Next Generation Three-Dimensional Geologic Modeling and Inversion
Mark Jessell, Laurent Aillères, Eric de Kemp, Mark Lindsay, Florian Wellmann, Michael Hillier, Gautier Laurent, Thomas Carmichael, Roland Martin, 2014. "Next Generation Three-Dimensional Geologic Modeling and Inversion", Building Exploration Capability for the 21st Century, Karen D. Kelley, Howard C. Golden
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Existing three-dimensional (3-D) geologic systems are well adapted to high data-density environments, such as at the mine scale where abundant drill core exists, or in basins where 3-D seismic provides stratigraphie constraints but are poorly adapted to regional geologic problems. There are three areas where improvements in the 3-D workflow need to be made: (1) the handling of uncertainty, (2) the model-building algorithms themselves, and (3) the interface with geophysical inversion.
All 3-D models are underconstrained, and at the regional scale this is especially critical for choosing modeling strategies. The practice of only producing a single model ignores the huge uncertainties that underlie model-building processes, and underpins the difficulty in providing meaningful information to end-users about the inherent risk involved in applying the model to solve geologic problems. Future studies need to recognize this and focus on the characterization of model uncertainty, spatially and in terms of geologic features, and produce plausible model suites, rather than single models with unknown validity.
The most promising systems for understanding uncertainty use implicit algorithms because they allow the inclusion of some geologic knowledge, for example, age relationships of faults and onlap-offlap relationships. Unfortunately, existing implicit algorithms belie their origins as basin or mine modeling systems because they lack inclusion of normal structural criteria, such as cleavages, lineations, and recognition of polydeformation, all of which are primary tools for the field geologist that is making geologic maps in structurally complex areas. One area of future research will be to establish generalized structural geologic rules that can be built into the modeling process.
Finally, and this probably represents the biggest challenge, there is the need for geologic meaning to be maintained during the model-building processes. Current data flows consist of the construction of complex 3-D geologic models that incorporate geologic and geophysical data as well as the prior experience of the modeler, via their interpretation choices. These inputs are used to create a geometric model, which is then transformed into a petrophysical model prior to geophysical inversion. All of the underlying geologic rules are then ignored during the geophysical inversion process. Examples exist that demonstrate that the loss of geologic meaning between geologic and geophysical modeling can be at least partially overcome by increased use of uncertainty characteristics in the workflow.
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Building Exploration Capability for the 21st Century
Earth’s near-surface mineralogy has diversified over more than 4.5 b.y. from no more than a dozen preplanetary refractory mineral species (what have been referred to as “ur-minerals” by Hazen et al., 2008) to ~5,000 species (based on the list of minerals approved by the International Mineralogical Association; http://rruff.info/ima). This dramatic diversification is a consequence of three principal physical, chemical, and biological processes: (1) element selection and concentration (primarily through planetary differentiation and fluidrock interactions); (2) an expanded range of mineral-forming environments (including temperature, pressure, redox, and activities of volatile species); and (3) the influence of the biosphere. Earth’s history can be divided into three eras and ten stages of “mineral evolution” (Table 1; Hazen et al., 2008), each of which has seen significant changes in the planet’s near-surface mineralogy, including increases in the number of mineral species; shifts in the distribution of those species; systematic changes in major, minor, and trace element and isotopic compositions of minerals; and the appearance of new mineral grain sizes, textures, and/or morphologies. Initial treatments of mineral evolution, first in Russia (e.g., Zhabin, 1979; Yushkin, 1982) and subsequently in greater detail by our group (Hazen et al., 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013a, b; Hazen and Ferry, 2010; Hazen, 2013), focused on key events in Earth history. The 10 stages we suggested are Earth’s accretion and differentiation (stages 1, 2, and 3), petrologic innovations (e.g., the stage 4 initiation of granite magmatism), modes of tectonism (stage 5 and the commencement of plate tectonics), biological transitions (origins of life, oxygenic photosynthesis, and the terrestrial biosphere in stages 6, 7, and 10, respectively), and associated environmental changes in oceans and atmosphere (stage 8 “intermediate ocean” and stage 9 “snowball/hothouse Earth” episodes). These 10 stages of mineral evolution provide a useful conceptual framework for considering Earth’s changing mineralogy through time, and episodes of metallization are often associated with specific stages of mineral evolution (Table 1). For example, the formation of complex pegmatites with Be, Li, Cs, and Sn mineralization could not have occurred prior to stage 4 granitization. Similarly, the appearance of large-scale volcanogenic sulfide deposits may postdate the initiation of modern-style subduction (stage 5). The origins and evolution of life also played central roles; for example, redox-mediated ore deposits of elements such as U, Mo, and Cu occurred only after the Great Oxidation Event (stage 7), and major Hg deposition is associated with the rise of the terrestrial biosphere (stage 10; Hazen et al., 2012).