The challenges were many
“The major concerns were the time constraints and vessel safety,” observed Richard G. Moffitt, Exploration Survey Unit consultant. “These were hazardous, shallow areas previously uncharted. In fact, there were old navigation charts in existence, but from several decades ago and at low resolution — insufficient for present-day vessel navigation for exploration projects. Historically, there were many more shipwrecks in the Red Sea than there were navigation charts.”
Conventional technology at the time utilized echo sounding as a means to map underwater topography, but this would have taken many years to complete. So instead, Saudi Aramco put at its disposal the latest technology available to get the job done.
What followed were 848 days of survey operations. Five specially equipped ships would spend a combined total of 2,823 vessel days using a multi-beam echo sounder to collect data for water depths between 5 meters (m) and 2,400 m. This technology was supported by three aircraft using Airborne LiDAR Bathymetry systems for water depths between 0 m and 40 m, with a combined total of 1,260 survey flights completed.
The results were a new high resolution merged bathymetry grid allowing the mapping of complex geological features, including volcanoes on the seabed.
The data was encouraging for Saudi Aramco. The company was now able to move offshore rigs around and initial exploration could begin. But technology never stands still.
Previous 2-D seismic data had been compromised in certain sections due to the unpredictable seabed topography of the Red Sea. If plausible, a 3-D seismic survey would deliver more definitive and detailed data, and combined with the hydrographic survey, it would yield immensely useful information with a high degree of certainty.