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Software could revolutionise teaching of earth sciences in UK

Computer software that could revolutionise the teaching of earth sciences in UK universities is being installed at Cardiff University. The technology investment is driven by academic staff in the University's School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences, who are keen to expose students and researchers to the latest tools and techniques used by professionals in the gas and oil exploration and production industry.

Dr Richard Davies and Professor Joe Cartwright — both of whom worked in the oil industry before returning to academia — are introducing students and researchers to new research techniques that use state-of-the-art software for interpreting three-dimensional seismic data. They will have access to computer software technology that enables them to study the earth's structure to a depth of four kilometres into the earth's surface. This will help them to identify geological features that are so huge (spread over tens of kilometres) that they cannot be properly viewed in outcrops on the Earth's surface. For instance, last year the UK's first meteor impact crater, named 'Silverpit' was found beneath 1000 metres of sediment off the Yorkshire coast, using such software.

Industry and governments are benefiting from the increasing use of this technology as it can help to reduce risk when searching for new sources of gas and oil in geologically complex areas, such as the North Sea.

"It can cost an oil company in the region of £20million to drill a well, so three-dimensional seismic data and the right software for analysis reduces the risk of choosing the wrong location," said Dr Davies.

"Academia has, on the whole, been slow to take advantage of what can be described as a 'quiet revolution' in geoscience. Every earth science department in the UK may have this facility within ten years, by which time Cardiff will be routinely using these data for research and teaching."

Students at Cardiff will have access to 11 new software tools donated by Paradigm™, valued at more than £390,000. Dr Davies and Professor Cartwright aim to add immersive virtual reality software in the near future.

"This software allows us to look at the earth in three dimensions — a revolutionary advance, which earth scientists, 30 year ago, could only dream of," said Dr Davies. "Previously, our knowledge of the subsurface was pretty limited and based upon information gleaned from outcrops and boreholes."

Steve Hunt, Managing Director of Paradigm's Europe, Africa and Middle East office said that the company was keen to donate its state-of-the-art geoscience information software to help promote development of teaching and research in the company's areas of expertise.

"Such partnerships between prestigious institutes of higher learning, such as Cardiff University, and leading industrial firms is the best way to ensure that advanced science meets practical applications, ultimately benefiting our customers and the industry at large," he said.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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