Friday, December 19, 2008
In the meantime, here's a geology meme that I'm late to the party on. It was started here. Things I’ve done are bold.
1. See an erupting volcano.
2. See a glacier. [Iceland, Alaska]
3. See an active geyser such as those in Yellowstone, New Zealand or the type locality of Iceland. [type locality! Yay!]
4. Visit the Cretaceous/Tertiary (KT) Boundary. Possible locations include Gubbio, Italy, Stevns Klint, Denmark, the Red Deer River Valley near Drumheller, Alberta.
5. Observe (from a safe distance) a river whose discharge is above bankful stage. [like the one that flooded my high school and put it out of commission for 6 weeks? Yep.]
6. Explore a limestone cave. Try Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park, or the caves of Kentucky or TAG (Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia). [super cheesy, but Laurey Carverns - I have a postcard!]
7. Tour an open pit mine, such as those in Butte, Montana, Bingham Canyon, Utah, Summitville, Colorado, Globe or Morenci, Arizona, or Chuquicamata, Chile. [correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Climax molybdenum mine open-pit? It's been a while]
8. Explore a subsurface mine. [lithium mine out west, uranium mine in the east]
9. See an ophiolite, such as the ophiolite complex in Oman or the Troodos complex on the Island Cyprus (if on a budget, try the Coast Ranges or Klamath Mountains of California).
10. An anorthosite complex, such as those in Labrador, the Adirondacks, and Niger (there's some anorthosite in southern California too). [adirondacks here]
11. A slot canyon. Many of these amazing canyons are less than 3 feet wide and over 100 feet deep. They reside on the Colorado Plateau. Among the best are Antelope Canyon, Brimstone Canyon, Spooky Gulch and the Round Valley Draw.
12. Varves, whether you see the type section in Sweden or examples elsewhere. [elsewhere, as an undergrad]
13. An exfoliation dome, such as those in the Sierra Nevada.
14. A layered igneous intrusion, such as the Stillwater complex in Montana or the Skaergaard Complex in Eastern Greenland.
15. Coastlines along the leading and trailing edge of a tectonic plate. [leading edge, anyway - 1/2]
16. A gingko tree, which is the lone survivor of an ancient group of softwoods that covered much of the Northern Hemisphere in the Mesozoic.
17. Living and fossilized stromatolites (Glacier National Park is a great place to see fossil stromatolites, while Shark Bay in Australia is the place to see living ones)
18. A field of glacial erratics.
19. A caldera [beautiful one in Iceland].
20. A sand dune more than 200 feet high [that sand dune national park at the foot of the rockies]
21. A fjord. [Alaska, Maine (although the latter is debatable)]
22. A recently formed fault scarp.
23. A megabreccia.
24. An actively accreting river delta.
25. A natural bridge. [Aruba, but it just fell recently]
26. A large sinkhole.
27. A glacial outwash plain
28. A sea stack [iceland again!]
29. A house-sized glacial erratic. [ok, sort of a small house]
30. An underground lake or river.
31. The continental divide.
32. Fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals. [not in-situ, so 1/2?]
33. Petrified trees.
34. Lava tubes.
35. The Grand Canyon.
36. Meteor Crater, Arizona, also known as the Barringer Crater, to see an impact crater on a scale that is comprehensible.
37. The Great Barrier Reef, northeastern Australia, to see the largest coral reef in the world.
38. The Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, to see the highest tides in the world (up to 16m).
39. The Waterpocket Fold, Utah, to see well exposed folds on a massive scale.
40. The Banded Iron Formation, Michigan, to better appreciate the air you breathe.
41. The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania,
42. Lake Baikal, Siberia, to see the deepest lake in the world (1,620 m) with 20 percent of the Earth's fresh water.
43. Ayers Rock (known now by the Aboriginal name of Uluru), Australia. This inselberg of nearly vertical Precambrian strata is about 2.5 kilometers long and more than 350 meters high.
44. Devil's Tower, northeastern Wyoming, to see a classic example of columnar jointing.
45. The Alps. [from the air]
46. Telescope Peak, in Death Valley National Park. From this spectacular summit you can look down onto the floor of Death Valley - 11,330 feet below.
47. The Li River, China, to see the fantastic tower karst that appears in much Chinese art.
48. The Dalmation Coast of Croatia, to see the original Karst.
49. The Gorge of Bhagirathi, one of the sacred headwaters of the Ganges, in the Indian Himalayas, where the river flows from an ice tunnel beneath the Gangatori Glacier into a deep gorge.
50. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River, Utah, an impressive series of entrenched meanders.
51. Shiprock, New Mexico, to see a large volcanic neck.
52. Land's End, Cornwall, Great Britain, for fractured granites that have feldspar crystals bigger than your fist.
53. Tierra del Fuego, Chile and Argentina, to see the Straights of Magellan and the southernmost tip of South America.
54. Mount St. Helens, Washington, to see the results of recent explosive volcanism.
55. The Giant's Causeway and the Antrim Plateau, Northern Ireland, to see polygonally fractured basaltic flows. [saw that on Iceland’s south coast]
56. The Great Rift Valley in Africa.
57. The Matterhorn, along the Swiss/Italian border, to see the classic "horn".
58. The Carolina Bays, along the Carolinian and Georgian coastal plain
59. The Mima Mounds near Olympia, Washington60. Siccar Point, Berwickshire, Scotland, where James Hutton (the "father" of modern geology) observed the classic unconformity.
61. The moving rocks of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley
62. Yosemite Valley
63. Landscape Arch (or Delicate Arch) in Utah
64. The Burgess Shale in British Columbia65. The Channeled Scablands of central Washington
66. Bryce Canyon
67. Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone
68. Monument Valley
69. The San Andreas fault
70. The dinosaur footprints in La Rioja, Spain
71. The volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands
72. The Pyrennees Mountains
73. The Lime Caves at Karamea on the West Coast of New Zealand
74. Denali (an orogeny in progress)
75. A catastrophic mass wasting event
76. The giant crossbeds visible at Zion National Park
77. The black sand beaches in Hawaii (or the green sand-olivine beaches)
78. Barton Springs in Texas
79. Hells Canyon in Idaho
80. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado
81. The Tunguska Impact site in Siberia
82. Feel an earthquake with a magnitude greater than 5.0. [just barely – felt like a truck rumbling by. I was a fair distance from the epicenter]
83. Find dinosaur footprints in situ
84. Find a trilobite (or a dinosaur bone or any other fossil) [tons]
85. Find gold, however small the flake
86. Find a meteorite fragment
87. Experience a volcanic ashfall
88. Experience a sandstorm.
89. See a tsunami.
90. Witness a total solar eclipse
91. Witness a tornado firsthand.
92. Witness a meteor storm, a term used to describe a particularly intense (1000+ per minute) meteor shower
93. View Saturn and its moons through a respectable telescope.
94. See the Aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights. [more iceland]
95. View a great naked-eye comet, an opportunity which occurs only a few times per century.
96. See a lunar eclipse.
97. View a distant galaxy through a large telescope
98. Experience a hurricane. [two biggies, 1 of which involved sheltering in a school with 350 other people]
99. See noctilucent clouds
100. See the green flash
I've got 33, which is pretty low. But I have less, um, life experience than some other folks.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The problem is when I come in out of the cold for more than a couple of minutes, i.e. for lunch. For some reason I'm fine when I first get outside, and I can stay outside all day without feeling unbearably cold. This is especially true if I've spent the day running around. But once I go inside and start unravelling layers, my body seems to think, "ok, now we're done with that cold stuff" and it is impossible for me to warm up when I get all dressed up again and go back outside.
This is especially true at night. When I get back to my hotel room, I always start a nice long, hot shower, and find that I can't bear to turn off the water because I'm so cold. If we go out to dinner after fieldwork, I also tend to start shivering uncontrollably/need to wear my layers during and after dinner.
I know that eating tends to make me cold because all that energy is going toward digestion (and in the field I eat a prodigious amount of food). But I'm not sure why going inside and then outside fouls up my system so much.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I was complaining about this to a manager, and she said, "oh, just shop where you are after work!" Well, after I've been working 12-13 hour days outside in the cold, half of that time in the dark, the last thing I'm going to do is hunt around for a good place to shop in an unfamiliar area and then brave the after work crowd.
It's frustrating because I'm surrounded by all this holiday cheer, and it seems like everyone else is just cruising, and then I'm out there working your ass off in the miserable weather. And if I'm not actively working, what I really want to do is cuddle up with a nice hot drink and sleep. So when I'm in the field, the holidays are just one big blur. It sucks because I like to actually enjoy the holidays.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
5. Jumping spiders: Not a big fan of jumpers, but they’re usually pretty small. I’m ok with small spiders – ok in that I gently remove them from my vicinity (or swat them midair) instead of squealing and running away.
4. Ceiling spiders: Ok, these aren’t really field spiders I run into, probably because they like to be up high. But I had an apartment that was like catnip for ceiling spiders. Well, maybe just one. We kept squashing what we found to be discarded spider skins in the ceiling corners. They kept getting bigger and bigger. Hm.
3. Golden orb spinners/black and yellow garden spiders: These are both big and distinctive. One summer, I had one in a field site that sort of became the site mascot, while at the same time I had the same type of spider building its web between my car door and the side of the driveway every morning. Kind of annoying to have to get in on the passenger side every day.
2. Wolf spiders: Huh. They landed on both lists. Again, I’m not a fan of big, fast, and hairy.
1. Hedge spiders: Ok, these are actually funnel spiders. If you look at any hedge in the summer, it will be riddled with funnels. And those spiders can get to a couple inches across. Luckily, they hide down in the hedge. Unlucky for you if you have to poke around in said hedges for your work.
If I had to work outside regularly somewhere with seriously large spiders, I'd have a big problem. Luckily, I don't encounter spiders that suprise me into a shriek all that often.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Inevitably, I will get a few stray readers (or more than a few) who did not find what they were searching for. Some apologies are in order:
If you have snakes and/or slugs in your drain, you're probably not exactly sure why you're enlisting the advice of a geologist. Can't help you there.
I'm guessing that all you folks from former soviet-bloc countries (I'm guessing that's who uses google.ru, .ro, .kz, etc) who are looking for various iterations of extra-curricular activities did not find what you expected. If you want to optimize your naughty website so that you're ahead of me for those search terms, go right ahead.
I will not help you find funny nicknames for environmentalists, scientists, short people, or anybody else. Ask your local pre-teen instead. If you are a pre-teen, I'm sure you can come up with some ideas on your own.
If you like the name Shortencia, feel free to name your child after me. I'd be honored. But be aware that your child may run into problems if they are either exceptionally tall or exceptionally short.
It's kind of neat to see that I pop up in searches. And I've procrastinated many times by jumping all over the internet using "wrong" search results and the related links myself, so maybe I can provide a little bit of an education to folks who have no intrinsic interest in environmental work or geology.
Friday, December 12, 2008
So here’s what happened when I announced that I was going on a big grad school-visiting tour:
Mom: “You’re going all by yourself?”
Me: “Ma… [for some reason I call her “Ma” if I’m exasperated/whiny] I’ve been living on my own for years. I drive by myself for work all the time. I travel for hours in lousy conditions to get to remote little field sites. I am perfectly capable of navigating to various schools.”
Mom: “But I have a bunch of vacation time I need to use up. And you know how I love to travel…”
Me: “Look, I’ll be fine.”
Mom: “I’ll pay for my half of the travel expenses. We can take my car.”
Me: “Your car, eh?”
So off we went. I was pretty paranoid about appearing to be a snowflake/helicopter child, so like an embarrassed teenager, I tried to park her in inconspicuous places while I met people. She explored the greenhouse/museum/gothic architecture while I was otherwise occupied, and she had knitting for when she got bored.
My mother says she had fun seeing all the different schools on that trip. It was also nice to get a second opinion from someone with no financial stake in the final decision this time. We did, however, decide that our driving styles were somewhat incompatible (she drives like an old lady, I don’t) for any further extensive road trips.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I don't think my parents met my advisor, since they visited on a weekend. But I showed them various equipment and lab spaces. The funny thing in my case is that my parents are science/tech people (they worked in industry). When they saw the equipment that our research group uses, their immediate reaction was, um, nostalgia.
Mom: "Aw, look at this [complicated machine]. I used that exact same model back in the late seventies, when we had to do everything by hand. And I haven't seen this type of [standard lab equipment] in ages. It doesn't even have [painfully obvious safety gear]."
Dad: "Dot-matrix printers?"
I walked them all over campus (I do stuff in 2 departments separated by miles of hallways) and we ended up at my department's watering hole, where my parents got to sample the local brews. They did end up meeting some of my fellow grad students, and a good visit was had by all.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
My friend's professor is striving for tenure and trying to make her mark, so she's stressing out about teaching new classes and doing BIG NEW IMPORTANT research. In order to do this, she's piled a massive amount of work on my friend, who is a master's student like me.
My professor has advised generations of students. He's taught classes for decades (and he's quite good). He doesn't have anything to prove; he's already famous in his little spot in academia. So my project is sufficient for a good thesis, but I'm not running around doing massive amounts of extra work. I pulled some 13 hour days, but that was for only a part of my time as a grad student.
My friend spent a lot of his time writing proposals and then writing reports to explain the results in order to get continued funding. He had to justify everything he bought and used.
My professor has ridiculously extensive connections, with sources of money all over the place. Thanks to his knowledge of school and money-dispersing regulations, he pretty much spends it as he sees fit. So I'm able to use more equipment. Not that my buddy can't beg/borrow stuff, but it's always better if it's your stuff that's getting lent out because you have first dibs.
We represent extreme cases - most professors I know are less stressed than my friend's advisor and not as detached as mine. Overall, my friend is doing a lot more work, but that means that he's learning more and has a more extensive CV/resume. I would like to think that's just as good as having a big-name advisor, since in my case I have the feeling people are thinking, "that old fossil still has students?"
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
"I just graduated with a geology degree. I got a job with an environmental consulting company, and I found out I was supposed to take samples outside. I quit in two days and now I need an office-only job."
My first thought was, "Ah ha ha! Seriously, how did you get through a geology degree and not realize that it involves being outside? We call it earth science for a reason."
Then I realized that being obnoxiously snarky was not helpful. So, are there geology jobs where you do not need an iota of fieldwork, or any knowledge derived from fieldwork? Environmental consulting is out. If you don't understand the conditions the samples were collected from and the errors that can arise, you're not going to be a very good geologist. I'm a firm believer that even modelers need to have some idea where the variability can come from.
There are true office/lab-only geology jobs. I know someone who used to work in the oil biz, identifying fossil critters on an unending series of slides. They were utterly separated from the field setting because the company didn't want to get scooped. I can imagine a number of resource-extraction settings where you're simply given samples for identification.
But is there a career path I'm missing? Something else that requires absolutely no experience with or understanding of field conditions? I'm sure that poster isn't the only newly-minted geologist who doesn't want to go outside.
Monday, December 8, 2008
And he was right, annoying as he was at the time. I had a tendency to get frazzled when I was trying to pull things together for fieldwork, which was usually a couple hours away and involved corraling various people, specialized equipment, several coolers of supplies and piles of paperwork. I often forgot something if I made an equipment requisition list or if I left the office in a rush.
Now, every time I go out, I take a deep breath and go through a mental list of everything I need before getting in the truck. If I have someone else with me (although I usually didn't when I was doing my thesis fieldwork), I'll go through it out loud so that they might catch something I forgot. And that moment of calm is usually enough for me to remember whatever I've forgotten. Failing that, well, I always brought my toolkit to jerry rig whatever I didn't have.
Friday, December 5, 2008
In the comments, someone posts a typically clueless male reaction: These pants are close to $120, so they're wicked expensive. Well, here's the thing. I could go out to Sears or JC Penny or Old Navy and find a pair of jeans for less than 50 bucks. All the jeans in my size are designed to be "sexy tight" and if you get them looser, they're so big as to fall off/look utterly ridiculous. Why do I refuse to wear tight jeans? Um, it's unprofessional? I have a hard enough time getting taken seriously by drillers as it is.
I would love to wear Carhartts, which are the field geologist's uniform, but the only stuff you can find in stores is the men's sizes, which are just too big. If I had wider hips, I could wear them and just cut off the bottom 8 inches, but Carhartts are generously cut and the smallest men's size is way too big. I've just found that they do have women's stuff online, which I'll keep in mind.
So, what did I do before I learned about the Carhartts and Red Ants Pants stuff online? For jeans, I found that the Gap men's sizes run pretty small, so I just picked the cheapest wash they had (hey, they're field pants - I don't care). I do have a pair of carhartts, but they're humungous. They go well over wool long underwear, though.
But that leaves the problem of what to do in the summer, when heavy pants are unbearable and you can't wear shorts because of ticks/poison ivy/company dress requirements. I'm always on the hunt for nice, light, non-constricting pants that would actually fit me. The only ones I've found have been at REI or EMS or some other outdoor activity type store. The problem is, they assume I've got big hips/ass relative to my waist and that I want "mature" styling. So they either cinch in my waist so I can't breathe, or they balloon out oddly under the waistline. They also usually have an unbearably high waistline. The price is $80+ as well.
It's so frustrating. I'm not looking for a "wardrobe". I need, say, two pairs of heavy pants and two pairs of light pants. I appreciate that I have online options now, but it sure would be nice to walk into some random local store and walk out again with everything I need, just like the guys have.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Some managers were not so good at organizing stuff. If I asked about field prep and a manager said "it's all taken care of", I knew that with some people, everything was fine. With other people, I'd have to go over everything myself to make sure. A couple things I always wanted to make sure we had:
1. Documentation (work, safety plans)
2. Site access; do we need to coordinate with someone?
3. We have a live "ok to drill" number, right? What is that number?
4. Water (critical for drilling)
5. Bathroom privileges somewhere vs. porta-potty
6. Vehicle/equipment arrangements
7. Drilling/sampling/whatever locations and a plan for what we're actually doing
This is all well and good, but I've run into managers/management teams that are incapable of making a decision. I can pretty much handle 1-6 on my own, but usually somebody needs to sign off on/agree to number 7 so that we're not just floundering around out there. We're doing this work for a reason, right? So what's the reason, and how can we make sure that we're doing what we need to do?
I was working on one project that was managed by folks several hundred miles away. We got embroiled in long, painful discussions about what, exactly, we were supposed to do because every time someone on my end would ask a simple "what locations where" question, they couldn't answer and would put that off for the next conference call. By the last call, when we were to go into the field the next week, it had devolved into awkward silence and paper-shuffley noises on their end and eye rolling/kill me now pantomime on our end.
But we did end up with a work plan. It got sent over via 1-day delivery and arrived late Friday afternoon for fieldwork starting on Monday. I read through it, made some quick notes, made sure we had all the stuff we needed, and went home late on Friday.
Monday afternoon, I got a call.
clueless manager: Did you get the revised work plan?
me: Uh, revised work plan?
clueless manager: I e-mailed it to you this morning...
me: I'm staying in a motel in the middle of nowhere with no internet and no way to print stuff. Now I'm working outside, not near any sort of internet facilities. We've been drilling and collecting samples for the last couple hours based on what you said was the official work plan. If you have a list of the changes, I'll write them down and make a note in the work plan for the future, but we're continuing with the orginal plan for the first couple locations -
me: Ok, then, original work plan it is.
Needless to say, that project didn't end well.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
In my environmental consulting career, I've proven to be reliable, able to think my way through tricky situations, and capable of working independently. So I advanced into field management situations, and then project management situations. And I like being capable and learning new stuff. But in reality, I completely stress out when I'm outside my comfort zone. I think I hide it pretty well, and I'm publicly up for whatever is thrown at me, but sometimes I wonder if it's worth it.
I know someone who's a terrific scientist, well-respected in a couple of fields, and who got himself a drill rig and now he's a driller. And I think, wouldn't that be nice? To simply go from job to job, be outside, and not have all this responsibility?
I'm not talking about conventional rigs. I am really too small to hoist the casing that conventional drillers can pick up practically one-handed. I am also not especially mechanically inclined. But direct push technology (DPT) rigs can be handled by anybody, and the only female driller I know does run a DPT rig.
Ok, so maybe I'd get bored, or exhausted, or start to talk back to clients who don't have a clue what they're doing, tell me to do the wrong thing, and are out there with me all day so I can't escape them (yes, I do recognize some of myself in this, especially when I was first working). But the real reason I haven't run off to join a drilling company is that I like doing science - figuring out what's actually happening underground. God help me, I even like writing reports. So I'll stay in consulting, but I'll always sort of envy the drillers.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
I spent over a year on a particular project several hours from the office. I wasn't in charge of the field effort, but most of the work needed from 1 - 4 geologists and I ended up staying on while other folks came and went as needed. Because I was there almost the entire time (I did get pulled off the job for a week or two at a time when some other project had dire need of a geologist) I became the field leader's primary gofer when I wasn't actively watching a drill rig. The two of us spent 60 hours a week for essentially a year and a half at this field site.
At one point, things quieted down while we were ramping up for a new phase of work and the folks in the office were putting out a big report. We had a single drill rig that I was watching, and the field leader was running around trying to prep for an onslaught of people and fieldwork. We got a phone call that went something like this:
office buddy: "So, what did you guys get?"
field leader: "...?"
office buddy: "The project manager just threw this huge party to thank everybody who worked so hard on this project. We all gorged ourselves and basically took the afternoon off."
field leader: "What about us? You know, the people out here busting our asses in this miserable rain?"
office buddy: "I think I'm the only one who remembered you guys are out there."
We did shame the project manager into sending us a care package, so that was something.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Anyway, I was moving more stuff out of storage this weekend, and it reminded me of something that I think varies widely for environmental folks. In the interest of family harmony, I moved out as soon as I had a job, as I've mentioned before. But I know people who lived at home for years after they got a job in environmental consulting. Why? Well, first of all, it isn't exactly a high-paying job. But in addition (especially if you're working for an abusive company), you're not home except for weekends. And you're exhausted on the weekends, so you just sleep and get ready for the next week. Is it really worth paying for an apartment that you're not spending any time in?
This raises another, more general issue. When you move out, do you have some sort of option to move back in? In my case, once I was out, I was out. My mother told me that when I moved to my first apartment after college, she cried for about 10 minutes and then immediately started plotting ways to use the extra room. Bottom line: when I visit my parents, I am a guest. I sleep on a spare bed and I live out of a suitcase. When I moved out of a big apartment (think lots of furniture) and went ridiculously far away to grad school, I couldn't leave anything with my parents. I'm still paying the damn storage fees, which means that by this point it would have been cheaper to chuck everything and then re-purchase it (I'm a big salvation army shopper).
My SO, who came from a more privileged upbringing, is horrified by this. The "kids" rooms are theirs and I guess will always be. So if they move to a smaller apartment, they can stash the overflow in their old rooms. And if someone loses a job (a distinct possibility in this economy), it's easy to come home and retrench.
I never imagined that I would turn into a nomad. When I was younger, I thought I would come back from college, settle down close to my parents, get hitched, and never move again. But circumstances change, and now I've lived in three totally different regions in as many years, and my stuff is spread all over the place. My parents' house hasn't been my house for a long time, and nothing really feels like home right now. Maybe when I finally get rid of that storage space, one way or another...