The MIT Geophysical Analysis Group and Its Influence on Seismic Processing

The MIT Geophysical Analysis Group (GAG) was one of the earliest industrial consortia supported by the U.S. oil and geophysical service industries. During its existence from 1952 to 1957 it laid the foundations of what has since become modern geophysical data processing. First directed by Enders Robinson, this group of MIT graduate students developed some earliest of seismic software systems. Their influence can still be seen in today’s seismic processing systems.

GAG’s research was strongly influenced by the work of MIT Professor Norbert Wiener, whose fundamental contributions to time series analysis allowed GAG to use his ideas to study the separation of signals from noise in exploration seismograms. During the Second World War, Wiener had developed the theory for a discrete (digital) filter based on the least squares error principle. This filter continues to be in use to this day, and is named after him. Early trials of the method were carried out with then hand-digitized traces supplied by several of the sponsoring oil companies. The results clearly showed early successes at extracting seismic reflectivity estimates from reverberating marine seismograms.

While current seismic processing technology has undergone huge strides since the nineteen fifties, the consortium model introduced by the GAG was adopted by an impressive number of later academic groups, some of which survive to this day. A classic example is the Stanford Exploration Project, founded at Stanford University during the seventies by Professor Jon Claerbout. It will soon celebrate its 50th birthday.

This talk will deal with GAG’s early days, and describe some of its major accomplishments.

Speaker Bios

Sven Treitel

Sven Treitel is a graduate of MIT, where he received his PhD in geophysics in 1958. From 1958 to 1960 he worked for Chevron in Cuba and then joined Amoco’s Research Center in Tulsa, OK. While at Amoco, he carried out investigations in seismic signal processing and in the numerical simulation of seismic wave propagation. For some twenty years he was a co-editor of Elsevier’s Handbook of Geophysical Exploration series. With Enders Robinson, he wrote the book Geophysical Signal Analysis, published by Prentice Hall in 1980, and reissued by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) in 2000. A more recent book, also co-authored with Enders Robinson, Digital Imaging and Deconvolution was issued by the SEG Press in 2008. Treitel has authored and co-authored more than 80 technical papers.

In 1991 and again in 1993 he was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. He retired from Amoco in 1993. In 1994 Treitel was awarded the German government’s Alexander von Humboldt Prize, which allowed him to spend a year in Germany as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Karlsruhe. He served as editor of GEOPHYSICS from 1995 to 1997. He is an Honorary Member of the SEG, of the EAGE, and of the Geophysical Societies of Houston and of Tulsa. He is a Fellow of the IEEE and of the AGU, and a member of AAAS and Sigma Xi. He is the recipient of the SEG Fessenden Medal (1969), of four SEG Best Paper Awards (1964, 1969, 1988, and 1995), of the EAGE’s Conrad Schlumberger Award (1969), of the SEG’s Maurice Ewing Medal (1989), of the EAGE’s Erasmus Medal (2007), and of the American Geosciences Institute Marcus Milling Legendary Geoscientist Medal (2012. He has served as Distinguished Lecturer for the SEG (1982) and for the AAPG (1994). In 1997 he formed TriDekon, Inc., a geophysical consulting firm.

Enders A. Robinson

Enders A. Robinson is the Maurice Ewing and J. L. Worzel Professor of Geophysics at Columbia University in New York City. Robinson gained international prominence in the early 1950s when he was the founder of the Geophysical Analysis Group (GAG) at MIT. GAG research lead to the digital revolution in geophysics a decade later. Robinson published more than 25 books on digital signal analysis, seismic data processing, and wavelet estimation. Robinson helped found Digicon in 1965; there he developed the first commercial programs for academic positions, including the McMan Distinguished Professor of Geophysics at the University of Tulsa.

Robinson is the highest honored scientist in the field of geophysics, SEG’s RF award 1969, the EAEG’s CSch award 1969, and the IEEE’s DGFP award 1984. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1988. He is an honorary member of SEG and EAEG. In 1990–1991 he spent a sabbatical at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard. In 1993 he became the Maurice Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics at Columbia University. He retired as Professor Emeritus in 2000. A letter from George Rupp, President of Columbia University on 4 October 1999 states: “This reaffirmation of your importance to our scholarly community is not nearly adequate to recognize your extraordinary contributions to Columbia. I am allowed the pleasure of underscoring the central point: you are officially a permanent member of the Columbia community, even though in retirement.” Since then, Robinson has continued working in geophysics with the publication of books and papers. In 2000 Robinson was Alexander von Humboldt Visiting Scientist, Geophysical Institute, University of Karlsruhe, Germany. In 2001 he Invited Lecturer, Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale (OGS), Trieste, Italy. In 2001 Robinson was awarded the Maurice Ewing Gold Medal of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists; in 2003 the Blaise Pascal Medal for Science and Technology by the European Academy of Sciences in Brussels, Belgium. In 2005 The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which acts as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies, named the asteroid Svenders discovered in 2001 in honor of Sven Treitel and Enders Robinson. In 2010 Robinson was awarded the Desiderius Erasmus Award of the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE) in recognition of his fundamental and lifelong contribution to geophysics.