Every geophysicist has a story to tell about the many twists and turns in their career development. This is a brief reflection on the paths taken by Larry Lines, Chair in Exploration Geophysics, during his career.
The Family Farm – A Beginning in Earth Sciences
Larry’s earliest years in earth sciences were spent on the family farm of Laurence and Agnes Lines, just south of Athabasca, Alberta. Like most Alberta farms, life was generally less hurried but more labor-intensive than life in urban centers. Larry, his parents, and four younger brothers shared the usual chores of feeding livestock, operating farm machinery, milking cows, and gardening. Although the county had only one large high school, this did not put Lines at a disadvantage compared to his urban counterparts. Many of the teachers in math and science during Larry’s high school education were experts in their fields and headed for graduate degrees themselves. Lines did well enough on a national physics prize exam to be encouraged by the University of Alberta to enroll in their physics department.
Academic Experiences at U of A and UBC
To say that physics education at U of A was academically intense would be an understatement. Even a Nobel Laureate, Dr. Richard Taylor, admitted having struggles with the U of A honours physics program during his undergraduate years. As another example, the 1971 honours physics graduating class of about 20 students would eventually produce 10 doctorates. Despite the intensity of the program, Lines decided to do graduate studies in physics, where he discovered that grad students could be thrust amid the fierce competitions of faculty members.
While doing his M.Sc., Lines was quickly initiated into academic battlegrounds. While his supervisor, Dr. Walter Jones, was a kind mentor, there were constant debates with others about the merits of various theories. Debates sometimes led to shouting in the hallways and to publications in which professors were critical of their colleagues in adjacent offices. During the completion of his M.Sc., Lines decided that it would be desirable to seek a change in climate (both geographically and academically). In the spring of 1972, he visited the UBC campus. With its backdrop of the Pacific Coast and snow-capped mountains, the campus has often been described as the most beautiful academic setting in North America.
During the interview with his eventual Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Tad Ulrych, it was mentioned that UBC researchers were involved in hockey, skiing, soccer, swimming, and sometimes geophysics. The UBC offer was too appealing to pass up. Ulrych’s interest in time series sparked research into seismic deconvolution and spectral analysis by a number of the UBC grad students. The atmosphere in the Department of Geophysics and Astronomy was informal, cooperative, productive, and similar to that of a “geophysical clubhouse”.
Despite these idyllic settings of UBC, the career (and life) of Larry Lines nearly came to an abrupt end during a marine seismic survey in 1973. In the earliest days of his crustal seismic surveys, Dr. Ron Clowes (today’s Lithoprobe director) had to employ economically sub-optimum procedures. In the seismic survey, the crew lit dynamite charges by using a propane torch tied to the ship’s deck. It was Larry’s job to assemble balloons for floating these charges. One night, after several hours of shooting, he heard John Brady, the ship’s engineer, yell out, “Holy Christ!” As he turned around, he saw a shaken Brady withdrawing a blasting cap from the propane flame. He had been distracted and had mistakenly put the wrong end of the fuse in the flame. Upon realizing this, he tossed the entire charge, detonator, and blasting cap overboard. To this day, people wonder why the cap had not exploded and blown up the ship. Despite this experience (and a few other field fiascos), Lines completed his Ph.D. while meeting his external thesis examiner and future mentor, Dr. Sven Treitel of Amoco Research.
Calgary Boom Days
The reputation of Sven and Amoco Research, along with previous Amoco summer jobs, made Larry’s choice of an employer quite easy. Upon completion of grad school, he ventured off to an exploration job at Amoco Canada in 1976. This was a very exciting time in the Alberta oil patch, with the West Pembina discovery and unprecedented drilling and seismic activity. Calgary was undergoing burgeoning growth and a boom-town economy. Activity for a beginner was literally a “baptism by fire” in exploration geophysics, as experienced geophysicists were leaving the major companies for jobs with smaller independent corporations. Lines was involved in frontier exploration in North Eastern British Columbia.
It was at this time that Larry married Shirley Pritchard, a geophysical technologist with Hudson Bay Oil and Gas. Shirley had received a physics B.Sc. from the University of New Brunswick, but was now a truly converted Albertan. Shortly after their marriage, they expected to be transferred to Amoco Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The eventual transfer was delayed due to intense Canadian industry activity and the birth of their daughter Wendy in 1979.
Amoco Research – A Geophysical Nirvana
Easton Wren once described trips to Amoco’s Tulsa Research Center like “going to Hollywood”. While walking down the hallway of this lab, one could not help but notice the names of many industry “stars” on the office doors. It was an ideal research setting in that there was the funding of industry and the freedom of a university. Amoco Research had a staff of 700 researchers in fields of engineering, geology, geophysics, and computer science. Most importantly, Larry had Sven Treitel as a mentor. Sven’s reputation was unrivalled in the oil industry. For three decades he mentored a team of geophysicists who conducted leading edge research into nearly all aspects of geophysical theory and applications. This team’s record of awards and publications is unmatched in the history of exploration geophysics.
As for personal life, Tulsa was a very friendly town. The Lines family enjoyed the community, and their son Andrew was born there in 1982. Through the 70s and 80s, there was considerable research support and activity. Life was good, until storm clouds began to gather over research labs in the early 90s. There was a movement to shut down the Tulsa lab, and researchers felt the time had come to move on to other careers.
Return to Canada and Newfoundland Adventures
During the year of the job search in 1992, Larry had returned from a job interview at a local university to find a letter from Dr. Jeremy Hall at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). The letter invited him to apply for the Chair in Applied Seismology sponsored by NSERC and Petro-Canada. Since he had just updated his resumé and was curious about the job and the province of Newfoundland, he applied for the job and was chosen as the candidate in early 1993. His wife’s reaction was immediately expressed by, “What the hell have got us into?”
The return to Canada and the acceptance of the MUN position are best described by the words of Helen Keller, “Life must be an adventure or it is nothing.” An adventure it was. There were days of hiking along shoreline trails, shoveling through the blizzards of horizontal snows, and learning about sled dogs. The northern adventures eventually led to Alaskan trips on the Iditarod Trail, the Chilkoot Trail, and to a bite worth 25 stitches when he tried to entered a growling contest with a friendly sled dog. Lines and his giant Alaskan Malamute, Aurora, are shown in the photo below.
However, there were many pleasant surprises at MUN. Instead of seeing a university with shacks by the sea, Lines was impressed by the buildings and facilities. Even more importantly, he was fortunate to supervise and teach a number of geophysical scholars – most of whom are employed by the petroleum industry in Calgary and around the world.
A Return to Alberta and the University of Calgary
The most recent chapter in Larry’s geo-journeys involved a return to his home province of Alberta. A phone call from Rob Stewart, an ad in the CSEG Recorder, coupled with enthusiastic spousal support, caused Lines to apply for the Chair in Exploration Geophysics at the University of Calgary. His acceptance marked a return to the Canadian oil capital and participation in one of the world’s largest geophysics departments. In the first two years, he served as the SEG Editor of Geophysics – this was the first time that the Editor served outside the United States. Today, activities are centered on research within the Consortium for Research in Elastic Wave Seismology (CREWES) and the Fold- Fault Research Project (FRP). The enthusiasm of his colleagues and graduate students make the research expeditions even more enjoyable.
All geophysicists have their journeys. There are times of challenge, despair, and triumph along the many career trails that geophysicists may choose. Change is ongoing and each trail brings its new experience coupled with new colleagues and friendships. This article is but a part of Larry Lines’ career travels, with the final trip report yet to be written.