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Geologists can now create and share their 3D models across Geosoft and ESRI ArcGIS environments.
Exploration software and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are essential for geologists searching for petroleum and mineral deposits. With discoveries harder to find, geoscientists are collecting more data than ever before and examining their findings with greater scrutiny.
The key to keeping the whole process efficient and focused is technology.
GIS and exploration software has come a long way in the past 10 years, especially visualization and 3-D modeling. But, until recently, the inability to work and share data between earth mapping software like Geosoft and ESRI’s ArcGIS application environments has left a gap for explorers.
As software developers on both sides of the gap begin to collaborate, technology and solutions are now evolving to allow geoscientists to share data easily between their mapping and GIS environments.
Geographic information systems have been used for 2-D mapping for decades; however, the limited ability of GIS to visualize below the earth's surface means exploration companies have had to resort to work-arounds. As a result, geoscientists tend to store their geological, geophysical and geochemical information in one database, and their surface spatial (GIS) data in another, with no efficient way of merging the two.
Although geoscientific data can be moved in and out of a GIS environment, doing so is time-consuming and can result in lost, changed or corrupted data.
For consulting geophysicists like Michal Ruder, whose livelihood depends on delivering accurate, up-to-date maps to clients in the oil and gas sector, recent advances in integrated GIS exploration tools mean smoother workflow and higher productivity in both 2D and 3D environments.
"Most of the time I work with gridded data, and I can manipulate it with ease using Geosoft exploration software, Oasis montaj and Target," says Ruder, who is principal of Denver-based Wintermoon Geotechnologies. "That's not the whole solution, though, because after I've processed the gridded data, I need to integrate it with vector data. That means putting my magnetic and gravity data into the geographic context of my exploration problem."
Fence diagram generated using Geosoft's Target for ArcGIS extension software.
After moving the data into ESRI's ArcGIS, Ruder uses Geosoft extension software, Target for ArcGIS, to see geographic and other associations. She then searches for patterns in the Geosoft grids and ArcGIS vector data.
Geosoft is working to close the exploration GIS gap entirely with its recent introduction of earth mapping software that has ArcGIS Engine technologies built in. The new generation of Geosoft Target and Oasis montaj software allows geoscientists to work seamlessly between their Geosoft and ESRI environments using ESRI technology to display Arc.mxd and .lyr files without leaving the Geosoft environment.
The breakthrough is expected to boost productivity and result in smoother workflows for geoscientists in both the private and public sectors. It will also prevent data from being changed or lost.
"With this software, geoscientists have greater flexibility and control in achieving the results they need," says Louis Racic, Director of Product Management for Geosoft Inc.
Closing the gap between GIS and geoscience also benefits large companies with multiple users and data sets. The more integrated their exploration software is, the less likelihood of costly mistakes or missed opportunities for discovery.
Ana Maria Gonçalves is information manager for the exploration and project development division of Brazil-based Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (Vale), one of the largest mining companies in the world with 14 regional exploration offices. "As we become more global, being able to share information and expertise with other regions is increasingly important," says Gonçalves. "In the past, our exploration applications didn't connect with our GIS. We had to make all sorts of conversions, and with data sets such as geophysical grids, you can lose important information when you try to convert the data to other formats."
There is better access to exploration tools, such as this 3D lithology selector, within ArcGIS.
Adopting Geosoft Target for ArcGIS has done away with the need for data conversion, says Gonçalves. "Using Target for ArcGIS, our geoscientists can work with their geophysical, geochemical and geological data within the ArcGIS environment much more quickly and effectively."
On a broader scale, trends in mineral exploration show there's a need for better integration of GIS and geosciences. Most ore deposits with a surface expression have already been found, so 3-D information from the subsurface - particularly geophysical data - is becoming the main pathfinder to discoveries.
Taking a tool known for excellent spatial analysis on a 2-D plane and integrating it with software that can handle multiple 3-D data sets from the subsurface makes the search for these deposits a whole lot easier. It's a development whose time has come.