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Downhole logging tools

Hostile Environment Natural Gamma Ray Sonde (HNGS*)

Applications of gamma ray logs

Depth correction and core-log integration

Gamma-ray logs, which are acquired with every tool string, are normally used to depth match all of the logs obtained in any one hole. The gamma ray from the Triple Combo is normally used as the base curve, and the gamma ray logs from all the other tool strings are manually or automatically matched to it. The depth shift applied to each gamma ray curve is propagated to all other logs acquired by that tool string.

Gamma ray data can also be used for core-log integration, by correlating the natural gamma results from the Whole Core Multisensor Track (WC-MST) with the log curves. Furthermore, because the gamma ray log responds principally to fluctuations in the formation mineralogy, rather than physical properties such as lithification, it is particularly useful for making regional, inter-hole comparisons between major lithostratigraphic units (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Regional correlation of major lithostratigraphic units, using gamma ray data from Leg 189.

Identification of lithology, facies and depositional environment

Naturally radioactive elements tend to have a far greater concentration in shales than in other sedimentary lithologies, and therefore the total gamma-ray log the Th log are frequently used to derive a "shale volume" (Ellis, 1987 and Rider, 1996). In addition, the shape of the gamma log curve may be used to reconstruct downhole fluctuations in grain size, and infer changes in sedimentary facies: the standard approach is to interpret bell shaped gamma curves as a fining-upwards sequence and funnel shaped gamma curves as a coarsening-upward sequence (Serra and Sulpice, 1975). These methods, however, are only likely to be of use in simple sandstone/shale formations, and are subject to error when a significant proportion of the gamma ray radioactivity originates from the sand sized detrital fraction of the rock (see Heslop, 1974 and Rider, 1990).

Gamma ray data may also be used to help interpret the environment of deposition. Unconformities can result in the accumulation of phosphatic nodules, which may be evident in the spectral gamma log as an anomalous spike in U. Increased U values, and in particular low Th/U ratios, may also be associated with marine condensed sequences (Myers and Wignall, 1987). Doveton (1991) used Th/U ratios to estimate paleo-redox conditions at the time of deposition, which he used to identify generally transgressive and regressive intervals.

Mineralogy / Geochemistry

The concentrations of the three main radioactive elements in the formation can often be used to give an indication of the mineralogy and/or geochemistry. For example, high Th values may be associated with the presence of heavy minerals, particularly in channel sand deposits overlying an erosional unconformity. Increased Th values may also be associated with an increased input of terrigenous clays (Hassan et al., 1976) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Spectral gamma-ray data from Hole 1124C, ODP Leg 181, showing high Th values in a mudstone unit between 420-430 mbsf.

Increases in U are frequently associated with the presence of organic matter. For example, particularly high U concentrations (>~5 ppm) and low Th/U ratios (<~2) occur in black shale deposits (Adams and Weaver, 1958). In ODProgram, a correlation can often be observed between the U log and the total organic carbon values measured in the core (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Spectral gamma-ray data from Hole 1172D, ODP Leg 189, showing high U values in an organic-bearing claystone unit between ~622-640 mbsf.

In sandstones, high K values may be caused by the presence of potassium feldspars or micas (Humphreys and Lott, 1990, and Hurst, 1990). Glauconite usually produces a very distinctive, almost diagnostic spike in the K log (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Spectral gamma-ray data from Hole 1171D, ODP Leg 189, showing high K values due to the presence of glauconite.

In ocean floor volcanics, K can become significantly enriched in secondary alteration minerals, which are typically found where the formation is more permeable and intense fluid-rock interactions can occur (Brewer et al. 1992). An example of this can be seen in ODP Hole 896A, ODP Leg 148where the lowest K values occur in relatively impermeable massive flows, whereas higher and more variable K concentrations can be correlated with the more permeable pillow lavas and breccias (Brewer et al, 1998).

More quantitative attempts have been made to derive a mineralogy from the spectral gamma-ray log, which generally involve cross-plotting Th against K (Quirein, 1982), PEFL against K (Schlumberger, 1991), or PEFL against Th/K (Schlumberger, 1991). However, the validity of these methods is questionable (Hurst, 1990), and it is unlikely that they are applicable in a wide variety of sedimentary environments.

Cyclostratigraphic analysis

Spectral gamma-ray data can also be used for cyclostratigraphic analysis of the formation, to help identify the frequency of paleoceanographic and/or climatic change (Figure 5). Data acquired by the recently developed USIO/LDEO Multisensor Gamma ray Tool (MGT) will be particularly valuable for time series analysis, due to its very high resolution (~8 cm).

Figure 5: Spectral gamma-ray data (A) and preliminary spectral analysis (B and C) from 1170D, ODP Leg 189. The power spectrum show the results of spectral analysis over the entire logged section (B) and the interval where the Th and K data show the most pronounced cyclicity (C).


Adams, J.A. and Weaver, C.E., 1958. Thorium-uranium ratios as indicators of sedimentary processes: example of concept of geochemical facies. Bulletin American Association of Petroleum Geologists 42(2), 387-430.

Brewer, T.S, Pelling, R., Lovell, M.A. and Harvey, P.K., 1992. The validity of whole rock geochemistry in the study of  ocean crust: a case study from ODP Hole 504B. In: Parson, L.M., Murton, B.J. & Browning, P. (eds), Ophiolites and their modern ocean analogues. Geological Society of London Special Publication No. 60, 263-278.

Brewer, T.S, Harvey, P.K., Lovell, M.A., Haggas, S., Williamson, G. and Pezard, P., 1998. Ocean floor volcanism: constraints from the integration of core and downhole logging measurements. In : Harvey, P.K. & Lovell, M.A. (eds), Geological Society of London Special Publication No. 136, 341-362. 

Doveton, J.D., 1991. Lithofacies and geochemical facies profiles from nuclear wireline logs: new subsurface templates for sedimentary modelling. In: Franseen, E.K., Watney, W.L., Kendall, C.J. & Ross, W. (eds), Sedimentary modelling-computer simulations and methods for improved parameter definition. Kansas Geological Society Bulletin 233, 101-110.

Ellis, D.V., 1987. Well logging for earth scientists. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Hassan, M., Hossin, A. and Combaz, A. 1976. Fundamentals of the differential gamma ray log interpretation technique. SPWLA 17th Annual. Symposium Transactions Paper 8, 1-7.

Heslop, A., 1974. Gamma-ray log response of shaly sandstones. Trans. SPWLA, McAllen, Texas.

Hurst, A., 1990. Natural gamma-ray spectrometry in hydrocarbon-bearing sandstones from the Norwegian Continental Shelf. In: Hurst, A., Lovell, M.A. & Morton, A.C. (eds), Geological Application of Wireline Logs, Geological Society of London Special Publication No. 48, 211-222.

Humphreys, B. and Lott, G.K., 1990. An investigation into nuclear log responses of North Sea Jurassic sandstones using mineralogical analysis. n: Hurst, A., Lovell, M.A. & Morton, A.C. (eds) Geological Application of Wireline Logs, Geological Society of London Special Publication No 48, 223-240.

Quirein, J., Gardner, J.S. and Watson, J.T., 1982. Combined natural gamma ray spectral/lithodensity measurements applied to complex lithologies. SPE 11143, 57th Annual Fall Technical Conference and Exhibition of SPE and AIME, New Orleans, Sept. 26-29.

Rider, M., 1990. Gamma-ray log shape used as a facies indicator: critical analysis of an oversimplified method. In: Hurst, A., Lovell, M.A. & Morton, A.C. (eds), Geological application of wireline logs. Geological Society of London Special Publication No 48, 27-37.

Rider, M., 1996. The Geological Interpretation of Well Logs: Caithness (Whittles Publishing).

Schlumberger, 1991. Log interpretation charts. SMP-7006, Schlumberger Wireline & Testing.

Serra, O. and Sulpice, L., 1975. Sedimentological analysis of shale-sand series from well logs. Transactions of the SPWLA 16th Annual Logging Symposium, paper W.

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