The Shell Geoscience Laboratory

This new state-of-the-art laboratory is dedicated to advanced subsurface geological analysis, primarily through the medium of 3D seismic imaging1. The laboratory is led by Joe Cartwright, Shell Professor of Earth Sciences, who formerly established major seismic laboratories at Imperial College, London (1989-1999) and Cardiff University (1999-2012).

The laboratory is equipped with high end workstations (Linux and Windows) and runs industry standard interpretation and software for both seismic and petrophysical data (Schlumberger’s Petrel, Geoframe Techlog and Petromod (basin modelling) packages; IHS’s Kingdom Suite).

Some of the main research themes under investigation in the laboratory are:

  1. Unconventional Hydrocarbons
  2. Hydrocarbon migration and fluid flow in sedimentary basins.
  3. Geological sequestration of Carbon Dioxide.
  4. Structural evolution of divergent and transform continental margins.

Topics under investigation within these ‘core’ themes include:

  1. Seismic diagenesis: understanding basin scale controls on diagenetic reactions using 3D seismic data
  2. Fault propagation and growth
  3. The mechanics of giant submarine landslides
  4. The initiation of salt tectonics in saline ‘giants’
  5. The emplacement of sill complexes
  6. The genesis of polygonal fault systems
  7. Highly focused fluid flow in mud-dominated sedimentary basin fills
  8. Interactions between tectonics and sedimentation on continental slopes
  9. The hydrodynamics of mud volcanoes
  10. The propagation of fluid driven fractures
  11. Flood basalts and continental break-up along the Namibian continental margin
  12. Fluid flow, heat flow and overpressure along the Norwegian continental margin

The researchers in the laboratory use a combination of subsurface data (seismic and borehole data), fieldwork and numerical modelling to tackle fundamental process related problems in sedimentary basins. For example, we are currently studying natural hydraulic fractures at outcrop in the UK, France, and California in an effort to understand how artificial hydraulic fractures might react when they propagate into a rock mass with pre-existing fractures and faults.

The current group using the laboratory consists of 2 Faculty, 2 post docs, 2 DPhil and 4 Masters students. We actively encourage enquiries and applications from anyone with a geological or physical science background who wishes to study for a research degree in the laboratory. Topics are advertised from time to time, but we also welcome suggestions for research proposals from potential applicants.



Anadarko, BG, BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ENI, Fugro Ltd, IHS Ltd, Petrobras, Rockfield Ltd., Shell, Schlumberger, Statoil, Total, The Natural Environment Research Council.


3D seismic is one of the most exciting technology-driven developments in the Earth Sciences over the past century. It is a geological “Hubble”, whose resolving power is already providing many new insights on fundamental geological processes. 3D seismic has great power as a geological tool: it goes way beyond simple geometrical imaging. We can now identify hydrocarbons in place, invert seismic responses for physical properties and detect changes in fluid composition in porous rocks using time lapse methods (4D seismic). The use of 3D seismic data provides geological interpreters with the ability to map structures and stratigraphic features in three-dimensional detail to a resolution of tens of metres over thousands of square kilometres of sedimentary basins. This incredible imaging capability has already yielded some fascinating (and surprising) insights and will continue to provide a major stimulus for research into crustal processes for many decades to come. Academic institutions have a major role to play in the use of this data by exploiting the enormous volume of geological information locked up in 3D seismic surveys from sedimentary basins around the world.

Recommended reading: Cartwright, J.A and Huuse, M. 2005 . 3D seismic: the geological ‘Hubble.’ Basin Research. 17, 1-20. Doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2117.2005.00252.x