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Our seismologists take a look below the dunes

Measuring the desert when it’s 50 degrees in the shade is not the most pleasant job in the world. Nevertheless, Bernhard Novotny’s team ventures out into the heat east of Abu Dhabi. Their objective is to explore where oil and gas can be found.

East of Abu Dhabi is desert. A camp of containers and trailers has been built between the dunes. Just before daybreak, at 4:30 am, Bernhard Novotny and his team start bustling about. They climb into jeeps, trucks, and bulldozers. They’re wearing protective clothing and sunglasses – during the day temperatures reach up to 50 degrees in the shade. They are surrounded by nothing but sand and desert. And the big question: What is hidden below these enormous dunes? A large-scale seismic campaign is expected to provide the answer and collect data on the geological subsurface that will be analyzed later.

The seismic campaign in Abu Dhabi is the largest one OMV has ever conducted as an operator. State of the art technology combined with the most extreme conditions made this project unique for me.
Bernhard Novotny, Lead Operations Geophysicist at OMV

The seismic campaign in the Rub al-Chali desert in the United Arab Emirates covers 1,800 square kilometers. From July 2014 to March 2015, 350 people from OMV and partner companies were busy recording data that will allow us to better determine whether and where oil and gas can be found here. But we’ll have to wait for that: A team of eight geologists and geophysicists is now spending a year analyzing the data. Their goal is to create a 3D model of the geological subsurface which can be used to determine the location of a well. “Only then will we know whether we’ll actually find something,” says Bernhard Novotny.

But see for yourself! How a seismic campaign works:

Before the seismic measurements start, bulldozers create paths in the sand to make going up and down the dunes a bit easier, thus allowing higher quality data.
Put simply, the seismic vibrators (thumper trucks) send vibrations through the subsurface. These vibrations are reflected on different rock strata in the subsurface.
The geophones are like the sensors for seismic measurement. They convert the vibration waves sent by the thumper trucks into voltage signals.
Hundreds of kilometers of cable are laid in the desert to transmit the geophone data to the recording truck. When the measurements of an area are finished, they are collected again.
The recording truck is the command center in the field. All the data are gathered and stored here. The antennas make it possible to communicate by radio with the team in the field.
One of the screens in the recording truck shows the active area (thumper truck lines in purple, geophone lines in green).
Natalie Wells, Explorationist OMV Abu Dhabi, and Bernhard Novotny, Senior Operations Geophysicist OMV Abu Dhabi, discussing the site.
Fueling a thumper truck. Graduate Mihai-Cosmin Stoica: “Here you learn to appreciate the hard physical work that our colleagues do every day.”
A short team meeting in OMV’s Abu Dhabi office. It’s important to have detailed maps of the region on which the exploration team has marked initial preparation.
The camp is rebuilt at different locations three times during the seismic campaign. 350 people live here for up to eleven months.

More on the seismic campaign? Watch the video to find out how the technology works and how it is used to search for raw material deposits.

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