Saturday, November 21, 2009

Crazy Time of Year

Work schedules are demanding for me this time of year. The holidays are supposed to be a time to enjoy family and friends and the many blessings granted unto us. But I find it difficult to enjoy the time with deadlines looming, reports needing to be written, presentations that need to be prepared and presented. I break out in a cold sweat knowing that there's a stretch of a number of days longer than a weekend where progress won't be made on a project, and the deadline is hard set. I must be a total work-a-holic, because I can't seem to stop thinking about schedules and budgets and technical details that still need to be worked out and communicated.

I do have a great vacation coming up. The Rock Boat. Not a geological offshore field excursion, but rather an amazing floating music festival onboard a Carnival cruiseliner. Privately chartered by Sixthman, hosted by the band Sister Hazel, the cruise is a four-night non-stop musical journey. Port stop this year in Cozumel is just an added bonus. I need this vacation. I need to free myself from the all-consuming office politics and project particulars. I need to get in touch with the fun things in life and the joy that comes with listening to great live music. I need to stand in line at the buffet standing next to the guitarist of that awesome band. I need to chill on the couch at 3am listening to the impromptu jam session taking place with members of 4 different bands I saw performing earlier that day. I need the camaraderie of other totally obsessed music addicts. I'm sooo looking forward to January.

Hope you all get a chance to enjoy the upcoming holiday season. I wish you peace of mind in all your work/school efforts. Make sure you take time for yourself!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Social Networking for the Geologist

I am always interested in learning new technology, new software, and new ways to communicate with the tools available to us. In this time of instant communication - with mobile Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and blogs - the ability to provide information, feedback, and share thoughts is astoundingly fast and easy. In my volunteer efforts with the Houston Geological Society, I constantly reflect on what can be done to improve communication within the organization and between the organization and it's very broad membership base.

A website dedicated to an organization obviously has to be the main heartbeat of that organization. Add on email newsletter blasts and you have an instant connection with your member. A Facebook page will connect you with the social networking savvy individuals, so that adds value, although it also adds on redundant effort and disconnect with the membership database that is centralized on the main website. A message board allows individuals to discuss topics of interest, post event information and updated news, and provide information for various opportunities. Private forums can even host behind-the-scenes planning for special committees or user-groups. In the end, these are all valuable contributions to the organization's web-presence. Nothing can replace the main website or the main membership database, but all can add to the group's visibility and distribution of information on the web.

Now enter Twitter. I'm super-curious what Twitter could do for the organization. Not just a particular committee like the NeoGeos, but the HGS as a whole. How many people would follow the largest local geological society? Would it contribute to an increase in membership? Would it increase attendance at the various lunch and dinner meetings? Or short courses? Would non-geology individuals gain something from following the tweets of the HGS? I'm tempted to set it up and try. But I wonder how many of the HGS members, or potential members, are out there twittering??

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Driving Progress

It's pretty amazing to work on a project that is complex and frontier for its field. At the beginning, you don't realize what the heck you're getting into, then you're overwhelmed by how much you don't understand. At that point you seek understanding and are forced to deconstruct the problem into manageable pieces - plowing through the aspects you are comfortable with and tackling the ones you aren't. As the process continues, your understanding evolves, the pieces start to come together and then voila, the picture is clear and the project comes to completion.

Ha. I wish it were as easy a progression as that, although in a nutshell that pretty much describes what I've found to be true. Sometimes there are pieces that never fit. Those pieces might not fit because they are misunderstood, or they may not fit because the rest of the puzzle is screwed up somehow. Luck might be the only thing that allows you to differentiate; although you'd hope that a bit of education and networking could save you. Sometimes there are difficult lessons to learn along the way - perhaps related to technical aspects of the project, or perhaps related to soft skills - like communication and management. I'd hope that with every project there is a lesson learned...if not, I'd take that to be a sign it's time to move on to something else.

In the end, I think progress is driven by asking the right questions, recognizing what is understood and what is uncertain. Being able to throw stones at an idea to see how well it stands up to criticism and learning how to defend your ideas are essential skills if you are looking for success; skills that require professionalism, tact, and sometimes a pretty thick skin.

That's what I've witnessed so far, anyway. I wonder how the pieces of my project will come together?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why I Became a Geologist

There are certain experiences in my youth, looking back, that most definitely drove me towards the earth sciences. First, my father is an engineer - petroleum engineer, to be exact. I'm sure that his scientific and engineering tendencies influenced my own, although he rarely talked of his work at home. When I'd ask him about what he did, he'd always reply, "I'm a fortune teller." Chemistry sets and science projects were things he was constantly putting in front of me. I was interested, to a point, mostly out of curiosity. I never considered myself passionate about those things.

I did love to collect things. I'd collect rocks, but at that time it was more because of the look or feel of the rock not at all because of my understanding (or lack thereof) about its origin. I remember finding a large, smooth river rock that was strangely out of place amongst all the others and I held on to that rock for months. It would sit on the porch with me while I blew bubbles. Sometimes I felt like it talked to me (should I admit that?). It was a magic rock to me. I collected other things too. Insects, were my favorite. Butterflies, crickets, dragonflies, wasps, bees, spiders. I had a small little cigar box that I'd keep them in, with plans to one day formally identify each species and mount them. I had enough dragonflies and butterflies to see differences among them. I never quite got there with a mounted collection, but I sure had fun getting all my specimens together. My absolute favorite insects were the cicadas, who'd molt on the pine trees in my neighborhood. I was fascinated by these gentle, buggy-eyed, big-winged critters. Thus, began my fascination with nature. (Photo courtesy of Adam Fleishman,

My dad would take us on vacations, I realized later these were always scheduled around various annual industry conventions, where we'd go camping, hiking, and takes tours of historical sites. We spent a week in Yellowstone. I saw Old Faithful and held my breath through Geyser National Park. We spent two weeks driving through Mexico, from the northern Texas border all the way down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. We climbed and explored every public pyramid around. We learned of the ancient civilizations and the cultures of Mexico. Experiences like these, while I didn't recognize the geologic or full historical significance, incited an interest in me and encouraged me to want to learn, explore, and enjoy what lay beyond my front yard.

In school I enjoyed most subjects. Social studies and history were my least favorite, but I did ok. English and science seemed to be my strengths. And although I'm not one of those math-in-my-head-on-the-fly types, I did alright in it. I joined student council, I played in the band, and participated in several other extra-curricular activities. The Ecology Club, my senior year, worked to establish one of the inter-building areas as an outdoor oasis of flowers and fountains (it was previously a neglected, weed-ridden eyesore that everyone walked by everyday). I was involved in recycling projects and other community educational programs through the various activities in school.

When it was time to choose a college and a major, I was kind of undecided. I leaned towards the sciences because I knew the job prospects would be good. I wanted to do something that was environmentally-focused, but didn't really know what that would translate into when it came to a job. I decided on Environmental Engineering. (I told you my dad's engineering qualities were an influence!) At the time, there weren't too many schools offering Environmental Engineering degrees, so I settled for Civil Engineering with the Environmental specialty. I applied to
the University of Texas at Austin (my dad's alma-mater), was accepted into the program and prepared for dorm life away from home. That's kind of when things took an unexpected twist.

My boyfriend of a year didn't want me to leave town, saying a long distance relationship just wasn't his thing. He was my thing, though, and I ultimately chose to skip the UT program and stay in Houston. I made my decision fairly last-minute and ended up with an application into our local community college. I took four semesters at San Jacinto Community College, knocking out all the basic english, history, economics, and a few electives. It was there that I truly discovered geology.

I was listed as a Pre-Engineering major on the San Jac records and I was scouring the list of available electives to add as transferable credits for a UH program. There sat black and white...staring up at me from the course listing. Physical Geology with Kristi Higginbotham was my first formal geology class. My initial thoughts, "oh yeah, we're going to learn about rocks" -- with a bit of sarcasm. Wow, was I ignorant! We went on field trips, we examined rock and mineral samples, we discussed the physical processes of the Earth. I found that it was easy for me and I enjoyed it. I never understood why some people in the class struggled with the rock and mineral identifications. The classroom samples were so textbook and the defining characterstics of cleavage planes, hardness, streak, and others made it fairly simple to identify. Of all the other classes I was taking and had taken, this class was the first that seemed truly effortless and exciting.

Ms. Higginbotham used the next semester to experiment with an Environmental Geology course. My class was her first to undergo the program and helped her to establish a lesson plan that she could use for future classes. The experience was fun and our tight-knit class did a lot of things together. We spent part of the class learning about the local EPA superfund site (the Brio Site) and got to know the full history of what occurred, the impact to the neighborhood and the politics that were involved with cleaning up the mess (that was back in 1996, or so). We also organized an extra-curricular group we called E.G.O. (Environmental Geology Organization). We did a lot of things that year that further encouraged us to be involved in our communities and to understand the importance of geology.

When it came time to transfer to the University of Houston, I had to decide what major to focus on. I could no longer skate through with Pre-Engineering tagged on to my file. UH didn't seem like the place for me to pursue Civil Engineering with an Environmental specialty. Geology was calling to me. I met with the counselor in the Geoscience Department (now called the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) and realized that I could easily get a double major in Geology and Geophysics, for the price of a few extra math classes. Well, sign me up!

The range of geology classes offered by the university was fantastic and their field program was great (and still is - check out my earlier blog regarding field camps!). The classes were small and the groups were close. I have many friends from my time spent at UH. One afternoon, while studying in the mineral lab, an upperclass student came in asking if anyone would be interested in a part-time job working for a geoscience consulting group. The job would involve binding reports, preparing graphics for figures/maps, and other intro level and admin-type tasks. Several of my friends took the job. I interviewed, but ultimately chose to work on campus, as it was closer to home for me. I eventually, though, ended up at that same company with my friends working a job that payed well above minimum wage and gave me exposure to seismic data, deepwater sedimentary environments, salt tectonics and what it was like to work with professionals in the major and large independent oil and gas companies.

I've grown tremendously since my starting days at that company. Some consider it strange that I've been there for what is now going on 10 years. I suppose that is rather unusual in these days of what seems like 2-year term limits for most everyone else. But I've climbed the ranks from the newbie student assistant up to Project Manager, and grown in my technical and soft skills every step of the way. I've had the priviledge to work on some of the coolest frontier exploration projects with some of the coolest people.

Looking back, some have asked if I regret not going to UT or pursuing the engineering career. I can honestly say, 15 years later married to my high-school sweetheart with three beautiful girls and a successful professional career....NO WAY!

I love what I do, I love my family, and I still think those smooth river rocks are pretty magical.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Geology TX - new GIS app for the iPhone

Map image courtesy of the USGS

The iPhone app store, to me, is like a candy store and I'm a sweet-toothed candy fanatic given the keys to the candy vault.

Thanks to companies like Integrity Logic, we can have our paperless geologic maps customized and accessible through a few flicks of our fingertips. Integrity Logic recently released Geology TX, their second GIS-based application for the iPhone and iPod Touch platforms -- the first being Geology CA. While the app does not require access to a mobile network for it to work, having access is an added bonus -- the device's GPS capabilities can pinpoint where you are on the map in real time.

The application includes a number of data layers, including the USGS geologic map, outlines for state, county, and quadrangle boundaries, cities, roads, active mines/quarries, available K/Ar ages, active and ancient faults, and more. Like traditional GIS systems, the application allows the layers to be turned on/off in any combination.

I'm curious to hear some feedback regarding the app. If you happen to try it out, swing by and leave a comment!

Edit 8/16/09 - Swung by the App Store and noticed that Integrity Logic has released new maps for Geology NY. The application follows the concept of Geology CA and Geology TX, with interactive GIS map layers and geologic information for the state of New York. Now the east coast, west coast, and Gulf coasts are represented. Looking forward to filling in the gaps. 3 down, 47 more to go!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fall into Opportunities

There are many things in the works for a busy Fall in the coming months. For those interested in getting more involved in the geo-community, there are many opportunities!

The Houston Geological Society (HGS) is gearing up for the 2009-2010 season with a full calendar of short courses, dinner and lunch meetings, and social events to boot. Check out their website ( for event details and the full calendar. If you aren't already a member, consider joining for registration discounts and access to the printed or online version of their monthly Bulletin.

The HGS is teaming up with the Geophysical Society of Houston (GSH) for 2009 Geoscience Day. The event is scheduled for September 24, and is aimed towards young professionals entering into the oil & gas industry with less than 5 years of work experience. The program offers a range of presentations and demonstrations on "the life of an oilfield". Check out the HGS ( or GSH ( websites for information, registration, and sponsorship opportunities. In addition, the planning committee welcomes interested volunteers to help with organizing the event. Send me a note or contact the committee chair via the previously mentioned websites for more info.

Mid-October is Earth Science Week (officially, October 11-17, 2009). Earth Science Week is an opportunity to promote scientific understanding of the Earth amongst the public and geoscience communities. This year's theme is "Understanding Climate". In the Houston area, the HGS often coordinates with the Houston Museum of Natural Science for a day of family fun to kick off the week. In addition, the celebration of Earth Science Week also means field trips open to the general public. Keep your eyes on the HGS website for details on this year's planned events! If you are not in the Houston area, check your local science museums and geo-societies for scheduled events and volunteer opportunities.

The University of Houston Geoscience Alumni Association (UHGAA) is organizing a fundraising gala to establish an endowment for their new summer field camp programs (see my previous post for more on this). The event will be held in October at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Please consider sponsoring a table, attending the gala, and supporting the UH field program for future students! If you are a UH alumn, the UHGAA welcomes participation in planning the event and helping to spread the word. A planning meeting is scheduled for Friday, August 14th. Send me a note for more information and to find out how you can help!

Plans are already underway for the Offshore Technology Conference 2010. Calls for abstracts are starting to make their way through the industry. Committees, such as The Next Wave planning committee, are already brainstorming session topics, keynote speakers, and program format for 2010. May comes quick!! A call for abstracts that recently came across my desk relates to a special technical session titled, "Applications of Multibeam Backscatter". The organizers are looking for case studies that illustrate the use and benefits of multibeam backscatter. If you want more info on the session let me know and I'll forward you the call for abstract information. If that particular topic is of no interest to you, never fear! There are many other technical sessions being organized for the OTC. Get your works together and present!! The OTC's official website is and it is diligently updated with all the latest and greatest information on the conference.

Speaking of conferences, the AAPG Annual Convention is planned for Houston in 2011. Hosted by the Houston Geological Society, there will be many opportunities (and needs!!) for volunteers. While it may seem ages away, there are many logistics involved with convention planning and all helping hands are welcome and appreciated! Contact the AAPG ( or the HGS ( if you are interested in lending your time or resources in preparation of the event.

I suppose I could go on forever. There are endless opportunities to get involved in the geo-community. You can attend and participate in events of all types. You can get behind the scenes and help in the planning by contributing your time, your experience, your enthusiasm, and your available resources. All the while you'll meet interesting people and build an experience base that will extend your social network, technical knowledge, and contribute towards developing your soft skills. Can't find an event that is interesting enough for you? Come up with an idea for what you'd like to see and present it to your local society. You will be surprised how enthusiastically an idea can translate to reality. It just depends on what you put into it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Support Field Camp Programs

What is this I hear about field camps no longer being required for undergraduate geology curricula in the U.S.?? According to a report by the American Geological Institute (AGI) schools offering summer field camp programs as part of their undergraduate curriculum are in the decline, primarily because of the costs associated with running and maintaining such programs.

I am a proud graduate of the University of Houston and was recently contacted by Dr. Casey, the Chairman of the geoscience department (now called the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) to help gather and participate in a group of active, supportive individuals to ensure the UH program stays alive and kicking. It seems, rather fortuitously, that UH has recently acquired facilities near Red Lodge, Montana, to host their field programs. While others schools are cutting back, UH intends to grow!

The Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (or YBRA) Field Station was previously managed by the University of Pennsylvania and earlier by Princeton University, neither of which are interested in running the camp any longer because of faculty retirements and low student enrollments. Prior to this location, UH hosted their summer geology field camp in Silver Springs, New Mexico.

The change in location for the UH program comes with a host of great opportunities and advantages for the students and the university. The camp facilities are excellent, including 20 cabins with a total of 9o beds, plus a library, classroom, lodge, and kitchen & mess facilities. From the geology standpoint, the site sits on the Beartooth Thrust. Bighorn Basin, Beartooth Mountains, Yellowstone, the Stillwater Igneous Complex, and the Grand Tetons are all within a short drive from the camp. Nature's perfect classroom for aspiring geologists.

UH doesn't plan to stop there, and limit the experiences and growth opportunities to only those majoring in geology. Rather, they are coordinating the department's first Geophysics field camp in August, 2009, and have plans for a mountain meteorology school at the facility in 2010 (the first of its type in the U.S.). The geophysics camp will provide practical experience for the students in seismic acquisition, ground penetrating radar, down-hole logging, and gravity and magnetic measurements.

In addition, UH is coordinating with other universities to join for the summer camp programs, bringing together students from across the United States and beyond from schools like Williams College, Rutgers, Amherst, Princeton, George Mason, Whitman College, University of Rhode Island, Ryder College, Wesleyan, Franklin and Marshall, College of Wooster, Rice University, RPI, Boston University, Appalachian State University, Middlebury, George Washington University, Texas A&M, Temple, Texas Tech, Tulane University, Trinity College, University of Swansee, Hampshire College, University of Delaware, and even Chiba University in Japan.

What a shock to think that out of the 695 geoscience departments listed in the AGI directory, less than 15% offer and require field camp for undergraduate majors. The experiences of being in the field, understanding the challenges with interpretation and data acquisition, and being able to relay the observations to an audience through verbal and written formats are undeniably necessary for our science. While today's technology may provide tools to keep us sitting in our cubicles staring at our computer, there is still no replacement for the experiences in the field.

Support your local field camp program! Protect it from being lost through departmental budgetary cutbacks! If you are an employer of personnel in the geosciences, geophysics, and/or atmospheric sciences, you should demand your employees (or future employees) leave their university studies with field experiences!

If you want to support the UH program, the UHGAA (UH Geoscience Alumni Association) is coordinating a fundraising gala to be held at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) on October 25, 2009. The goal of the event is to secure the funds for a permanent endowment to assist in funding field camps perpetually for UH students and to help with the plans for growth at the camp. Individual tickets for the gala are $250 and entitles you to exclusive access to the minerals room and the entire museum for the evening, along with a presentation by Dr. John F. Dewey, F.R.S. Distinguished Professor of Tectonics, and Dr. Robert Stewart, Cullen Chair in Geophysics regarding the value of field work in geology, geophysics, and planetary sciences. A dinner will follow in the Hall of Paleontology at the HMNS. Each table can seat 10 individuals. Sponsored tables (seating 10) are available at various levels (5k, 10k, 15k, and 50k). Email questions about the event or the endowment to Tram Nguyen (

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stretchy Salt, No Surprise

Salt Block Unexpectedly Stretches -- ScienceDaily (2009-06-24)

I'm surprised by this article (see above). I thought the nature of salt and its ability to "flow" was fairly well known and accepted by the scientific community. I took a tour of a salt mine a while back and observed with my own eyes how the salt had flowed around a door frame, nearly swallowing it up, just in the few years since the door had been installed. Yet, when you hold the salt in your hand it is solid and hard, shattering if you were to hit it with your rock hammer. A curious trait, agreed, but recognized as characteristic nonetheless. Geologists have recognized the evidence for salt tectonics for quite some time now. Can someone explain to me what is so new about this finding? Is it the scale of the stretchiness? Is it the tool used to test the salt? Is it the mechanism(s) by which the salt stretches?

To me, the article just provides additional support to the theories of salt deformation and models for the advancement of salt (as observed in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere).

Maybe I'm just missing the point??

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Props to the Geo-Blogs

Since I am a newbie blogger, I figured I'd do a little research on the other geo-blogs on the www. I must admit I was very surprised to find so many already out there. I'm not sure why I'm surprised...maybe because I just never came across any of them until I started looking.

As a result of this endeavor, you will now find a list of "Other Geo-Related Blogs" at the right side of the screen. I've found these to be entertaining, informative, and diverse in their coverage of geology and related topics. Take a field trip of your own and check them out. Perhaps you'll end up like me, now following a horde of various blogs, tweets, and RSS feeds. I'm expecting to be buried under more information than I can handle. But I love it! I would be delighted to continue adding to the list, so if there are any suggestions, please let me know!

In my search, I stumbled across a few topics in other blogs that peaked my interest. These include a discussion regarding the usefulness (or not) of the iPhone and its apps for field work. Check out the blog at Highly Allochthonous to participate in the discussion. Pretty interesting stuff! There was also a mention of the USGS earthquake hazards program and reports regarding North Korean nuclear activity on the Adventures in the world of Geology blog. Seeing as my family is planning a trip to Hawaii soon, this was of particular interest. I also found several meme lists to be entertaining and enlightening (such as 10 Things Every Geologist Should Know). (In case you are unfamiliar with a meme list, it is well-defined at The Daily Meme.)

I hope that in the coming weeks I am able to contribute something of value to the community of geo-bloggers. Let me know if you come across something of interest to share!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Getting Started.

I want to bring geology to you, from across town, across the country, across the ocean, around the world. I want to get you understanding, in contributing, in supporting the study of our planet. Geology is all around us. Opportunities to appreciate the marvelous processes of our Earth are abundant. The questions we have about these processes are even moreso abundant.

I plan to share some interesting bits of geo-news, provide information on opportunities in local geological societies, and engage in discussions on topics Earth-related. I won't claim to be an expert on many things...I still kind of consider myself a NeoGeo, with only about 10 years of experience in deepwater seismic interpretation. 10 years is just enough time to start getting a little comfortable with deepwater seismic interpretation, but geology is so much more than that. I have much to learn. We can learn together.

I welcome anyone who wants to chime in with their own thoughts, experiences, or questions. We'll take this field trip together.