In 1987, Jack K. Cohen and Shuki Ronen of the Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP) at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) conceived a bold plan. This plan was to create a seismic processing environment for Unix-based systems, written in the C language, that would extend the Unix operating system to seismic processing and research tasks. Furthermore, they intended that the package be freely available as full source code to anyone who would want it.
They began with a package called SY, started by Einar Kjartansson while he was a graduate student at Jon Claerbout's Stanford Exploration Project (SEP) in the late seventies, and improved while he was a professor at the University of Utah in the eighties. In 1984 Einar returned to SEP to baby sit the students (and Jon's house) while Claerbout went for a summer vacation. Einar introduced SY to Shuki Ronen, then a graduate student at SEP (a day before Claerbout returned from vacation and Einar left back to Utah). Ronen further developed SY from 1984 to 1986. Other students at SEP started to use it and contributed code and ideas. SY was inspired by much other software developed at SEP and benefited from the foundations laid by Clarbout and many of his students; Rob Clayton, Stew Levin, Dave Hale, Jeff Thorson, Chuck Sword, and others who pioneered seismic processing on Unix in the seventies and early eighties.
In 1986, when Ronen accepted a one year visiting professorship at CSM he was encouraged by Claerbout to disseminate whatever SEP ideas and software he cared for. In the days before Internet and ftp, SY was on a 9 track tape in the trunk of the car he drove from California to Colorado. Ronen went to CSM to replace Jack Cohen who went on sabbatical. Fortunately for SU, Jack's sabbatical lasted only two months, instead of the whole year initially planned, because of the poor health of Jack's son Dan. Upon Jack's return to CWP, he became interested in SY. This package was a sharp departure from the commercial seismic processing software that was available at the time. The industry standard at the time was to use Fortran programs on VAX-VMS based systems.
By the time Cohen and Ronen created the first version of SU in 1987 the sponsors of CWP had already begun showing interest in the package. The availability of Unix-based workstations combined with the influx of Unix-literate geophysicists from the major academic institutions, shifted the industry to using primarily Unix-based systems for research and for processing, increasing the interest in Unix-based software, including SU.
Until September of 1992, SU was used primarily in-house at CWP. Earlier versions of SU had been ported to CWP sponsor companies, even providing the basis for in-house seismic processing packages developed by some of those companies! Once SU became generally available on the Internet, it began to be used by a much broader community. The package is used by exploration geophysicists, earthquake seismologists, environmental engineers, software developers and others. It is used by scientific staff in both small geotechnical companies and major oil and gas companies, and by academics and government researchers, both as a seismic data processing and software development environment.