Fault interpretation in seismic reflection data: an experiment analysing the impact of conceptual model anchoring and vertical exaggeration

Juan Alcalde, Clare E. Bond, Gareth Johnson, Armelle Kloppenberg, Oriol Ferrer, Rebecca Bell, Puy Ayarza

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The use of conceptual models is essential in the interpretation of reflection seismic data. It allows interpreters to make geological sense of seismic data, which carries inherent uncertainty. However, conceptual models can create powerful anchors that prevent interpreters from reassessing and adapting their interpretations as part of the interpretation process, which can subsequently lead to flawed or erroneous outcomes. It is therefore critical to understand how conceptual models are generated and applied to reduce unwanted effects in interpretation results. Here we have tested how interpretation of vertically exaggerated seismic data influenced the creation and adoption of the conceptual models of 161 participants in a paper-based interpretation experiment. Participants were asked to interpret a series of faults and a horizon, offset by those faults, in a seismic section. The seismic section was randomly presented to the participants with different horizontal–vertical exaggeration (1:4 or 1:2). Statistical analysis of the results indicates that early anchoring to specific conceptual models had the most impact on interpretation outcome, with the degree of vertical exaggeration having a subdued influence. Three different conceptual models were adopted by participants, constrained by initial observations of the seismic data. Interpreted fault dip angles show no evidence of other constraints (e.g. from the application of accepted fault dip models). Our results provide evidence of biases in interpretation of uncertain geological and geophysical data, including the use of heuristics to form initial conceptual models and anchoring to these models, confirming the need for increased understanding and mitigation of these biases to improve interpretation outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1651-1662
Number of pages20
JournalSolid earth
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Juan Alcalde has been supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (grant no. NE/M007251/1) and the H2020 European Institute of Innovation and Technology (SIT4ME (grant no. 17024)). Clare E. Bond is currently funded through a Royal Society of Edinburgh research sabbatical on uncertainty in seismic image interpretation. Gareth Johnson is funded by the University of Strathclyde Faculty of Engineering. Oriol Ferrer has been supported by the SALCONBELT Project (grant no. CGL2017-85532-P), the Geomodels Research Institute and the Grup de Geodinàmica i Anàlisi de Conques (grant no. 2017SGR-596). Puy Ayarza is funded by the Regional Government of Castile and León (project SA065P17).

The seismic image used in the experiment is available on the Virtual Seismic Atlas (https://www.seismicatlas.org, last access: 30 September 2019). The questionnaire presented to the participants is available in the Supplement. Interpretations and statistical analyses are available upon request.


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