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Book Chapter

Potential Fields

January 01, 2004


When we think of geophysical interpretation, seismic interpretation often comes to mind immediately. However, many other geophysical methods are used in geophysical interpretation, and we briefly consider two of them here — the gravity and magnetics methods. These are often termed potential-field methods because they deal with force fields derivable from potential energy functions. Potential fields have been used in prospecting for minerals in the mining industry and as reconnaissance tools in the petroleum industry.

Nettleton (1971, p. ix) terms the use of gravity and magnetics methods as “the other five percent,” because the seismic method accounts for 95% of expenditures in geophysical exploration for petroleum. However, this does not mean that potential-field methods make an inconsequential contribution. Although these methods have less resolving power than seismic prospecting methods, they are generally less expensive. As a rule of thumb, Nettleton gives comparative costs of magnetic, gravity, and seismic data as 1:10:100.

Gravity exploration is sensitive to the anomalous mass of a subsurface body, whereas magnetic surveys are sensitive to magnetic susceptibility of rock bodies. Gravity exploration uses gravimeters, and magnetic surveys use magnetometers. Good descriptions of these instruments are given in Telford et al. (1976). Gravimeters and magnetometers can obtain measurements in the air, on sea, on land, and inside the borehole.

Potential-field methods are useful in many aspects of exploring for petroleum traps, including analysis of source-rock deposition, source maturation, hydrocarbon migration, seals, and timing of emplacement of each component of the petroleum system. These

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Geophysical Monograph Series

Fundamentals of Geophysical Interpretation

Laurence R. Lines
Laurence R. Lines
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Rachel T. Newrick
Rachel T. Newrick
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Society of Exploration Geophysicists
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Publication date:
January 01, 2004




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