In attempting to discuss a topical aspect of GPR, I realized how confusing we have allowed the GPR world to become to the average user.  The expanding and advancing of the GPR world means that new uses and terms continuously appear.  The characterization of GPR systems is now full of terminology which is often meaningless to the GPR user. While we need some unique technical language to communicate ideas, we seem to have gone overboard on poorly defined jargon.

As an engineer myself with extensive subject matter knowledge, I can regularly slip into using jargon without thinking. I then inevitably find myself trying to put some piece of jargon into an understandable context for others.  This result is both frustrating and a waste of time; how can we do better and make our GPR world more transparent to all members.

The answers are not simple but there are three obvious steps:

  1. We need to clearly understand what we are doing and understand our specific technical field subject matter. Those of us who communicate must regularly attempt to be as clear and factual as possible.
  2. We need to clearly define terms in the GPR context and make sure everyone agrees on the meaning of a term. Published glossaries of terms with definitions must be created, be openly available and updated by the community.
  3. We all need to call out the improper use or the introduction of new, poorly or undefined, terms when they appear in articles and published materials.

To illustrate how terminology emerges, we look at defining the goal of GPR measurements.  GPR is used to determine subsurface structure and in some cases determine material electrical properties.  We accomplish this by using electromagnetic signals in the ‘radio’ frequency range to remotely interrogate the environment from a distance.

Just by defining the goal of GPR, we can already see the slippery slope in words such as ‘electrical’, ‘electromagnetic’, ‘remote’, ‘radio-frequency’ suggest that GPR is just ‘electrical engineering’. Given the necessity for complex electronic instrumentation to measure electromagnetic fields, there has been an ever-growing tendency to adopt ‘electrical engineering-speak’ that is often meaningless in the actual use of GPR.

As far as defining terms and supporting a user community I have always been impressed by the leadership of Robert Sheriff who created the “Encyclopedic Dictionary of Exploration Geophysics”.  This individual effort started some 60 years ago, primarily addressing a need in exploration seismic, and has evolved continuously to this day.  Sheriff’s article from 1991. “How in the world I came to write the Encyclopedic Dictionary” (The Leading Edge, 10(4), 41-43) echoes some of the concerns and challenges evidenced in this commentary.

At Sensors & Software, we have attempted to create glossaries and establish terminology for every new product and project we carry out.  Have we been successful all the time? – No.  This concept is much harder to execute than it sounds and requires great discipline and perseverance.  While imperfect, the discipline of doing this enhances the outcomes of projects and educates all our teams.  I wish we did it better!!!

As far as calling out proliferation of nonsense terms, we need to encourage the commercial side of the GPR community to be more honest and transparent.  The marketing of new products and services often leads to the introduction of terms and the inappropriate use of concepts in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage.  Using some fancy term or some deep technical word to make a product or service sound important or better without adequate explanation or, in some cases dishonestly, does the GPR community no good.  If there is good solid evidence of benefit and it can be explained, then have at it; if not, then follow an ethical course.

As I said at the start of the commentary, my intent was to address a GPR topic that seemed to be confusing the GPR community.  As I contemplated the subject, I realized that I was quickly becoming embroiled in jargon and fuzzy thinking. To craft a clear cogent discussion was becoming extremely challenging and required a trip back to the fundamentals. Hence this rant and expression of concern about jargon and poorly defined concepts.

In future blogs, I will offer some guidance to help the average GPR user navigate through this often-meaningless jargon. In the meantime, this blog has led us to review and update the glossary of GPR terms on our website, in the hope that this will be beneficial to all GPR users.

Subsurface Reflections by Peter Annan