Sand and silicone still best the petaflop

Applied Geodynamics Laboratory’s sandbox models to be published as ‘The Salt Mine’ on DVD.

The Applied Geodynamics Laboratory (AGL) of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin has released a summary1 of its achievements in over 20 years of sandbox experimentation. The report makes salutary reading in this digital age, showing how AGL researcher Tim Dooley bests the computer in modeling complex geological situations. Instead of teraflops, AGL’s ‘Super Models’ are used to investigate the formation of geological structures in deepwater salt basins such as the Gulf of Mexico. The silicone and sand models are built inside sheets of plywood and Plexiglas. Pumps and hand cranks apply regional tectonic stresses. Digital cameras make time-lapse movies for kinematic analysis as a laser tracks the evolving terrain model with sub-millimeter accuracy. After the experiment the model is sliced up to build a 3D computer image. Imagery is spectacular and insightful for seismic interpreters whose view of subsalt structures can be ‘band limited and obscured by imaging problems.’ Similar insight was offered to space scientists puzzling over imagery of the Hebes area on Mars.

The results of the Bureau’s research will be published later this year as ‘The Salt Mine: An Interactive Atlas of Salt Tectonics. The book and DVD combo contains 1,400 images of salt structures around the world, including outcrop data, seismics and geologic cross-sections and animations. AGL has received $13.7 million for research from consortium members since its founding in 1988. The AGL’s 2010 annual Industrial Associates Review meet hosted a record 325 delegates from 35 companies. More from


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