Seismic interpreters work from surveys which involve sending pulses of sound energy down through layers of rock beneath the earth’s surface. The energy that bounces back is recorded. Seismic reflections come back in different strengths, according to whether the subsurface material is sand, shells, water, oil, etc. Acquired data is then processed by seismic data processors and sent to seismic interpreters for analysis.

Seismic interpreters combine the use of 2D, 3D and 4D models with their geological knowledge to calculate the depth and outline of underground formations in order to make estimates of mineral or carbon deposits. These are used by energy or minerals extraction companies or to inform environmental assessments or geological research if working in other settings. There are various jobs where seismic interpretation skills are required, including petroleum engineer, marine seismologist and field seismologist, and there is often overlap between the roles.


Typical Work Activities

  • Interpreting data of seismic sections (3D and 2D sections of the earth’s crust) from surveys, satellites and acoustic measurements.
  • Using data to generate maps and cross sections of the earth’s structure to locate oil-bearing strata, etc.
  • Analysing and generating scientific and numerical data.
  • Working with reservoir engineers to evaluate hydrocarbon prospects – looking at how much oil and gas there is, how easy it is to get to, and what difficulties and hazards might be encountered.
  • Predicting any changes, movements and flow in the rock structures where the hydrocarbons are present.
  • Conducting detailed analyses of current exploration fields for data that may have a bearing on new wells, looking at how productive they are likely to be and whether there may be any structural problems to consider.
  • Using a combination of well and seismic data to convert map structures from time to depth in order to know how deep drilling needs to be.
  • Using seismic data to collect information about rock quality and volume in order to measure how much oil or gas is likely to be in a given structure.
  • Analysing seismic data for sub-surface engineering applications.
  • Interpreting seismic data for environmental assessments and geological research.
  • Writing scientific reports.
  • Delivering technical presentations to clients at the end of a project.
  • Using specialised equipment to assess the physical properties of rock.
  • Using computer modelling to simulate hydrocarbon generation and seismic responses of specific structures with specialist software such as Petrel, Geoframe and Charisma.
  • Occasionally working on the development of specialised interpretation software.
  • Using information from one oil basin (area of oil deposit) to locate potential in others.
  • Advising and consulting with clients and colleagues.
  • Supervising and training staff in the techniques listed above.
  • Sharing information within a multidisciplinary team.


Technical Skills

  • Resilience.
  • Good communication skills and the ability to interact with internal and external clients.
  • Excellent teamworking skills.
  • The ability to work well alone.
  • Good it skills.
  • Strong numerical, analytical and logical skills.
  • The ability to work in and an appreciation of different physical and cultural environments.


Career Development

Career direction and development begins as soon as you join a company. Many companies do not recruit people directly into seismic interpreter, field seismologist or petroleum engineer roles. Not only is there some interchange between different job titles, but some companies recruit people who have suitable qualifications, IT skills and potential, and then assess where their skills will be best used through the initial on-the-job training. Your career path may depend on whether you enter the field from a geology background or a geophysics background.

Working on different exploration and production projects in varied locations will increase your professional expertise and the ability to deal with new and unforeseen problems. It may also clarify your personal preference and interest in the exploration or production aspects of the business.

Seismic interpreters may move into more senior positions, initially on the interpretation side, but with management and training responsibility for other staff. There is no single career path that typifies progress in every company, but a move up might be to asset manager and then to exploration manager. It’s possible to move into more senior positions within a company, but this is likely to mean a move away from geosciences and into another area, such as business, production or systems management. It’s also possible to use seismic interpretation skills outside the oil sector in areas such as hydrology, mining or contaminants measurement.



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