This year’s Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies (GCAGS) annual meeting, set Sept. 25-27 in Lafayette, La., is being called “Visualize the Possibilities” -- with good reason.
Convention organizers promise to “Wow!” audiences with 3-D simulations that are built on visually immersive technology. The platform features dynamic, three-dimensional imagery of a particular setting that evokes a sensory understanding of what it would mean to actually be in that setting.
This is the innovation behind IMAX theaters known for generating stomach-jolting sensations such as taking a sharp corner at 180 miles per hour in a Formula One racecar or dropping a few Gs during a rapid vertical descent aboard a speeding rollercoaster.
Participants at the convention won’t have to worry about any such motion-sickening joyrides. They will, however, be able to envision:
- The shift in pipelines during Hurricane Ivan.
- The surface affects of Hurricane Katrina.
- Remote collaboration using visualization.
- Many other presentations designed specifically for the GCAGS audience.
The images are being created using data gathered by geologists and then displayed on screens up to 37-feet tall to simulate the feeling of being completely immersed in the environment.
Engulfed in Visualization
Visualization comes to the Gulf of Mexico through the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE), a venture jointly funded by the state of Louisiana, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Slated for an August 14 opening, LITE is made up of four venues:
- The world’s largest immersive theater, with 175 seats that face a 37-foot screen. Participants in the first four rows wear “active goggles” that display dynamic images that are seen by the presenter; in the other rows participants see through “passive goggles” that display two-dimensional images similar to the IMAX experience.
- An immersive collaboration teleconference room.
- An immersive conference room.
- “The Cube,” the world’s first, six-sided 10-foot by 10-foot digital virtual reality chamber that projects images on all sides of the audience.
“When geologists look at their data on the computer, they have a massive chunk of information that represents some piece of the Earth that they look at to do analysis, but that data is fixed,” says Carolina Cruz, LITE’s executive director and chief scientist, and creator of the Cube. “Things change and move, and there are many dynamic features that need to be imbedded with the data.
“What a facility like LITE provides is the unique technology where geologists can look at the data and also understand the dynamic nature of what goes on with it. They can look at, ‘What if we drilled this way,’ or make bidding decisions such as, ‘Do we want to own that field or not?’
“They can look at not only the geological features of the reservoir,” she said, “but the economic and financial aspects, too.”
As a one-of-a-kind facility built solely for the purposes of research and economic development, LITE holds great potential for the Gulf region and for the geoscientist community.
“The Gulf is particularly an excellent application arena for LITE because it is a contained space significantly populated with oil rigs and pipelines,” Cruz said. “Most if not all the geology in the region involves understanding the marine underwater geology. Geologists, though, really don’t have a way to look at the Gulf as a whole. They look at it in sections, and when they reach the edge they have to download that section and reload another one.
“It is as if you were looking at a map and you reach the border of Louisiana and Mississippi,” she continued. “You have to fold up the Louisiana map and go into your glove compartment and open up a map of Mississippi. You don’t really have a whole picture of what’s going on.
“A place like LITE offers the capability of looking at data of a significantly larger order of magnitude than most of the other technologies today allows,” she said. “It is primarily because of the computer and graphics resources that drive the screen. A lot of oil companies do have similar systems, but they don’t have the computer and graphics power we have. We have a 60 gigabit connection.”
The GCAGS meeting includes three half-day sessions that explore the immersive technologies and its benefits to the oil and gas industry. The 1,800 expected participants will have the opportunity to simulate conventional practices such as LIDAR in an immersive environment, learn about gathering seismic-type imaging by using the bit as the noise generator to create images, visualize new forms of remote collaboration and many other techniques designed to help enhance skills by incorporating recent innovations.
“A lot of what we do as geoscientists is creative thinking,” said Mary Broussard, GCAGS general chair and geophysicist for Stone Energy. “It is truly interpretation where there are not only one or two answers to every problem -- there are multiple solutions. When you are immersed in your data, your creative and interpretive powers are taken to another level.
“But there are a lot of people who don’t think or imagine in terms of 3-D,” she said. “When you bring them into the LITE auditorium and show them well-bores cutting through hydrocarbon reservoirs, it makes it much easier to explain than just by looking at 2-D pieces of paper.”
The value of immersive technology in the Gulf may be realized most readily by individual geologists. LITE is the only facility of its kind that is open to geologists -- including students, academia and independents -- who otherwise may not have access to this sophisticated set of interpretative tools.
“Geologists think in 3-D, and oftentimes in 4-D when we add the time component,” explained James Willis, independent geologist and technical program chair for the GCAGS convention. “In my office, I look at 3-D images and rotate them on a 2-D laptop screen. With LITE, I will have the opportunity to walk into a room that is fully immersive where I can see in three dimensions and improve upon what I am doing in my office.”
Beyond the full slate of presentations, courses and posters, the three-day GCAGS event includes the Prospect Expo hosted by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. Another headliner is the International Geological Correlation Program (IGCP) and its 490 Project, which will for the first time hold its convention in the United States simultaneous with the GCAGS gathering.
Known for their securitization of world-changing geological events such as the tsunami of 2004, the IGCP-490 Project will meet in southern Louisiana to study the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
For more information about GCAGS, LITE and the three-day meeting, go online to www.gcags2006.com