Undergraduate and Exploration Geologist, Anna Bidgood, @akbidgood: A Day in the GeoLife Series

NAME:  Anna Bidgood

CURRENT TITLE:  Undergraduate and exploration geologist

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  1

EDUCATION:  I am currently an undergraduate studying Earth Science at Oxford University. This summer, I am working for a mining company in exploration geology in Peru, looking for copper porphyry deposits.

I am about to start my 4th year MEarthSci, where I will be studying metamorphic rocks from Massachusetts. I will be trying to uncover the story recorded in the garnets in these rocks to figure out what pressure and temperature they reached in the Earth, when the mountains were being built.

I studied geology at Sedbergh School which then led me on to study Earth Sciences at Oxford. My love of fieldwork led me to undertake my mapping project in South Greenland, and this year, I am spending the summer in the remote Andes.

WEBSITE:  http://annabidgood.wordpress.com/

Llama farmer

The home of one llama farmer in a remote region in the Andes. Photo source: Anna Bidgood

What’s your job like?

My job is extremely varied; you never know what’s going to come up day by day. Our work involves mapping areas with potential copper porphyry systems underground in order to locate the deposits. The mapping is combined with element concentrations in the soil, magnetic and gravity surveys, and other geophysical techniques. All of these techniques are used to locate the copper porphyry deposits.

However, there is a lot more to it than just mapping. Logistically, we need to prepare for staying up at a remote camp for a number of days. We need food, good sleeping bags, and all of the satellite imagery prepared in advance. The camp is at 4200m, so we need to make sure we acclimatise appropriately.

The geologist is at the forefront of exploration. This means that they are the first contact and continuous presence in the local community who are extremely important to a mining company.

What’s a typical day like?

On a typical day near the beginning of a project, we get up and eat breakfast at 6am. We then drive to the camp at 4200m in our 4 wheel drives and drop off supplies to prepare for when we will be sleeping there in the next few weeks. After a bite to eat, we drive to the field area, and after a quick chat with the local llama farmer, we begin mapping. 

Llama farm, Peru.  Photo source: Anna Bidgood

Llama farm, Peru. Photo source: Anna Bidgood

We map the rocks, alteration, and structure in the area for about 3-4 hours before heading back to camp. The sun is very strong at altitude, so I wear SPF 90 sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and long sleeves at all times! There are also a lot of small but spiky cacti around which pierce through your trousers and can only be removed with gloves or your geological hammer!

Despite all this, I love the fieldwork. There are some extremely interesting alteration minerals, a few of which I’ve never heard of before, and the views are stunning!

We drive back to town just as its starting to get dark (it’s winter here so it gets dark by 5:30pm) and have a big dinner and an early night to prepare us for the next day in the field!

As we get the camp set up and get used to working at altitude, we will start to spend the night up at camp. The temperatures at night will drop well below freezing, and the accommodation is very basic huts, but they keep us warm, and we have plenty of food.

What’s fun?

As a typical field geologist I love the fieldwork! To me this is the best part of the day, and although it can be tiring, it is also very fulfilling. You work in a team and as a result get to know everyone pretty well.

I’m also really enjoying trying out all of the different foods! So far, I’ve eaten grilled octopus and Ceviche (raw fish with lime) on the coast. I’ve eaten guinea pig (Cuy) up in the hills as well as a lot of chicken and rice! The other day I tried an unusual looking fruit which to my pleasant surprise turned out to be a huge passion fruit. The home grown popcorn is also very tasty. A popular drink in Peru is Inca Cola, a better seller than Coca Cola, which is very sweet. Even nicer than this, I think, is Cicha maraya, a natural beer made from apples, purple corn and cinnamon. The area I am staying in is known as the Ruta del Pisco, home of the pisco farms, Peru’s national drink made from grapes.

What’s challenging?

Despite working in Peru, I know very little Spanish, and the geologists I am working with know some English but not a lot. This is very challenging for me to communicate, especially as a lot of the geological discussions in the field are in Spanish. However, a lot of the geological words are very similar and guessable.

Working with the cacti and sun are very challenging in the field, but with the proper precautions, these can be dealt with if not avoided completely.

Mapping fieldwork. Photo source: Anna Bidgood

Mapping fieldwork on a steep slope covered in cactuses in the sun. Photo source: Anna Bidgood

What’s your advice to students?

If you are working in a foreign country, then I would advise learning as much of the language as possibly before you go. This will mean that you can pick it up a lot faster when you are out there. I would also recommend that if you are interested in working in the field to go ahead and get the experience! A lot of the skills we use in the mining industry are multidisciplinary and give you the experience of solving problems using a range of information.

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