Reaching Out

Recognized as an expert in Gulf of Mexico deep-water seismic stratigraphy, Dr. Paul Weimer is now bringing geology to young students "in the way they learn--through animation."
This article appeared in Vol. 6, No. 3 - 2009


Dr. Paul Weimer is currently the Bruce D. Benson Endowed Chair and Director for the Energy and Minerals Applied Research Center (EMARC) for the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado (CU) at Boulder. He is a leading researcher on depositional settings within a sequence stratigraphic framework concentrating on deepwater depositional systems in the Gulf of Mexico. He has authored two books and edited and published many books and papers. In addition Paul has received numerous awards for outstanding papers and distinguished service including the AAPG Grover T. Murray Distinguished Educator Award in 2005. Photo: Tom Smith The son of Dr. Robert Weimer (see GEO ExPro No. 6, 2008), Paul Weimer is no stranger to geology. He confesses it did not really make sense until a few weeks before starting a Master's degree program at the University of Colorado (CU), Boulder, that "something clicked" in his head.

"My father ran short courses and I usually carried his teaching props in the field. Until that time, I was studying geology only after eliminating all other possible disciplines. Suddenly, I could picture processes in geology; it was pretty cool," Paul says.  

"Experiencing" geology

"The way we teach geology to the general public misses the way we learn," says Paul. "I learned through visualization and pattern recognition but I had been immersed in geology long before I could understand processes associated with geology. In grade schools, a young student is shown a basaltic rock and to them, it is just that, a piece of rock, and not part of a volcanic process. I knew we needed a better way to get our young people, the next generation of geologists, involved and to understand geologic processes."  

While traveling on vacation through some of the Western U.S. national parks, where geology is a major player in what people experience, Paul thought that animations could bring the geology alive, which is exactly what he and others set out to do upon his return. He teamed up with fellow geoscientists Jay Austin, Leo Ascarunz, Ryan Crow, John Roesink, and Rick Couture, and formed the Interactive Geology Project. Their first movie was made for the Park Headquarters at Colorado National Monument in west central Colorado.  

"It took more than one year to complete the first project," says Paul. "The animation shows the geologic evolution of the Monument including the deposition of the rock units, formation of it structure, and more recent erosion and down cutting by the Colorado River to produce the striking topography. The projects are all driven to educate the public about geologic processes by using computer technology to generate the animations. It will make the visitor's experience at our national parks much more meaningful."  

Expanding on the idea

The first projects for select national parks have been successful; they include animations at the Colorado School of Mines geology museum and the Florissant National Monument, and an interactive web page for Canyonlands National Park. Paul envisions expanding the concept to "schools, shopping malls, and a traveling tour for all to see and discover how geology works."  

"We have financed our work through private funds, gifts from the AAPG Foundation, individuals, and oil companies," says Paul. "This idea is catching on and continuing to grow. We are finalizing a series of ten 3-5 minute vignettes on Colorado geology, organized by geologic periods. These will be on display at the CU Natural Science Museum, and displayed at the 29th Street shopping mall on a large external LCD screen."  

"This project has been a real labor of love for me and I make time to do this"  

"We now are now making a 40-minute movie to teach 8th graders throughout the state of Colorado about science and geology. We plan to make this movie available to all primary and secondary schools in the state. We at the university do a great job educating undergraduates, but we have done a poor job with outreach to the larger public. Hopefully, this project is changing that."  

Before the movies

While discussing the geology of the Box Canyon area, southwestern Colorado, Paul artfully points at two unconformities at once; one is Devonian strata overlying vertical Precambrian strata and the other is age-indeterminate. Paul’s father, Robert, by the fence. Photo: Ira Pasternack Paul began his career in geology with Sohio Petroleum after receiving a M.S. degree from CU. He worked Northern Alaska where he gained a lot of experience being involved with several lease sales including the infamous Mukluk prospect, a large, offshore structure that was touted to be the ‘next Prudhoe Bay'. It turned out to be very expensive acreage that yielded only a dry hole and information. Paul was fortunate to do field work in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for one summer.  

"It is indeed a field experience that is long remembered by the remoteness, the tundra animals, the native people, and the fascinating geology the region offers," Paul claims.  

"Working Alaska was a great learning experience"  

Sohio had hired a lot of experienced people from other companies, so I had the opportunity to work with a staff that represented a good cross section of industry," says Paul. "I was a natural at pattern recognition which helped in seismic interpretation and my sequence work in the Gulf of Mexico."  

"While starting my Ph.D at the University of Texas at Austin in 1984, I knew deep water was going to be the next big exploration frontier," says Paul. "I initially started working on the geology of the deep Gulf of Mexico as a final project in Dick Buffler's class. From there on, I knew that my research future was in the deep Gulf of Mexico."  

Paul was allowed access to Petty Ray Geophysical's extensive 2-D seismic data across the Mississippi Fan in the deep Gulf and used this information in his dissertation. He made a significant contribution to the understanding of the Mississippi Fan by documenting the geology and seismic stratigraphy in detail. His papers were featured in several publications including an AAPG Bulletin in 1990. Subsequently, Paul received the J. C. "Cam" Sproule Award for best paper.  

While a Ph. D. student, Paul further established his expertise in Gulf geology and seismic stratigraphy by organizing a two-day SEPM symposium on the seismic stratigraphy of deep water fans. After completing his Ph. D. degree, he joined Mobil's Research team that included more Gulf of Mexico studies.

Sponsored research

Paul began his illustrious teaching career at the University of Colorado in 1990, but kept his ties to the Gulf of Mexico and experience with the oil industry. Along with fellow colleague Roy Kligfield, Paul developed an industry-sponsored research consortium to study the sequence stratigraphy and geology of the one portion of the deep water Gulf of Mexico. It took two years to establish the first consortium.  

"I remember our initial research consortium meeting quite well," says Paul, "because I was delayed attending the meeting by the birth of our second son."  

This first consortium was so successful that Paul has formed and supervised five more research consortiums in the Gulf of Mexico. The first one was financially supported by 22 companies and 5 companies supplied data.  

"Forming the research consortia, especially with the oil companies, is no easy task," explains Paul. "For the deep water Gulf of Mexico, the use of the seismic data was essential to our success. Then, we needed access to wells and biostratigraphy. Once we had all the data in hand, the next task was to convince the companies that they would benefit from our research."  

"The students as well as the companies must benefit from the research"  

"Once the research is started, it is important to have at least one meeting each year to review the progress with our sponsors," says Paul. "We also try to visit each company involved to allow their input and direction. Our charge has always been to analyze all aspects of the data set, i.e. things that most companies do not have time to work on, and to develop work flows that will help them in their daily work. We have been extremely fortunate to have been supported by Halliburton, WesternGeco, PGS, and Diamond."  

The group has now trained about 50 graduate students in these industry-sponsored consortia, and had 12 research scientists working with them. The results of their research have been outstanding. The entire May 1998 AAPG Bulletin was dedicated to the research results from the first consortium. Numerous additional papers have been published since then. Later this year, another issue of the AAPG Bulletin will be dedicated to the results from their most recent Gulf of Mexico research consortium.
"The best compliment that we can receive from our sponsors is that we do good science with older data"  

Unfinished business

Being a recognized expert on the deep water Gulf of Mexico and authoring many papers on the subject, one would think Dr. Paul Weimer would rest on his laurels. But not yet; his work ethics are second to none. Not only is he bringing geology and its processes to our young scientists and the general public, he remains driven to give his students a cutting edge education through industry oriented research programs.  

"We currently have a research consortium for the Piceance Basin," says Paul. "The majors had pulled out and now are back. Our focus will be on the regional stratigraphy of the Upper Cretaceous rocks, but we need to look at the Mesozoic and Paleozoic stratigraphy as well to do petroleum systems modeling."  

In 2004, Paul gave the SEG/EAGE Distinguished Instructor Short Course entitled ‘Petroleum Systems of Deep Water Settings.' He wrote a 500-page book in 9 months with Roger Slatt, and then went on the global lecture tour where, in 8 months, he taught 24 one-day short courses in 18 countries on six continents.  

"The entire process nearly did me in. It took me about 2.5 to 3 years to recover mentally and physically from the ordeal."  

Well, it apparently did not ‘do him in'. Paul is already working on additional books, new consortiums, and innovative ways to educate.


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