It’s true that implicit modeling dramatically increases the speed at which a geologist can generate a geologic model, and modelling speed enables geologists to think more about geology than operating software. There is a perception that implicit modelling is a recently available, game changing option for geologic modeling, but it might surprise you that it’s been around for over 40 years in the stratigraphic modelling space. Companies that have been producing commercially available implicit modelling solutions for over 40 years have refined the algorithms and parameters based on experiences gained modeling hundreds of thousands of customer’s stratigraphic deposits around the globe.
Implicit Modeling – Innovation for a Crisis
An old proverb attributed to Plato suggests necessity is the mother of invention and I postulate that implicit modeling solutions were initially developed to address a global energy crisis. In 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implemented an oil embargo on the United States in retaliation for their policy to provide Israel with military aid at the end of the Israeli – Arab war. The OPEC embargo also extended to other countries that supported Israel. Additionally, OPEC wanted to use the embargo as leverage to influence post war negotiations. With OPEC shutting off the supply of oil to Israel friendly markets, energy policies in these countries changed dramatically to look at filling energy needs with domestic energy sources. For the U.S. and Australia, coal was plentiful and thus geologic modeling and planning for coal was of national importance to quantify domestic energy resources. Lots of geologic modeling and mine planning would need to be undertaken to start new coal mining projects. And computer technology including computer programming was the way to streamline identifying viable coal mining projects. Computer technology would have been applied to coal mining and mining in general with or without the energy crisis of the 1970s, but I believe this event accelerated innovation.
Computerized Geologic Modeling 1979-1992
Some of the first companies that produced geologic modeling and mine planning software were Mincom, Minex, Datamine, Gemcom, Maptek, Surpac, and Mintec. Initially, each company differentiated themselves by the mining segment they chose to work in. Mincom and Minex were fiercely competing in the coal and stratified deposit mining space, while in the early going the others primarily focused on the metals mining segment.
Mincom adopted an implicit modeling approach to stratigraphic modelling from their beginning. Modern computers in the 1970’s were main frame computers, which had a green screen interface at best, so Mincom developed an implicit geologic modeling solution that leveraged backend main frame processing power. Since coal is a sedimentary bedded deposit, and roughly 80% or more of the coal projects at the time were flat or mildly dipping (35 degrees or less), a grid modelling solution provided an excellent method for stratigraphic geologic modelling since a unique Z value can be returned as a function of X and Y. Running on main frame computers, Mincom Miner was released in 1979 and provided their first commercially available implicit modeling solution for stratigraphic deposits.
Miner, and its successor Miner2 released in 1982, enabled geologists to define a spatial area, grid size, list of down hole intervals and a few interpolator options, primarily Inverse Distance and Height, which is a variant of polynomial surface and inverse distance. By supplying drill hole data and applying modeling parameters, a single or multi interval geologic model could be produced that followed stratigraphic rules ensuring seams would not cross through modeling interval and inter-burden thickness. This enabled quick modeling and essentially follows the same implicit modelling process we have today; execute the model program and examine the results. If results were acceptable, the modeling was finished, if not, modify inputs, repeat until satisfied.
Computerized Geologic Modeling 1992-Present
As new graphics technologies were being introduced into the computing market, Computer Aided Design (CAD) began to be implemented in mine planning software. Mincom released MineScape 1.0 in 1988, which utilized UNIX workstations for computing and provided an integrated CAD system.
The other competitors were also moving to this hardware platform as DOS PCs were not yet powerful enough to provide the computing horsepower and CAD capabilities for the intense processing required for a geologic modeling application. Sun/SunOS and IMB/AIX Unix workstations were supported, but Silicon Graphics/IRIX (SGI) workstations appeared to be the most popular hardware choice.
Silicon Graphics workstations were used to produce Jurassic Park in 1993 and had a cameo appearance in the movie, which likely led to its popularity as the UNIX platform that would deliver superior graphics. MineScape sales exploded in the late 1980’s and 1990’s as mining and consulting markets were gaining tremendous efficiencies in time savings by employing computerized solutions over existing pen, paper and calculator solutions.
New products were developed for the new MineScape platform at an extraordinary pace and MineScape Stratmodel replaced Miner2 as the stratigraphic modeling solution in 1992.
Stratmodel retained the implicit modelling approach but was expanded to include the integration of CAD graphical elements as input parameters. The Stratmodel “Schema” was introduced which provided one place to nominate and store the growing list of parameters used for modeling. New model interrogation tools were developed, additional interpolators were added, and users could select different interpolators for surface and thickness interpolation. New controls, enhancements and refinements were incrementally added as it became used throughout the globe and employed to model tens of thousands of stratigraphic deposits. Fault modelling was improved to include vertical, normal and reverse faulting. Pinching options, washout zones, burn zones, and multiple sequence or geologic envelope capabilities were added. These additional capabilities enabled handling more complex geology.
As data collection technologies improved, enabling surveyors to collect from tens, to hundreds, to thousands, and now hundreds of million points, more MineScape capabilities were added to support much more data than the early years. Stratmodel customers have built stratigraphic models with 3 million grid nodes covering 4 million acres, others have built extensively faulted models with normal and reverse faulting and yet others have built models with up to 200 intervals. Contiguous modeling from topo to the lowest interval and transgressive units (intervals and surfaces that can cross other intervals) have been successfully modeled.
Over 40 plus years, MineScape Stratmodel implicit modeling has been refined, industry-tested and proven in production environments across the globe. Feedback from Stratmodel users who have experience using multiple solutions for stratigraphic modeling continue to reinforce that for geologic stratigraphic modeling, Stratmodel implicit modeling for coal and stratigraphic modeling is their solution of choice.