Determining the structure, composition, and state of the Earth's subsurface from measured data is the principal task of many geophysical experiments and surveys. Standard procedures involve the recording of appropriate data sets followed by the application of data analysis techniques to extract the desired information. While the importance of new tools for the analysis stage of an experiment is well recognized, much less attention seems to be paid to improving the data acquisition.

A measure of the effort allocated to data analysis research relative to that devoted to data acquisition research is presented in Figure 1. Since 1955 there have been more than 10,000 publications on inversion methods alone, but in the same period only 100 papers on experimental design have appeared in journals. Considering that the acquisition component of an experiment defines what information will be contained in the data, and that no amount of data analysis can compensate for the lack of such information, we suggest that greater effort be made to improve survey planning techniques. Furthermore, given that logistical and financial constraints are often stringent and that relationships between geophysical data and model parameters describing the Earths subsurface are generally complicated, optimizing the design of an experiment may be quite challenging. Here we review experimental design procedures that optimize the benefit of a field survey, such that maximum information about the target structures is obtained at minimum cost. We also announce a new Web site and e-mail group set up as a forum for communication on survey design research and application.