Seismic processing is used by reflection seismologists to collect information about the Earth’s interior. In reflection seismology, data about the composition of the ground beneath the visible surface is collected, processed by computers and then interpreted by specialists. The information gathered in this process is used in the mining industry to discover oil and mineral deposits that are hidden below the surface of the Earth.
In reflection seismology, sound waves are directed toward the Earth’s interior, and sensitive equipment is used to listen to the echoes. Reflection seismologists use man-made sound sources, often explosions, to create these underground echoes. By interpreting the quality of the echoes, underground density and composition can be extrapolated. It is possible to conduct seismic processing studies on land, though the majority of data is gathered in shallow ocean waters, as the equipment is easier to set up and move from one location to another.
The sound data collected in the field is extremely detailed and must be processed by sophisticated computer programs before it can be interpreted. There is so much sound data collected that it is estimated that 30% of the total computer processing power in the world is devoted to seismic processing. The computer programs used in seismic processing effectively create an underground map of numerical data. This allows geologists to locate underground sources of oil and other materials without drilling holes through the surface of the Earth.
After numerical data is processed, seismic imaging is used to take these numbers and present them as a visual map. This visual map is useful when considering a site for a new mine, as it provides information about the layout of the minerals underground. There may be some areas with stone too dense to drill through and others with air or water pockets that could create an unstable shaft. Seismic processing gives mine engineers invaluable information that they can use to create safer, more efficient mines.
There are a number of companies that specialize in collecting, processing and interpreting seismic data for petroleum and mining companies around the world. These companies go into an area that is believed to have undiscovered pockets of oil or minerals and conduct a reflection seismology survey. Once the data is collected, processed and interpreted, oil and mining companies can decide whether or not to invest in extracting these materials from the Earth. The majority of new sources of oil and minerals are discovered by reflection seismologists.