We touched on the unconformity in Chapter 1 on geology. Unconformities are important markers for the geologist and the geophysicist. There are some major world-wide unconformities that are recognizable in seismic data from different parts of the globe; one is the mid-Cretaceous unconformity. In Western Canada there is a major unconformity at the base Mezozoic. These unconformities are usually good seismic markers because they mark a boundary between older rocks and much younger ones. A period of non-deposition or erosion before a renewal of deposition means the boundary is between different rock types with markedly different velocities and densities, producing a large reflection coefficient. This can give rise to a strong seismic reflector that in some places can be followed for many kilometres. The angular unconformity gives a distinctive seismic expression; underlying dipping reflectors can be seen to truncate against the unconformity.


We have previously discussed the different kinds of faulting that we observe in the geological record. We find these faults at depth, and they have a seismic signature, or expression, that is sometimes obvious and sometimes not. A fault plane can cut across reflections on a seismic section, and the displacement can be obvious. Sometimes if the fault cuts the seismic line at an oblique angle the displacement may not be so obvious; and a low angle fault might appear as a reflection event not readily identifiable as a fault.


The seismic detection of reefs can be difficult. There is often a relatively small velocity contrast between the reef and the surrounding rock, so there is only a small reflection coefficient. There are some clues on a seismic section, however, that tell us a reef is present. There may be isochronal thickening: that is, in the vicinity of the reef, there will be an overall thickening in the time thickness of the strata; there may be as well isochronal thinning in the strata immediately over the reef as a result of differential compaction. Another clue as to the presence of a reef can be diffractions originating at the reef edge. Because the seismic velocity within the reef is somewhat higher than in the surrounding rock (especially if the reef is embedded in shale) then we may observe the phenomenon known as velocity pull-up; horizons below the reef will appear earlier in time than they would if the reef was not there. This effect has lead to interpreters drilling apparent structures that are not real. Another clue to the presence of the reef is that a reef may exhibit a total lack of internal structuring, so that reflectors disappear below the crest of the reef structure. There can also be a "focusing" effect below the reef.


Once the seismic sections are all interpreted, the geophysicist will want to view the data in map form. The basic map is the time structure map - that is a map of time values for the horizon with time zero being the seismic reference datum. On such a map, the larger the value of time the deeper the horizon, so structural highs, which may represent potential drilling locations, have lower relative values. A number of maps might be prepared for successively deeper horizons. The map will be prepare d with the seismic time values being posted to the map and then contoured. Such posting and contouring may be done by computer or by hand. Computer contoured maps will often be hand revised as the automatic programs do not always handle the data correctly.