Research Highlights

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The finest features

Published online 23 May 2016

Scientists invent a ‘super’ imaging technique capable of scanning the seafloor for oil deposits.

Biplab Das

Minute details of an object are lost when reflected light (or sound) carrying the fine features emerge as evanescent waves that decay as they travel away from the object.  

But a research team from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, has overcome this by developing an imaging technique that can generate super-resolution images. The contraption can preserve the fine features of distant objects such as seafloor salt domes1.

“Since many of the deep oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico cling to the sides of salt domes, this imaging technique will enhance the ability to identify the location of oil deposits beneath the salt structures,” says geologist Gerard Schuster.  

Using oil company’s seismic data and sonar imaging of the seafloor, Schuster and his teammates have shown that it is possible to create super-resolution image of seismic reflectors by considering resonant multiples — repeated reflections from the same reflecting object via waves that propagate along the same wave paths.  

This technique can double the image resolution of reflectors, suggesting its potential application in engineering surveys that map out safe areas for placing pipes or structures on the seafloor. 

In the future, this technique could be used to detect subtle geological changes in a layer that are indicative of hydrocarbon or mineral deposits and also track fine details of a growing fetus, the researchers say.


  1. Guo, B. et al. Far-field super-resolution imaging of resonant multiples. Sci. Adv. (2016).