Uncertainty in Structural Interpretation: Lessons to be learnt

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Uncertainty in the interpretation of geological data is an inherent element of geology. Datasets from different sources: remotely sensed seismic imagery, field data and borehole data, are often combined and interpreted to create a geological model of the sub-surface. The data have limited resolution and spatial distribution that results in uncertainty in the interpretation of the data and in the subsequent geological model(s) created. Methods to determine the extent of interpretational uncertainty of a dataset, how to capture and express that uncertainty, and consideration of uncertainties in terms of risk have been investigated. Here I review the work that has taken place and discuss best practice in accounting for uncertainties in structural interpretation workflows. Barriers to best practice are reflected on, including the use of software packages for interpretation. Experimental evidence suggests that minimising interpretation error through the use of geological reasoning and rules can help decrease interpretation uncertainty; through identification of inadmissible interpretations and in highlighting areas of uncertainty. Understanding expert thought processes and reasoning, including the use of visuospatial skills, during interpretation may aid in the identification of uncertainties, and in the education of new geoscientists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-200
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Structural Geology
Early online date18 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2015

Bibliographical note

This paper is based on work and discussions with numerous people over many years; special thanks to Alan Gibbs for starting me off on an uncertainty track in the first place and for discussions and work with Zoe Shipton, Euan Macrae, Rebecca Lunn, Andrew Curtis and Rob Butler. Thanks to Rob Butler and friends for the “it's all about geometry” quote. Midland Valley Exploration is thanked for academic use of Move software. Zoe Shipton is thanked for reading an initial draft of the manuscript. The comments of two anonymous reviewers and those of E. Riggs improved the manuscript.


  • uncertainty
  • interpretation
  • structure
  • models


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