Day Four Update | Hits and Misses at EAGE 2020

Circumstances beyond everyone’s control in 2020 forced all the technical conferences to go into a virtual format, and some did it better than others. Andrew Long provides a commentary on what to expect on the final day of EAGE 2020 and shares ideas on alternate conference models that are completely different from the proliferation of events we now see worldwide.

wave imagewave image

Coupled with general conference fatigue, video chat fatigue, and significantly tighter budgets, attendance is rapidly dwindling by comparison to past physical events. A cursory look at the 2021 conference and workshop schedule by the EAGE, SEG, AAPG, SPE, and the many regional societies reveals over 200 events! This is surely not sustainable, although, for the sake of those sacrificing time and effort to make them succeed, I hope I’m wrong.

First, The Positives

The EAGE’s ‘Learning Geoscience’ portal is an excellent archive of recorded presentations that also serves as a classroom platform for many courses. Given the increasingly diverse nature of the energy industry (and the associated disciplines and skillsets necessary) and the visible proliferation in technical events in 2021, maybe this platform should be expanded as a proxy to absorb several of the excessive future events? Rather than pay a registration fee per event (typically hundreds of Euro per event), maybe the EAGE and the other major societies can move to a subscription-based Netflix-like platform that encompasses more geoscience and engineering online content—irrespective of whether we return to physical events or continue with virtual events? Any such fee needs to be transparent though, and I note my dissatisfaction at the EAGE slugging me with an extra fee for accessing Earthdoc publications more than 15 years old.

Maybe authors can be incentivized to contribute pre-recorded talks to this library, with a small commission per view (probably a fraction of a cent, so don’t get too excited) that is credited against their annual membership fee? Then the EAGE (and maybe a conglomerate of large societies working together) create a new revenue stream based upon universally-accessible and high-quality technical content, every geoscientist and engineer can equally receive publicity and credit for their work without the impost of travel and conference fees to otherwise present their work in the traditional manner, and we won’t have an unworkable swarm of small events to navigate each year. Brilliant!

Anyway, the virtual technical program tried a format where the full 20-minute presentations were available on-demand, and the scheduled sessions provided 3-minute summary versions followed by live Q&A with the authors connected from home. It was clearly very difficult for the chairpersons to manage the Q&A sessions whilst reading text questions from a message board. There’s no substitute for speakers being aware of a physical crowd who will persist with their line of questioning until the speaker either answers fully or declares their ambition to say no more. The level of Q&A was far more superficial this time, but the virtual portal generally handled the volume of online traffic, and the speakers I spoke to all seemed satisfied with their participation being relatively trouble-free.

With the knowledge that technical presentations are increasingly recorded and available after conferences—even before the coronavirus lockdowns—I have often found the most interesting aspect of large events to be the special forum sessions and the exhibition hall. More on the latter below, but the forums at EAGE valiantly tackled a diverse range of times, did a presentable job of splicing several recorded interviews into a continuous narrative, and benefitted a few times from EAGE stalwart Andrew McBarnet as anchorman. Anyone who reads the First Break journal will read Andrew’s monthly ‘Crosstalk’ editorial. It’s no mean feat to continuously come up with such a clearly articulated and researched consideration of so many diverse and topical issues.

Room for Improvement

Like so many businesses affected by the coronavirus, the outfits that build the physical exhibition halls have seen their income grind to a halt. I always marvel at how efficiently they mobilize, assemble, manage, and disassemble often quite complex booths, all over the globe, on a weekly basis. A personal shout out to Indalo (UK), with who I’ve had a great relationship for many years.

The exhibition halls are normally a riotous place to do basically everything when you’re not in technical and forum sessions. We suddenly appreciate what a luxury it was to walk amongst hundreds of physical booths in no time at all, see faces in the bustling crowds who can step aside for a few minutes to chat, or share their latest ideas, products, and solutions in great detail. To be charitable, that is utterly impossible in a virtual event.

If the world returns to physical events, maybe we can arrange events that more explicitly promote face-to-face networking and less technical content (much of which can be accessed as fee-based online content)? This could also more explicitly welcome students and new energy industry participants to meet and understand each other. A few days of large forums, small forums, and so on—with a minimal number of competing sessions—a real interaction and meeting of the minds. Food for thought…

FWI: Worth the Hype?

I have a personal invitation today to participate in the ‘FWI: Future Perspectives Without the Hype’ live forum session at 3 PM. Three of us will field live questions from session participants and try to make sense of where FWI will take the industry in the coming years. Topics will no doubt include elastic implementations, so-called high-frequency FWI, whether AI can replace the entire sideshow, whether FWI will kill the career of traditional processing geophysicists, and hopefully, whether we realize the true ambition of FWI to recover elastic reservoir properties. The more provocateurs we have to ask questions and offer their opinions, the better!

Foundations for Success

Our own living legend at PGS, Dan Whitmore, will present our new ‘Full wavefield reflectivity modeling’ story in the ‘Wavefield Modeling 1’ session at 3 PM. By restating the mathematics of the wave equation, Dan shows how remarkably accurate synthetic modeling can be pursued from a smooth velocity model without any knowledge of density. An overwhelmingly obvious application is the Reflection FWI, as presented by Yang Yang in his case study on Tuesday.

And then Bagher Farmani elegantly shows how a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) can be trained to classify and then remove swell noise in an automated manner. His session is ‘Noise Attenuation Methods’ at 3 PM. There’s a lot of interest in machine learning applications to seismic processing and imaging workflows, and this is an example implementation that is immediately applicable. 

Click here for details on the remaining PGS technical talks and booth activity at EAGE 2020.

My Final Conference Message

It’s only two weeks to Christmas! Irrespective of your personal faith or beliefs, no one can dispute that this time of year is typically one of celebration with family and friends; and personally, I cannot release the joyous optimism instilled as a child when we get into December.

But this year has been terribly unlike any other. Most of us are locked down in some format or other, and probably unable to gather with friends and family (especially the elderly). Everyone knows someone affected by the coronavirus effects, some tragically. And the waves of industry unemployment create a lot of uncertainty and anxiety.

But the human spirit is pretty remarkable. Here’s hoping that we all look back on this period one day, safely and securely. If you can find something to laugh about, no matter how ridiculous, it has to be beneficial. Stay safe in 2021.