Friday, March 28, 2014

it keeps going

Sometimes people have a preconception about what the soil profile is. In my part of the world, you generally have turf/roots above a sandy soil. At some unspecified distance which is likely less than 20 feet, you'll run into rock and that's the end of the soil profile. This is true for lots of areas in my region, but not all. I occasionally run into a situation where a layperson continues to go deeper and deeper, looking for that elusive turf-sandy soil-rock mixture that they have in their head. And it doesn't work out well.

Like my dad. His front yard has a sad, thin layer of soil above boulders. He is convinced that the best way to get dirt (and therefore have enough soil that his sad, thin layer of grass will thrive) is to simply excavate the boulders. If you don't have rocks, then therefore, you must have soil, right? So when it's warm and he's feeling like he wants to take on A Project, he rips out the rocks he finds buried right below the grass. The big ones he has to roll down the hill next to the house, into the back yard, and down a slope to the woods below. The picture below is a cross-section of the house and the street. Take a look and guess what his problem is:
That yard? All fill, front and back. So he can pick out all the boulders he wants, and all he does is lower the yard some more. If he wants to have sandy soil, he'll have to import it.

Another example: I once had a contractor help drag a drill rig into a big mud bog with an excavator. The contractor had cleared a path for the drill rig, but by the time the rig and support truck was in place, we had a giant muddy mess. The contractor had said he would "clean things up" and I got distracted by other things. Well, what he did was try and remove all that sticky, wet mud we'd made. Unfortunately, there was nothing below the muck except more muck, and he'd excavated about 3 feet closer to the water table. From there, we had no chance of letting things "dry out" because everything was saturated, and you couldn't exactly schmear the mud back to let it dry because the acts of driving through and then scooping it up had utterly destroyed any structure that could have held it up, and frankly, I didn't want the contractor making it worse by increasing the area of unstable muck. See the sidebar picture for the sort of conditions we were dealing with.

As a geologist, I have a pretty good understanding of all the interesting stuff that can be right underfoot. That knowledge can come in handy when you least expect it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

dumpster searches

I needed to rent a roll-off container for non-hazardous waste disposal at a new field site. So I went to the internet to find something, and found mostly services that contracted out to local waste haulers. They were 1. outrageously expensive and 2. had terrible response times.

When I came across a website with the language below, I gave up on the internet method.

"Ensure to know about the unaccepted garbage and the tonnage limit to avoid any penalties with the landfill experts and make ones trash pot rental affordable. Every dumpster will take specifications in regards to the tonnage limit. Getting rid of the garbage without having crossing the actual required limits will prevent any miscarriage from happening.

People who require to dispose of solid waste utilize dumpsters. It is not All right to dump drinks or hazardous waste in dumpsters. It is specially not All right to do that with rented dumpsters. This will not be beneficial to the condition of this dumpster and furthermore, the fitness of the environment. Coloring and other these kinds of liquid materials that normally dry out can damage the receptacle because it could make it more substantial permanently and also cause different debris to obtain dried engrossed. Hazardous squander will damage the environment. That you is pretty home explanatory. Harmful waste, for example chemical squander, needs to possibly be disposed of appropriately to not additional pollute our earth. If you are seeking to dispose of a great deal of it then you ought not be using any dumpster.

... Those are the most convenient way to get rid of human waste items. Thanks to these kind of waste management companies pertaining to offering you dumpsters about rent wherein you may dumps different types of human squander produced in the construction web site such as removal food packages baskets manufactured from paper and so on."

So instead I drove up to the site and did a little local exploring. I found a new development under construction, wrote down the phone number pasted on the side of a roll-off dumpster, and an hour and $70 later, I had a drop-off scheduled for the next day.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

fieldwork map

A long time ago a little meme went around the geoblogosphere - states/countries you've been to. I thought it was time for an update. Geobloggers, what states (or countries) have you done fieldwork in? It would be interesting to see the general regions that folks have experience in...

As you can see from mine below, I am indeed an east coast geologist. I've restricted my map to places I've done environmental investigations in (excluding undergrad and graduate fieldwork), but you can decide on your own definitions.

visited 13 states (26%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

Monday, March 17, 2014

the 21st report sez...

Most reports produced in the environmental consulting biz simply recycle the previous/most similar report and update whatever's changed.

We have lots of quarterly/annual/semiannual/5 year reports in the environmental biz. After you've done some sort of cleanup, or it's been determined that your mess is stable, not posing a danger to anybody right now, and the level of effort required to fix it would be all out of proportion to the achievable results, you need to demonstrate that the stuff remaining isn't moving and that there isn't some bit of it that you missed that could cause a problem. So you go out and collect a bunch of samples at the required interval, and then you send out the results. The length of time and the reporting frequency depend on the rules you're working under, but often once you show that not much is happening, you can adjust things so you're analyzing for fewer things, sampling less often, or perhaps just combining the results of several rounds into a single report. Before you can get into those arguments about streamlining, you're going to be analyzing for anything of interest and producing report after report after report.

Clients prefer that you not reinvent the wheel on each report, for two reasons. One, it's much cheaper. Two, it's easier to compare the old and new reports if they're essentially the same from year to year.

When I write periodic reports for sites at which nothing has happened, I do take a little time to clean up the awkward sentences, outdated references, possible trends that didn't pan out, and other detritus that accumulates from having a bunch of reports in a row that have been written by plugging in new numbers. But I can "write" a periodic report of, say, 20 pages, in a couple of hours. Revising the tables and figures takes it up to a day, maybe more if I'm coordinating pieces with other folks and there's some issue that I need to track down.

I've written lots of periodic reports. For me, they're a mindless exercise in checking numbers and editing. But periodic report-writing is ideal for training new environmental folks. Environmental reporting is nothing like what they've produced in college, but periodic reports give them a template that's been reviewed and accepted by a client, and as they work to plug in new results, they get a lot of background about what the sites are actually like and what the data looks like.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

fun stuff to drill through (3)

This is another entry in the intermittent series I started in October (previous installments are here and here) regarding material that is a giant pain to drill through.

Another material that causes headaches is bedrock which changes drastically and unpredictably over small scales. Examples include small-scale fault zones, which may include significant fractures and breccia zones above or next to relatively massive rock. Or severely mashed-up rocks that have very different properties, such as gneiss on top of pegmatite or coal-bearing seams in mixed shale and sandstone.

Rock coring requires a steady flow of water to cool the drill bit and remove crud that would otherwise jam the core barrel. So drillers bring along drill bits that they think will work the best for what they'll encounter. If they are expecting soft rock and run into a hard layer for a few feet (such as a particularly quartz-rich sandstone), they'll wear down the bit in no time. If they are expecting shale and run into a coal seam, all that soft material will gum up the works and they'll have to keep stopping to pull everything up, clean out the core barrel, and try again. If they're expecting competent (non-fractured) granite and they end up drilling through some zones with loose grains, those sandy bits will cause the core barrel to lock up and then they get to pull up and try again.

I'm not an expert on which drill bits to use for what - CME has a whole catalog that discusses what to select, and individual drillers will have their preferences based on local knowledge. But I have spent hours and hours watching ineffective coring because the units are changing too fast to change out bits or the driller only brought one type in the first place. And it says something that rock coring bits are the most common items in my collection.

Monday, March 10, 2014

lady in charge

Dear site visitor:

If you arrive at the job trailer, you may be met by a lady who asks what your business is. When she finds out your affiliation, she hands you a business card and invites you into the trailer, where she proceeds to give a safety briefing on the site and an update on the status of the work. She then delegates one of the young men in the trailer to assist you with what you need.

All this activity is a signal that the lady is in charge. You should not immediately focus, laser-like, on the oldest-looking male (who is, incidentally, 10 years younger than the lady in charge) and direct all your questions to him, give him your only business card, and pretend that this lady does not exist.

Since the lady is, in fact, in charge of this particular group of workers, she has sufficient power that she can make your future visits significantly more onerous.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

favorite posts

I've been doing this blogging thing for a while now. I have some readers who have been here essentially since the beginning (thanks!), but I'm sure I've picked up some new readers since then.

I thought it would be fun to go through and pick out a few of my favorite posts so far as an entry to the back catalog for new readers. When I go trawling through old posts, I'm often looking for a specific subject. So rather than picking posts in a given timeframe, I looked for a representative sample in each subject.

Going in order of label frequency:

field rants: small ≠ wimp

short psychology: growing toward grace

miscellany: number clarity

academia: field course costs

geology: accretionary wedge - varves

management: micro-budgeting

gear: I detect...

advice: rig mortality

blogging: mah audience

drilling: drill right here

things I like: mountaineering

the public: thank you

weather: (not) warming up

travel: hotel warrior

writing: logbook review

driving: winter driving

how old are you: teasing

office space: graduate office space

world studies: passport

Something to browse on a slow day, anyway...

Monday, March 3, 2014

short courses

I was asked about review courses here and figured the topic needed more than just a short answer. Many organizations have workshops on environmental or geological topics that are low-cost or free, partially to fulfill an educational mission, and partially to support professionals who have continuing  education requirements. I suggested looking up your local professional organization, but here are some links to other options, some of which I've mentioned before:

1. has a bunch of free webinars focused on environmental topics. I prefer live webinars, but they also have archived presentations as well.

2. is a separate site with links on clu-in. It includes a number of classroom courses in addition to videos and online courses. It's intended for EPA and other government personnel, but non-government folks can generally take the courses if they pay the course fee. The course fees are generally lower than the next option...

3. The national ground water association has events listed here, which include brownbags, webinars, and short courses. Some of their more interesting webinars are member-only.

4. Conferences are generally a good option, but unless you have a generous expense account, their usefulness depends on where they're held and how expensive they are. Some organizations to keep in mind for geology/environmental consulting stuff (in the US):
     a. NGWA lists their conferences plus a lot of water supply stuff here
     b. Geological Society of America has section meetings, a big annual meeting, and subject-specific conferences
     c. the Association for Environmental Health and Sciences has meetings on the east and west coast
     d. the National Association for Environmental Professionals has one annual meeting coming up
     e. Battelle has a set of three conferences.
     f. RemTEC is every 2 years - next one in 2015.
     g. The National Environmental Monitoring Symposium

So there are a bunch of options out there for continuing ed credits or just expanding your knowledge...