Director, Petroleum Geomechanics, Mark Tingay @CriticalStress_: A Day in the GeoLife Series

petroleum geomechanics

Dr. Mark Tingay, Petroleum Geomechanics at Lusi Vent

NAME: Dr. Mark Tingay

CURRENT TITLE: Director, Critical Stress Geomechanics and Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Adelaide

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Petroleum geomechanics, pore pressure prediction, mud volcanoes and tectonics


EDUCATION: Completed my PhD in petroleum geomechanics in 2003, University of Adelaide. I also have a Graduate Certificate of Education in Higher Education.


TWITTER: @CriticalStress_

What’s your job like?

I’m a self-employed consultant, specialising in petroleum geomechanics and pore pressure prediction. I usually work in my client’s offices, but also at home. My job mostly involves helping to plan and drill petroleum wells safely and efficiently. I also work on reservoir aspects of geomechanics, in particular understanding how CO2 injection or hydrocarbon production will affect rock stresses and fluid pressures, and the potential for fault reactivation. I also have an adjunct role at the Australia School of Petroleum in South Australia, through which I supervise PhD and Masters students as well as pursue my personal research topics.

What’s a typical day like?

Most of my days involve working on some specific project for a client. This might be interpreting data for stresses and developing geomechanical models for a CO2 sequestration project; trying to predict the pore pressures and geological conditions that a planned well may encounter, so that the well can be constructed to avoid hazards such as blowouts or hole collapse. I also do a lot of training, whether it is teaching training courses for companies or societies, or giving one-on-one in-depth training for geologists and engineers wanting to specialise in geomechanics or pore pressure.

What’s fun?

It’s pretty much all fun! I particularly enjoy trying to solve the more challenging problems, as well as the teaching side of the work. One of the things I specialise in is determining the origin of high pore fluid pressures (overpressures) in petroleum systems. I am commonly brought in after a company has had a significant and unexpected well control incident, and it’s my job to pick apart what happened and why, and then to develop methods and plans to avoid such incidents in the future. I love that type of work because it is stimulating and because I see the primary goal of my work being to help make the industry safer, both for people and the environment.

What’s challenging?

Running my own consulting business has a lot of challenges. There is always the insecurity that comes with being self-employed – and the effort you constantly need to put in to find work, build a network, accounting and such. But, at the end of the day, I am working for myself. I have really enjoyed my previous roles in academia and with a big petroleum company, both of which have their major advantages and disadvantages, but I am now enjoying the challenges of consulting.

What’s your advice to students?

It’s an old line, but you really have to try to find something you enjoy and have a passion for. If you are really fascinated by a topic, then you’ll always strive to learn more and do better at it. Ultimately, that will lead to you enjoying work and life a lot more.

The other advice I always give is to really work to learn the fundamentals of what you do. Petroleum geomechanics is a topic that has been ‘in vogue’ over the past 5-10 years, and the numbers of people doing it around the world now are probably 100 times more than when I started in the field. But, the one thing I see again and again is students or new people in the topic learning the workflows and software, but without really understanding the fundamentals and theory.

As I said earlier, one of my common jobs is to try to figure out what went wrong after a significant safety incident has occurred. The root cause often boils down to practitioners simply making assumptions that just aren’t valid for the situation or geology, or because people blindly trusted erroneous data, software workflows or interpretations without question. There is an old saying “assumption is the mother of all stuff-ups” (a different work is usually used instead of “stuff”). Sometimes such a mistake is just an embarrassing ‘oops’. However, in drilling, and many other disciplines, not recognising when an approach or data may be flawed can result in a major accident, or meaning someone doesn’t come home from work.

So, whatever you do in science, really work hard to understand and challenge the assumptions, and the potential flaws, pitfalls and failures, in the work you do. Not only does this make you a more thorough and better scientist, but it’s also a key to finding ways to improve and advance your field of interest.

Oh, and oral and written communication. Seriously, if you can learn to give a good talk, and write without things like hanging participles, you’ll do well!

PhD Candidate, Volcanology, Geoff Lerner @Tyranakisaurus: A Day in the GeoLife Series


PhD Candidate, Volcanology and Paleomagnetism, Geoff Lerner. Photo copyright Geoff Lerner

NAME: Geoff Lerner

CURRENT TITLE: PhD Candidate (University of Auckland, New Zealand)

EXPERTISE: Volcanology and Paleomagnetism

EXPERIENCE: 4 years doing research

EDUCATION: MSc Geology (Università degli studi Milano-Bicocca, Italy), MS Geology (Michigan Tech University, United States), BS Geological Sciences (Tufts University, United States)


TWITTER: @Tyranakisaurus

What’s your job like?

I research patterns of growth and eruption at stratovolcanoes, specifically Mount Taranaki in New Zealand. We know that volcanoes don’t erupt and grow evenly—in addition to periods of activity and inactivity, they have a tendency to erupt in one direction or another at a time, not every direction at once. I’m looking into the reasons for this and how we might be able to figure out what phase an active stratovolcano is in.

Mt. Taranaki

Geoff Lerner taking notes at the summit of Mount Taranaki. Photo copyright Geoff Lerner

I use a number of techniques to look at Taranaki’s recent eruptive history—field geology, geochemistry, sedimentology, and especially paleomagnetism. A major focus of my research is looking at the information preserved in magnetic minerals in volcanic mass flow deposits and using it to learn about each deposit’s age and emplacement temperature (i.e. was it a lahar or a pyroclastic flow?).

What’s a typical day like?

Depends on where I am! On an office day, I’ll spend a lot of my time answering emails, reading academic papers, marking assignments, and planning my next fieldwork and labwork trips.

On lab days (since most of my lab work is done in Wellington, away from home), I want to wring as much work out of each trip as possible, so I’ll spend the whole day either prepping samples (cutting, drilling, labeling) or else measuring them with the magnetometer, heating theme, cooling them, and measuring again (over and over and over…). It’s not hard, but it’s very time consuming, so I’ll often be in the lab running samples till well after midnight!

In the field, I’m always looking to take more samples to measure. This involves finding a good outcrop with several layers of volcanic deposits, and then either drilling small cores or else collecting hand samples to drill later in the laboratory. Some days I work on the volcano itself (even up to the summit), other days we explore the area nearby or even several kilometers away. Either way, it involves backpacks full of rocks, water tanks, and drilling equipment.


Drilling paleomagnetic cores in near Marquette, Michigan. Photo copyright Geoff Lerner

What’s fun?

Almost everything! I never get tired of going back to my field area to collect samples or scope out new sites, and I never pass up an opportunity to help a colleague with fieldwork, because it means I get to explore a new place. And crazy as it sounds, there’s even something peaceful about finally walking home from the laboratory in the middle of the night.

Lake Superior

Wading into Lake Superior to fill the water jug for sampling. Photo copyright Geoff Lerner

But my favorite part is actually making fun videos out of my (and other’s) research for outreach. I’m always trying to think of interesting ways to film things in the field and ways to explain research that will catch people’s attention (see videos above).

What’s challenging?

Explaining what I do to a general audience. I think it’s vital to get the general public interested in the stuff that I (and other geoscientists) do, and that means being able to talk about research in an exciting and accessible way. I always challenge myself to think about how I would talk about my latest field trip or a method I’m using in a way that any curious person could understand it.


Exploring the summit crater of Mount Taranaki, New Zealand. Photo copyright Geoff Lerner

What’s your advice to students?

Be flexible! Jump at the chance to do something interesting, even if it’s difficult or a bit uncomfortable. The more you are willing to do something you know little about, go to a new place, or learn a language you’ve never spoken before, the more future opportunities you’ll get.


African Environments, Dr. Sallie Burrough @SLBurough: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Sallie Burroughs

Dr. Sallie Burrough, Trapnell Fellow of African Environments

NAME:  Dr. Sallie Burrough

Current title: Trapnell Fellow of African Environments, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Area of expertise: Quaternary Science, Deserts, Long-term Ecology, Geochronology

Years of experience: 8 years since finishing PhD

Education: BA in Geography, MSc in Quaternary Science, Phil (PhD) in Kalahari Palaeolakes and Paleoenvironmental Change

What’s your job like?

Incredibly varied, sometimes brilliant, and occasionally deeply frustrating. In essence, I get paid to better understand the history of the Earth and how it works or, more specifically, to unpick a few hundred thousand years of climate change in Africa. Looking into the past is extremely cool – you get to spend time (metaphorically and literally) in landscapes and environments so different from today that it’s hard to sometimes imagine. We do this in lots of different ways, but mostly the information I acquire comes from sediments variously drilled, dug or augured out of the ground. There are many amazing adventures to be had extracting the “right” mud from some of the remotest corners of the Earth. There are also, however, a lot of tedious months spent in a laboratory (lab), some very boring committees, and a large dose of administration including too many health & safety documents (I run a lab with an interesting mixture of dangerous chemicals, lasers and radiation sources, all of which we use in the dark). I’m very fortunate to have a few exciting research projects on the go right now ( ) and there is always something new to learn, although there are never quite enough hours in the day to do it all. In between the mud, data and meetings, I teach both graduates and undergraduates and manage a busy luminescence lab (

What’s your typical day like?

I usually get up at 6.30 a.m. and, against all better advice, eat breakfast in front of my laptop whilst trying to delete as many emails as possible. This, of course, is a mistake, as by the time I’ve cycled the 7 miles to work, there are already replies to red-flag. I try to ignore them until procrastination gets the better of me. Most days, there is some minor lab issue to deal with first thing in the morning before I get on with other things. These usually involve misbehaving machines or problems that students or our technician may be having with preparing or running samples. Beyond this, days are peppered with meetings, students and/or administration. In between, I try to work on my own research. Unlike many other geographical disciplines, even when we get the hard-fought mud back to the lab, it can be extremely time-consuming then getting information from it. Laboratory analyses are slow and tedious. I often have projects at all stages so must divide my time between lab work, data analysis, grant management and sometimes, when I’m lucky, writing papers. Multitasking isn’t my greatest asset but it’s hard to avoid. There are always people in and out of my office, so I tend to work from home if I need to concentrate. One of the best things about this job is that there is a huge amount of freedom and flexibility. The flip side is that the work is limitless and can consume as many hours in the day as I let it, often to the annoyance of other people in my life.

African Environments

Drilling for climate records in a salt pan in the Kalahari Desert. Photo copyright: Dr. Sallie Burrough

What’s fun?

The truth be known, I’m afraid I’m probably happiest on my own with a spade and a pick-axe far away from other humans. For me, fieldwork (in my case in the lesser frequented corners of Zambia, Botswana and Namibia) is a precious time and serves as my respite from daily life every year. It offers me the space to think that I don’t often get at work or home. Usually, I’m out for a month to 6 weeks on various projects and however grueling the sampling schedule and difficult the conditions, it hardly ever feels like work. I wouldn’t swap this time with the sand and the jackals for anything. The other really great bits of the job come when the data finally emerges after many long months in the lab and I can, at last, begin making sense of what it all means. There is always a lot to learn and think about at this stage, and this is the really rewarding bit. In between, it’s the constant requirement to learn new things that probably keeps me happy. I frequently find myself having to dive in and understand whole new disciplines (with a little help from colleagues), or to teach myself how to use new software or programming languages in order to analyse something in a different way. I often don’t find this easy, but perhaps it is that challenge that keeps it interesting. I also enjoy helping the students in my lab tackle their own projects, grow in confidence and flourish as they become unafraid of the challenges that research throws up. I hope, in the end, I will learn as much from them as they can from me.

What’s challenging?

Time management. Your time is your own and, provided you continue to produce high-quality research and fulfil all your institutional responsibilities, no one much cares how you spend it. Work can surreptitiously seep into the rest of life and occasionally displace some of the other things I love (running, cycling, surfing, ….my family!). Getting the balance right isn’t always easy. I’m also about to become a mum for the first time and have just returned from the field at 8 months pregnant. Pregnant fieldwork has its own challenges though I am well aware this is only the beginning. Babies, lab and field science are likely to be a difficult mix. I’m lucky to have a very supportive Head of Department and Departmental Administrator but am conscious that academia is not very forgiving, and science still loses too many women at this stage in their lives/careers. I will need the support of my colleagues and family to keep moving forward.

What’s your advice for students?

Don’t be afraid of the things you don’t yet understand or know how to tackle but do work hard to try to get there. You’ll probably find the more effort you put into getting it right, the more effort your lecturers, tutors or supervisors will put into holding your hand along the way. Pursue the subjects you love. Don’t let the failures get you down – academia can be brutal, whatever stage you’re at – we all doubt ourselves some of the time (well…most of us!)

UPDATED! Geohydrologic Data Manager, Sandie Will @RockHeadScience: A Day in the Geolife Series


Sandie Will, Manager/Hydrogeologist. Photo credit: Jaimi Weatherspoon, Essentia-Special Moments Photography.

NAME:  Sandie Will

CURRENT TITLE:  Geohydrologic Data Manager/Professional Geologist (P.G.)

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Management, Leadership, Hydrogeology, Hydrostratigraphy, Water Resources

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  18 – my experience includes 10 years in environmental consulting and 8 years with a state water agency.

EDUCATION:  Bachelor of Science, Geology, University of South Florida; Master of Science, Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida. Main area of study for my Master’s degree was in water resource planning and management with an emphasis on sustainability.

WEBSITES:  Southwest Florida Water Management District; Science blog: Rock-Head Sciences;  Author blog: Sandie Will, Author

TWITTER: @RockHeadScience and @SandieWillWrite

What’s my job like?

Primarily, I’m a manager of a highly technical team that studies and collects data from several aquifers in Florida. I work for a state agency called the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District). I have managed the Geohydrologic Data Section within the Data Collection Bureau for the past four years. I am responsible for the Regional Observation and Monitor-Well Program (ROMP), special projects and the Quality of Water Improvement Program (QWIP). The primary mission is to protect natural systems and future water supplies.

Work at a typical ROMP site is usually performed in three stages. The first stage is exploratory coring and testing. We collect core data to 3,000 feet below land surface using a Universal Drill Rig (UDR) core rig. During coring, we use off-bottom packers to collect slug tests and water quality samples at specific intervals as the core hole is advanced downward. Geophysical logging is also performed. This data, along with water level and discharge data is used to determine formation changes and hydrostratigraphy, looking for aquifers and confining units. Identification of these aquifers and the confining/semi-confining units between them is critical for representative long-term water level and water quality monitoring as wells as for groundwater modeling and other evaluations conducted by the District.

drill rig

UDR core rig. Photo by Sandie Will

The second stage includes well construction. Once the aquifers are identified, the hydrogeologist prepares well designs and a water well contractor is hired to install the wells. We usually install wells within several aquifers including the surficial aquifer, Hawthorn aquifer system (otherwise known as the intermediate aquifer system), and the Upper and Lower Floridan aquifers. Geophysical and video logging are also conducted at various stages.

The third stage includes aquifer performance testing. Once the well construction is completed, the hydrogeologist will use a system of transducers and data loggers to collect water level changes during and after pumping an aquifer to assess drawdown and recovery. Analyses are run on a software package and the aquifer parameters such as transmissivity and hydraulic conductivity are used in groundwater models and other evaluations by other sections and outside entities such as consultants.

Pump test

Pump test of the Upper Floridan aquifer, Sumter County, FL. Photo by Sandie Will

Once all the work is completed, the hydrogeologist prepares a technical report which is available online.

What’s your day like?

My day primarily consists of administrative duties in the office. I have a staff of 15 hydrogeologists, well drillers and technicians. This includes a supervisor who oversees all field work and coordinates staff where needed. My responsibilities include reporting and presenting work progress, forecasting budgets and field schedules, reviewing technical reports, planning future work, performing employee evaluations, preparing goals, tracking metrics, leading major initiatives, coordinating staff and many other tasks. I report to a Bureau Chief and am always involved with Executive requests. I love the combination of working in management and geology. I have a passion for helping employees advance their skills and providing opportunities to learn new skills.


Cores collected from a ROMP site (dolomite) in Sumter County, FL. Photo by Sandie Will

What’s fun?

My favorite part of the job is visiting the core site and seeing cool evaporites, sucrosic dolomite, and various fossils. Evidence of shallow seas that occurred millions of years ago is fascinating to me. Also, I like when a staff member is promoted or finishes a major task like a well site or technical report or passing a test. This usually leads to a mango key lime pie or brownies or red velvet cupcakes that I bring in to celebrate. Also, we have Hattoween, where everyone in the Bureau wears their favorite Halloween hat and the best one wins a prize. We do a volunteer event every year at Feeding America and help them by sorting food and stocking shelves – always a very rewarding experience to help others in need! I love outreach events too. This year we did a Skype class from the core site to middle-school students in their class and we also went to the university to teach college students about our jobs.


Geology student outreach event at the University of South Florida. Photos by Sandie Will

What’s challenging?

My workload can be very challenging at times. Sometimes I work after hours or on weekends, but I try to keep it to a minimum. The worst is when employee evaluations, goals and end of year budgets are all due at the same time! Predicting well construction costs a year in advance for preliminary budgets can be challenging too, because we are allocated funding for projects based on these. So far, we haven’t run short yet! There are also many challenges related to drilling that have to be overcome and can delay projects including fractured zones that clog up bits and formations that like to drink so much cement that you feel like it’ll never end!

What’s your advice for students?

Learn how to interview! When you go on an interview, you need to sell yourself. I know that’s a hard concept in science, but you are always selling something, whether it’s a project to a Governing Board or yourself for a new job or promotion. Work on your communication skills including writing and speaking. Presentations can be a major part of your job as you move up. Ask questions – no one will think you’re stupid. Stay away from the negative gossip mill. You know who those people are – don’t associate yourself with it. Stay positive and supportive of others. Have faith in yourself. You’ll see that what you don’t know now will be a piece of cake later. And finally, mentor others, take them under your wing, and don’t hoard your knowledge in fear of losing your job.  Their success will lead to your success!


Selfie on the UDR core rig. Photo by Sandie Will

Please don’t hesitate to leave questions in the comments below – I’m always happy to answer them.

**All opinions and statements are solely of my own and not that of my employer.

Geothermal Geologist, Kelly Blake @KRuth28: A Day in the GeoLife

NAME:  Kelly Blake


AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Geothermal exploration


EDUCATION:  Undergraduate degree in Environmental Geoscience from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania;
Master’s degree in Geology from Temple University in Philadelphia. I also spent two years working as a Geotechnical Engineer in New York between my undergraduate and graduate degree.

WEBSITE:  WING (Women in Geothermal)


Kelly Blake, Geothermal Geologist

What’s your job like?

My job is a great combination of a lot of different aspects of geology. Our office, the Navy Geothermal Program Office, was created because there is a geothermal field called the Coso Geothermal Field (Coso) within the fence line of a weapons testing station in the Mojave Desert. Coso has an installed capacity of 250 megawatts (MW), which distributes its power to southern California. Our office was created to explore for other geothermal resources on Department of Defense lands to try to replicate the success of Coso. We do so through geologic mapping, geochemistry analysis, shallow temperature drilling, geophysics (.e. gravity, magnetics, magnetotellurics (MT), reflection seismic), and drilling immediate and deep wells and testing them to determine their potential to produce geothermal power. Our main exploration sites are in California and Nevada, but our office has done work in Utah, Idaho, Hawaii and Guam.

What’s a typical day like?

The typical day can change very much. I can go from writing papers for submissions to conferences and  preparing proposals to be submitted to the United States Department of Energy (DOE) for additional funding, to being out in the field collecting geophysics. This job splits the desk time and field time to about 60/40% respectively, depending upon how busy we are in the field. A great example would be the past year of work. There were days when I was driving around checking seismometer equipment to make sure it was running correctly, to spending the day looking at core from Coso wells, to looking at image logs from wells, to being in the field collecting gravity measurements, to finally spending a week compiling a report.

What’s fun?

The fun portion of the job is mainly field work. Getting out in the field, hiking around, and collecting data is really the best part of the job. Spending time compiling and analyzing that data is always really interesting, but the time outdoors is the fun part.

What’s challenging?

There are many aspects that are challenging. When I first took the job, I had little experience within the geothermal industry, so getting up to speed and learning a lot in such a short period of time was challenging. Continuing to learn aspects of the science and industry that are not my strong points is also very challenging. The work itself, though, is very rewarding.

What’s your advice to students?

Mainly, be very persistent. I kept a journal of the jobs I applied to before I got this job. I have never counted how many jobs I applied to, but trust me that it was a lot! The squeaky wheel gets the oil, so never feel bad for bugging people consistently, especially when it comes to following up with an interview or the submission of a resume. Lastly, some advice I received from a childhood friend:  “Go in with everything you have; you may as well be good at whatever it is you are trying to do right now.”