometry and placement of mineral deposits in the subsurface of the earth. Geologic models help define the volume and concentration of minerals, to which economic constraints are applied to determine the economic value of the mineralization. Mineral deposits that are deemed to be economic may be developed into a mine.


Geomodelling and CAD share a lot of common technologies. Software is usually implemented using object-oriented programming technologies in C++, Java or C# on one or multiple computer platforms. The graphical user interface generally consists of one or several 3D and 2D graphics windows to visualize spatial data, interpretations and modelling output. Such visualization is generally achieved by exploiting graphics hardware. User interaction is mostly performed through mouse and keyboard, although 3D pointing devices and immersive environments may be used in some specific cases. GIS (Geographic Information System) is also a widely used tool to manipulate geological data.

Geometric objects are represented with parametric curves and surfaces or discrete models such as polygonal meshes. [3] [4]

Gravity Highs Gravity Highs.jpg
Gravity Highs

Research in Geomodelling

Problems pertaining to Geomodelling cover: [5] [6]


In the 70's, geomodelling mainly consisted of automatic 2D cartographic techniques such as contouring, implemented as FORTRAN routines communicating directly with plotting hardware. The advent of workstations with 3D graphics capabilities during the 80's gave birth to a new generation of geomodelling software with graphical user interface which became mature during the 90's. [9] [10] [11]

Since its inception, geomodelling has been mainly motivated and supported by oil and gas industry.

Geologic modelling software

Software developers have built several packages for geologic modelling purposes. Such software can display, edit, digitise and automatically calculate the parameters required by engineers, geologists and surveyors. Current software is mainly developed and commercialized by oil and gas or mining industry software vendors:

Geologic modelling and visualisation
Groundwater modelling

Moreover, industry Consortia or companies are specifically working at improving standardization and interoperability of earth science databases and geomodelling software:

See also

Related Research Articles

Geology The study of the composition, structure, physical properties, and history of Earths components, and the processes by which they are shaped.

Geology is an earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Geology can also include the study of the solid features of any terrestrial planet or natural satellite such as Mars or the Moon. Modern geology significantly overlaps all other earth sciences, including hydrology and the atmospheric sciences, and so is treated as one major aspect of integrated earth system science and planetary science.

Geostatistics is a branch of statistics focusing on spatial or spatiotemporal datasets. Developed originally to predict probability distributions of ore grades for mining operations, it is currently applied in diverse disciplines including petroleum geology, hydrogeology, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, geochemistry, geometallurgy, geography, forestry, environmental control, landscape ecology, soil science, and agriculture. Geostatistics is applied in varied branches of geography, particularly those involving the spread of diseases (epidemiology), the practice of commerce and military planning (logistics), and the development of efficient spatial networks. Geostatistical algorithms are incorporated in many places, including geographic information systems (GIS) and the R statistical environment.

Petroleum geology is the study of origin, occurrence, movement, accumulation, and exploration of hydrocarbon fuels. It refers to the specific set of geological disciplines that are applied to the search for hydrocarbons.

Reflection seismology Explore subsurface properties with seismology

Reflection seismology is a method of exploration geophysics that uses the principles of seismology to estimate the properties of the Earth's subsurface from reflected seismic waves. The method requires a controlled seismic source of energy, such as dynamite or Tovex blast, a specialized air gun or a seismic vibrator, commonly known by the trademark name Vibroseis. Reflection seismology is similar to sonar and echolocation. This article is about surface seismic surveys; for vertical seismic profiles, see VSP.

Exploration geophysics is an applied branch of geophysics and economic geology, which uses physical methods, such as seismic, gravitational, magnetic, electrical and electromagnetic at the surface of the Earth to measure the physical properties of the subsurface, along with the anomalies in those properties. It is most often used to detect or infer the presence and position of economically useful geological deposits, such as ore minerals; fossil fuels and other hydrocarbons; geothermal reservoirs; and groundwater reservoirs.

Reservoir simulation

Reservoir simulation is an area of reservoir engineering in which computer models are used to predict the flow of fluids through porous media.

Petrel is a software platform used in the exploration and production sector of the petroleum industry. It allows the user to interpret seismic data, perform well correlation, build reservoir models, visualize reservoir simulation results, calculate volumes, produce maps and design development strategies to maximize reservoir exploitation. Risk and uncertainty can be assessed throughout the life of the reservoir. Petrel is developed and built by Schlumberger.

SahysMod agricultural software

SahysMod is a computer program for the prediction of the salinity of soil moisture, groundwater and drainage water, the depth of the watertable, and the drain discharge in irrigated agricultural lands, using different hydrogeologic and aquifer conditions, varying water management options, including the use of ground water for irrigation, and several crop rotation schedules, whereby the spatial variations are accounted for through a network of polygons.

Seismic migration is the process by which seismic events are geometrically re-located in either space or time to the location the event occurred in the subsurface rather than the location that it was recorded at the surface, thereby creating a more accurate image of the subsurface. This process is necessary to overcome the limitations of geophysical methods imposed by areas of complex geology, such as: faults, salt bodies, folding, etc.

First developed in 1985 by RockWare Inc, RockWorks is used by the mining, petroleum, and environmental industry for subsurface visualization, borehole database management as well as the creation of grids, solid models, calculating volumetric analysis, etc.

Seismic inversion, in geophysics, is the process of transforming seismic reflection data into a quantitative rock-property description of a reservoir. Seismic inversion may be pre- or post-stack, deterministic, random or geostatistical; it typically includes other reservoir measurements such as well logs and cores.

A synthetic seismogram is the result of forward modelling the seismic response of an input earth model, which is defined in terms of 1D, 2D or 3D variations in physical properties. In hydrocarbon exploration this is used to provide a 'tie' between changes in rock properties in a borehole and seismic reflection data at the same location. It can also be used either to test possible interpretation models for 2D and 3D seismic data or to model the response of the predicted geology as an aid to planning a seismic reflection survey. In the processing of wide-angle reflection and refraction (WARR) data, synthetic seismograms are used to further constrain the results of seismic tomography. In earthquake seismology, synthetic seismograms are used either to match the predicted effects of a particular earthquake source fault model with observed seismometer records or to help constrain the Earth's velocity structure. Synthetic seismograms are generated using specialized geophysical software.

Reservoir modeling

In the oil and gas industry, reservoir modeling involves the construction of a computer model of a petroleum reservoir, for the purposes of improving estimation of reserves and making decisions regarding the development of the field, predicting future production, placing additional wells, and evaluating alternative reservoir management scenarios.

The Geochemist's Workbench (GWB) is an integrated set of interactive software tools for solving a range of problems in aqueous chemistry. The graphical user interface simplifies the use of the geochemical code.

Geochemical modeling is the practice of using chemical thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, or both, to analyze the chemical reactions that affect geologic systems, commonly with the aid of a computer. It is used in high-temperature geochemistry to simulate reactions occurring deep in the Earth's interior, in magma, for instance, or to model low-temperature reactions in aqueous solutions near the Earth's surface, the subject of this article.

Aquaveo is an environmental and water resources modeling software company based in Provo, Utah that develops software used to model and simulate groundwater, watershed, and surface water resources. Its main software products include SMS, GMS, WMS, and Arc Hydro Groundwater.

Ricardo A. Olea American geologist

Ricardo Antonio Olea is a Chilean American research mathematical statistician with the United States Geological Survey since 2006. Previously, he spent most of his career with the National Oil Company of Chile (ENAP) in Punta Arenas and Santiago, and with the Kansas Geological Survey in Lawrence. He received the William Christian Krumbein Medal in 2004 from the International Association for Mathematical Geosciences. He served as Secretary-General (1992−1996) and President (1996–2000) for the International Association for Mathematical Geosciences.

SGS Genesis is the fruit of more than 30 years of expertise in software development for the modelling of mineral resources. Indeed, in 1981, SGS S.A., formerly Gamma Geostat International Inc. was among the pioneers in computer based geostatistical methods and had created one of the first geological modeling software for first generation of supercomputers. This software is used by SGS Canada Inc., among other things, for the production of National Instrument 43-101 reports in requirement with the Canadian securities regulation. Genesis offers all the tools necessary so that mineral resources are estimated in accordance with the rules of art in conformity with generally accepted CIM Estimation of Mineral Resource and Mineral Reserve Best Practices Guidelines.

EMIGMA is a geophysics interpretation software platform developed by Petros Eikon Incorporated for data processing, simulation, inversion and imaging as well as other associated tasks. The software focuses on non-seismic applications and operates only on the Windows operating system. It supports files standard to the industry, instrument native formats as well as files used by other software in the industry such as AutoCAD, Google Earth and Oasis montaj. There is a free version of EMIGMA called EMIGMA Basic developed to allow viewing of databases created by licensed users. It does not allow data simulation nor modeling nor data import. The software is utilized by geoscientists for exploration and delineating purposes in mining, oil and gas and groundwater as well as hydrologists, environmental engineers, archaeologists and academic institutions for research purposes. Principal contributors to the software are R. W. Groom, H. Wu, E. Vassilenko, R. Jia, C. Ottay and C. Alvarez.

Remote sensing (geology)

Remote sensing in geology is remote sensing used in the geological sciences as a data acquisition method complementary to field observation, because it allows mapping of geological characteristics of regions without physical contact with the areas being explored. About one-fourth of the Earth's total surface area is exposed land where information is ready to be extracted from detailed earth observation via remote sensing. Remote sensing is conducted via detection of electromagnetic radiation by sensors. The radiation can be naturally sourced, or produced by machines and reflected off of the Earth surface. The electromagnetic radiation acts as an information carrier for two main variables. First, the intensities of reflectance at different wavelengths are detected, and plotted on a spectral reflectance curve. This spectral fingerprint is governed by the physio-chemical properties of the surface of the target object and therefore helps mineral identification and hence geological mapping, for example by hyperspectral imaging. Second, the two-way travel time of radiation from and back to the sensor can calculate the distance in active remote sensing systems, for example, Interferometric synthetic-aperture radar. This helps geomorphological studies of ground motion, and thus can illuminate deformations associated with landslides, earthquakes, etc.



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