I keep getting asked what a field geophysicist actually does. Geophysics is an adventure vacation crossed with electronics lab; field geophysicists are the hybrid offspring of MacGuyver and a James Bond villan.Geophysics is the science of collecting data on the surface and using it to determine properties of what’s below the surface. The SubSurface Wiki can offer more details, but in practice it usually means stringing out a whole bunch of cables, doing something to provoke the planet, and watching what happens. String out cables, plant geophones, set off a few explosions, and watch the seismic vibrations come in. String out cables, zap the earth with a few thousand volts, and observer the current propagate. String out a pair of antenna, pour radar waves into the glacier, and collect the echo from the bedrock. When everything is working smoothly and the data is pouring in, it’s challenging not to rub my hands and let out a maniacal cackle of victory each time I push the red button. As for the MacGuyver portion of the job, a field geophysicist must use what they have in their kit to fix equipment when it breaks, or adapt equipment to unexpected environments. Like the Discworld witches, I may cheat a little bit by casually keeping my pockets full of interesting and useful items. I feel like MacGuyver every time I’m soldering lightbulbs in the rain to build a variable current meter, or using a hair dryer on a hillside to conquer condensation in cable connections. The theme song would fit when I’m using using bobby pins as jumpers and dental floss as guywire, commuting by helicopter, travelling to a new remote location every week, or carrying multiple radios on a regular basis.
With all the reality tv series about truckers in the far north, fishermen in the Arctic seas, and loggers in the bush, I can’t believe no one has pitched Mountain Men, the true tales of mining exploration camps. When it finally happens, the geophysicists will be the reoccurring guest stars, adding that touch of geeky science to appeal to university audiences. And you can bet we’ll have our own theme music.