Satellite mission seeks gravity data renaissance

By OGJ editors

GETECH, Leeds, UK, has begun an industry-funded research study to enhance the resolution of satellite-derived gravity data used in the search for hydrocarbon-bearing structures under the world’s oceans and seas.

The 9-month R&D study will determine how and to what degree the advanced ocean measurements from the three-cycle polar geodetic mission (2011-13) of the CryoSat-2 satellite, with data provided by the European Space Agency, can improve the accuracy, resolution, and reliability of satellite-derived gravity. The oil industry is using such gravity data routinely to explore the world’s continental margins.

The success of the R&D study will pave the way for a global study by GETECH, starting in early 2013, to map all the world’s continental margins to 500 km from shore. This global study will include data from the NASA Jason-1 oceanographic satellite, subject to it going into geodetic mission mode in 2013.

One year of data from CryoSat-2 will provide on the order of 50% additional data on top of that available from previous satellite missions. The near-polar orbit will generate tracks with different orientations that will infill existing data coverage. GETECH believes that its specialized processing methodology will be particularly suitable for extracting high resolution gravity data from this combined data set.  In addition, CryoSat-2 is acquiring data with a new synthetic aperture radar system that promises improved accuracy over some key areas of the world.

The R&D study will refine the methodologies and algorithms used previously on the GeoSat and ERS-1 data to handle the two altimeter data types being collected by CryoSat-2. Four test areas have been agreed in the Caspian Sea, Barents Sea, north Brazil margin, and north Colombia/Venezuela margin to check on the resolution of the data by comparison with high-quality terrestrial shipborne data.

Derek Fairhead, president and founder of GETECH, said: “We have been gratified by the interest expressed in this study. The petroleum exploration industry, both oil companies and marine seismic contractors, has for a long time valued gravity information, especially for the structural evaluation of blocks ahead of licensing round bids and the planning of large multiclient seismic survey targets. This new study should open the way to making gravity data of exceptional resolution available on a global basis at an extremely attractive price compared with any other method.”

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