17 Questions With Henry Posamentier

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
The world through the eyes of AAPG’s Berg Award winner: Miocene carbonate platform, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Henry Posamentier
The world through the eyes of AAPG’s Berg Award winner: Miocene carbonate platform, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Henry Posamentier

Seventeen questions and answers about AAPG member Henry W. Posamentier, a leading industry reearcher and recipient of AAPG’s 2012 Robert R. Berg Outstanding Research Award.

Question 1. How do you pronounce his name?

It’s pronounced POSS-uh-men-TEER, with emphasis on the first and last syllables.

Henry is pronounced HEN-ree, as usual.

Question 2. What’s his expertise?

Posamentier is known for development of seismic geomorphology and his earlier contributions to seismic and sequence stratigraphy.

Born in New York City in 1948, he earned his Ph.D. at Syracuse University in New York, where he studied glacial geology.

Question 3. Glacial geology?

“My passion then was glacial geology, though I was always intrigued by stratigraphy and geomorphology as well,” Posamentier said.

“When I joined Exxon back in 1979, the first day I walked in was the first time I ever saw a seismic section,” he recalled.

Posamentier said for reasons he didn’t grasp then, but understands better now, Exxon immediately started him off working with seismic.

Question 4. He began his career at Exxon?

He actually began teaching at the university level after graduation, but “Exxon made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Posamentier said.

“I thought, ‘I’ll try it for a year, and then I can go back to academia,’” he recalled.

Then he began his 30-plus-year career in the oil and gas industry.

Question 5. Where does he work now?

In Chevron’s Reservoir Characterization Division, part of Chevron Energy Technology Co. in Houston. He’s a senior exploration adviser.

Question 6. What else does he do?

Running and photography. In 2011, Posamentier ran in both the New York City and Boston marathons.

“I’m still into running. I still run marathons and half-marathons. And I like to think I’m still competitive in my age group, which brings a chuckle to my kids,” he says.

Question 7. Where does he call home?

Hard to tell. Posamentier currently lives in Houston with his family, and said he plans to be there until all of his children are graduated from high school.

During his career, however, he’s lived in Calgary for four years, in Dallas for six years, in Indonesia for three years and in Calgary again for six years.

Canada seems to be a magnet for him. He spent the 2011 year-end holidays in his home in Canmore, Alberta, just outside Banff National Park.

Question 8. What is seismic geomorphology?

“Seismic geomorphology is the study of landforms using seismic data. What we’re tasked with doing is to determine lithology prior to drilling,” Posamentier said.

It’s basically a way to integrate section view with plan-view images in a 3-D context, for a better view of the overall geology.

“In the past, with 2-D data, all we could see was the stratigraphy – in other words, the section view,” he said. “With 3-D data we’ve advanced orders of magnitude beyond that.”

Question 9. What’s the advantage?

You can identify geological features and subsequently infer the processes responsible for their formation, thus improving our abilities to better predict lithologies prior to drilling.

“With enhanced visualization of entire paleo-landscapes, we can now elevate our analyses and gain significant insight as to geologic process,” Posamentier said. “By virtue of integrating seismic stratigraphy with seismic geomorphology, we’re exponentially increasing our understanding of geologic processes.”

Think of picturing a cake with horizontal views of the cake layers and vertical slices of all the layers, from several directions, and then putting together a full image.

“What we have now is the whole cake. Not only can we slice it vertically – to see stratigraphy – we can also slice it horizontally, to see geomorphology,” he said.

“The detail we can see sometimes is startling,” he added.

Question 10. Is seismic geomorphology recognized as an important development?


For his research, Posamentier received the Pettijohn Medal for excellence in sedimentology from the Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM) in 2008 and the William Smith Medal from The Geological Society of London in 2010.

He’s been named recipient of the 2012 Robert R. Berg Award from AAPG, given “in recognition of a singular achievement in petroleum geoscience research.”

Question 11. Is this something mainly used in offshore work?

Posamentier acknowledged that seismic geomorphology has been applied extensively to offshore prospects.

“The data quality is typically better offshore because you don’t have surficial deposits like sand dunes or glacial outwash that can hit seismic data quality hard.”

But Posamentier teaches workshops and short courses on the technique, and said, “some of my best examples are from onshore.”

Question 12. Is color enhancement important in seismic geomorphology?

Color enhancement is useful, although not so much for Posamentier, who’s partly color-blind.

“I tend to gravitate to interpreting almost exclusively in the gray scale – especially in plan view images, where we’re looking for features like channels and other geomorphic elements, I just can’t see what others see,” Posamentier said.

“A lot of patterns in full color displays that are obvious to non-color-challenged interpreters are simply not obvious to me,” he said. “Hence the preference for gray scale, where these patterns jump out for me.”

Question 13. How important is experience in doing the interpretation?

Posamentier said he wouldn’t have believed it when he was younger, but significant experience turns out to be essential for good interpretation.

“The interpreter lives and dies by the ability to understand patterns. It’s all about pattern recognition,” he observed.

“The more an interpreter has seen, the more patterns he or she has stored in memory and the better an interpreter will be,” he said.

Question 14. Is seismic geomorphology now a standard tool for seismic interpreters?

It’s a mixed bag. Much of the seismic interpretation he sees still tends to focus on static views of the data in two-dimensional space, and so often just in section view.

“There’s so much information there that is ignored when you limit interpretation to the section view; this results in stratigraphic analysis without the benefit of insights derived from geomorphology,” he said. “Integration of stratigraphy and geomorphology yields a far more robust geologic solution.”

Question 15. What’s the role of the petroleum geologist in seismic geomorphology?

Petroleum geologists provide a reality check on seismic interpretation, and their importance is growing, according to Posamentier.

“Petroleum geologists have to embrace the geophysical data. They have to leverage it and accept it as just another tool in the arsenal,” Posamentier noted.

“Getting the geophysical data into the hands of earth scientists thinking geologically is absolutely critical,” he added.

Question 16. What does Posamentier see in the future for seismic interpreters and petroleum geologists?

They’ll go to the movies.

Question 17. Seriously, what does he predict?

“One of the areas where I see a lot of potential is another domain that lies largely untapped, and that is patterns when you are doing animation,” Posamentier said.

“It’s sort of like seeing a series of still photos compared to sitting in a theater and watching a movie,” he said. “It takes 3-D interpretation to a new level.”

This geology-in-motion could be the key to an advanced view of prospect geology in the future.

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Henry Posamentier
Henry Posamentier

Posamentier Pioneered Seismic Geomorphology

Henry Posamentier, an AAPG member who helped pioneer and develop the modern approach to sequence stratigraphy and who is this year’s winner of the AAPG Robert Berg Award for Outstanding Petroleum Research, has been a scientific leader for decades.

Most recently he has pioneered and popularized the discipline of seismic geomorphology, which leverages both 2-D and 3-D seismic data to better understand the paleogeographic distribution of lithologies.

He has been a four-time AAPG Distinguished Lecturer, speaking to groups in the United States (1991-92), the Former Soviet Union (1996-97), the Middle East (1998-99) and in Europe and eastern Asia (2006), when he was the Dean A. McGee Distinguished Lecturer.

He offered two lectures that year: “Imaging Elements of Depositional Systems From Shelf to Deep Basin Using 3-D Seismic Data: Implications for Exploration and Development” and “Stratigraphy, Sedimentology and Geomorphology of Deep Water Deposits Based on Analysis of 3-D Seismic Data: Reducing the Risk of Lithology Prediction.”

He received the 2001 George C. Matson Award for the paper “Seismic Geomorphology and Depositional Systems of Deep Water Environments: Observations from Offshore Nigeria, Gulf of Mexico and Indonesia.”

He also has written for the EXPLORER’s popular Geophysical Corner. EXPLORER.

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