Principal Geophysicist, Alastair McClymont @geofantacist: A Day in the GeoLife Series

NAME: Alastair McClymont

CURRENT TITLE: Principal Geophysicist

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Near-surface geophysics for environmental and engineering investigations



Ph.D. in Geophysics, 2008; ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) Geophysics, 2004; University of British Columbia
B.Sc. (Hons) in Geology, 1998; Victoria University of Wellington

TWITTER NAME: @geofantacist

What’s your job like?

I work in environmental consulting in Calgary, Alberta. Our geophysics group uses a wide variety of different geophysical techniques to non-invasively map the shallow subsurface. We specialize in providing expert services for different applications including geotechnical site characterization, groundwater investigations, contaminated site remediation and archaeology studies. Our clients span just about every sector, from oil and gas, mining, municipalities, research institutions, humanitarian aid agencies, and film and television documentary makers. 

Flying an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). ©2020 Alastair McClymont

What’s a typical day like?

I oversee the coordination of our geophysics team’s projects and make sure they integrate with the other disciplines in our environmental consulting business. This can cover everything from writing proposals, survey design, geophysical field survey logistics, processing geophysical data, writing and reviewing reports, and client meetings. When I do get out in the field, I’m usually deploying cables, putting probes into the ground, downloading data and doing a QC on what we have collected.

Dr. Alastair McClymont, Principal Geophysicist

What’s fun?

Consulting requires a lot of problem solving and finding practical solutions to a client’s problems. It is satisfying to show a client what lies under the ground before they commit to excavating, drilling or major earthworks. We also get to travel to some fairly out of the way places and work on some unique projects. Most recently I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of investigations of Holocaust mass burial sites in eastern Europe, a humanitarian groundwater exploration program in Bangladesh, archaeological work in Israel, and filming for a TV series in Colombia.

Dr. Alastair McClymont discussing geophysics with clients in Bangladesh.

What’s challenging?

From a professional standpoint, it can be hard work getting clients to trust you that geophysics is worthwhile and can save money and reduce risks and environmental impacts. Geophysics is often seen as a luxury item, and there’s no shortage of ‘old school’ types who would rather drill extra boreholes or go with their ‘gut instincts’. Other clients have had bad experiences with poorly designed surveys or received erroneous interpretations of the geophysical data from geophysics providers that over promised on what they could deliver. If the geophysics methodology is technically sound, and the client is well educated on the limitations of an approach, then it’s a worthwhile investment.

On the personal side, and like most careers in the earth sciences, working away from home can be tough, especially when you have family at home. I’ve been fortunate to have landed a more senior role that allows me to spend more of my time in the office.

©2020 Alastair McClymont

What’s your advice to students?

The earth sciences has expanded rapidly into the digital realm, with new methods and tools providing ever increasing amounts of data to work with. The next generation of geoscientists should at least become familiar with how to code and how to work with large data sets. Despite these changes, creative communication and presentation skills will always be in high demand. If you love what you do and have an inquisitive mind, you can’t go wrong.

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