At a Glance
Imagine you are looking up at a 20-metre slope of dirt, rock, and pine trees that is to become part of a proposed road connecting a new alpine ski resort with the main highway. You are a geological technologist working as part of the team that will map the area's geological conditions and hazards.
Before the road can be built, design engineers will need to know what geological features and characteristics must be factored into their design. You and your team are responsible for taking measurements and providing data to the engineers so the road's design is as safe and durable as possible. As a geological technologist, you specialize in measuring and quantifying geological conditions for infrastructure engineering, oil and gas exploration, and mining. For this project, you're responsible for gathering data on the characteristics that will affect the new road's design. For example, you will have to measure slope stability so engineers will know what precautions to take against landslides and erosion.
Using specialized instruments, you'll measure vibrations at specific points along the road's proposed route to estimate the soil's stability and how it will hold up under heavy construction equipment and tourist traffic. You will also drill boreholes and map cracks and other areas of ground deformation. Once you know where these cracks are, you will use an inclinometer to measure and record ground movement and shifting near them because these will be the weakest parts of the slope. In addition to recording all this data, you'll be involved in researching and studying aerial photographs of the area to assess the probability of landslides and avalanches. Your team will analyze and interpret all this information then pass it on to the road's design engineers, so they know what measures they must include in order to safeguard against landslides, erosion, and other geological hazards.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a geological and geophysical technologist:
- Collect and analyze samples, for example, rock, soil, and core samples.
- Extract and interpret geological information from aerial photographs, satellite images, contour maps, and cross-sections.
- Process and interpret geophysical data acquired using gravitational, magnetic, electromagnetic, seismic, and other remote sensing methods.
- Operate and maintain geophysical survey and well-logging instruments and equipment.
- Conduct geophysical surveys for locating environmental problems, for example, contaminant plumes and buried hazardous waste mapping.
- Maintain geological and geophysical databases.
- Analyze core samples from drilling sites.
- Interpret hydrogeological maps, reports, and studies.
Geological/ geophysical technicians work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:
In the office:
- Gathering, entering, and analyzing data, including spatial and seismic data
- Preparing maps
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, and stakeholders
- Preparing reports
In the field:
- Conducting geophysical surveys
- Collecting rock, soil, and water samples
- Supervising drilling and coring operations
In the lab:
- Processing and studying samples, cores, and cuttings
- Examining sections to determine mineral content
Where to Work
There are a number of places geological and geophysical technologists can find employment. They include:
- Environmental and engineering consulting firms
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Firms in other industries, for example, oil and gas and mining
- Exploration and survey firms
- Self-employed consultant
Education and Skills
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a geological/ geophysical technician is a college technical diploma. The following post-secondary programs are most applicable to a career in this field:
- Environmental earth science
- Geographic information systems (GIS)
It is not mandatory to be certified in order to work as a geological/ geophysical technician, though some practitioners choose to become certified technologists through their provincial association. If you are a high school student considering a career as a geological/ geophysical technician, you should have a strong interest in:
Gordon de Souza
After I graduated with a diploma in engineering design and drafting a good friend helped me find my first job opportunity. The job was a draftsperson in the oil industry. It was not directly related to my training and I had to learn pipeline and seismic drafting. Although I was just looking for any job at the time it has turned out well and I have been with the same company since, moving into a supervisory position, as well as marketing our services to clients.
During my twelve years in the industry, I have taken many courses including geophysics, H2S awareness orientation, St. John ambulance emergency first aid, workplace hazardous materials training and all-terrain vehicle training. Gaining field knowledge has helped me in the office by providing a greater understanding of field situations. This in turn helps me when communicating with government authorities and field personnel.
It is important to have the experience to know, for example, that different ground conditions and terrain would require different methods of operation. It also helps to understand the processes involved with varying surface conditions. I attend conferences and luncheons as a member of the Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors and the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists. The oil industry is socially active and this is the best way to meet the majority of people. I also talk to colleagues about current topics and learn new technology from industry contacts and suppliers. Keeping up with the regulatory changes is a challenge that requires lots of reading.
There are good opportunities for advancement and salary increase in this line of work. Having experience makes a big difference, as well as having a good reputation within the industry and knowing clients on a personal basis. In the future, more government regulations with regards to the seismic activity will require more detailed maps, different computer software and increased use of the Internet to do business. There is also an increased use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software to catalog and analyze information collected in the field. I see opportunities in the next few years for geological and geophysical technologists to expand to different areas of Canada and possibly overseas.
It is also possible to work in different areas of the oil industry and develop more involvement in post-seismic activities such as well sites, pipelines and reclamation work. The previous owner of the company told me to “be honest about everything you do”. He advised me to admit if I did not know the answer or had not done something correctly. This was very good advice and I offer it to others as the way to approach this career. It costs a lot of money when mistakes are made in this industry but honesty is the best way to keep your credibility high with your customers and colleagues.
If you are looking for work in this area try oil and gas companies and companies that provide services to the oil and gas and seismic industries. My typical hours are 8:00 – 5:00, Monday to Friday. Computer and mapping skills are the ones I use most frequently. I work in a downtown office building and on a daily basis check voice mail and email, prioritize items, discuss work items with co-workers and fill out timesheets for billing purposes.
My daily routines include interaction with personnel from various government organizations and sustainable resource development. All of these activities combine to complete the preparatory work for shooting a seismic program. When a client has drilled a successful well I know I have done my job. I am also proud when the seismic activities follow the regulations and have minimal impact on the environment. There are new ways to shoot a seismic program now that result in fewer trees being cut and in many cases, there is no cutting of trees. With advancements in computing technology, there is also less paper being used during day-to-day operations. The Internet reduces the delivery time for information and saves paper.