“Geophysicists are important and needed...”

An interview with Ron Clowes

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra
Ron Clowes

Ron Clowes is a name synonymous with the famous LITHOPROBE Project conducted during the period 1984 to 2005. He was the Principal Investigator for this experiment and is still working on many outstanding aspects of it. Ron joined the University of British Columbia in 1970, remained there throughout his career and is currently working there as a Professor Emeritus.

As Director of LITHOPROBE, which redefined the way in which Earth Science research is conducted in Canada, he was instrumental in both its success as a project and its international acclaim.

During LITHOPROBE's life time, the project involved more than 1000 scientists (including more than 450 students/PDFs), facilitated interaction among the university, government and industry sectors, generated about 1500 publications, transferred newly developed technology to Canadian industry, demonstrated a new approach for exploration in mining camps, developed an important educational and public outreach program, and involved a budget totaling more than 100 million dollars from Science and Engineering Research Canada (NSERC), the Geological Survey of Canada and other sources.

Ron has done Canadians proud by winning numerous awards including being named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1998. He was made an Honorary Member of the CSEG in 1995, previously having received CSEG Best Presentation awards in 1966 and 1981 and the SEG Best Paper award for papers published in Geophysics in 1968. Other awards include the Past President's and Logan Medals of the Geological Association of Canada in 1988 and 2005, respectively, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1994, the J. Tuzo Wilson Medal of the Canadian Geophysical Union in 1998, and a Canada Council Killam Research Fellowship for 2004-06.

Ron was in Calgary to deliver his invited CSEG luncheon talk on March 30th, 2009 and this interview was conducted the following day. It is always a pleasure chatting with Ron, who was very frank in answering the questions posed to him and this made the interview a very pleasant and interesting discussion. Following are excerpts from the interview.

Ron, let’s begin by asking about your educational and work experience.

Okay. I am a Calgary native, and grew up here. I went to Crescent Heights High School, and then University of Alberta, Calgary, in 1960 when it just started on its present campus. At that time, it was a sub-campus of the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I was taking an Honours Physics Program and in order to complete the last two years of that Program I had to go to Edmonton, hence my degree is in Honours Physics from the University of Alberta in 1964.

Then I continued with a Masters in Geophysics in 1966 followed by a Ph.D. in Geophysics in 1969, both at U. of A. Dr. Ernie Kanasewich was my Supervisor; I am sure many CSEG and SEG members know about him and his work.

In terms of work experience, I was very fortunate. I started out with a summer job with Shell Oil right after Grade XI. I was in the Geophysics Group and my official title was “Seismic Computer”, because what I was doing were uphole calculations and related aspects of seismic record analysis. That summer led to three more summers at Shell, two with the Geology Group and then one more with the Geophysics Group. After Grade XII, I spent the summer doing field work west of Sundre. This was in a camp where we rode horses to the base of the mountains for each day’s stratigraphic measurements – other people were paying big money for such experiences and I was getting paid to do it!

The following summer I spent as a field assistant with Pete Gordy, a well- known name in the Industry. We were using a helicopter to do reconnaissance work along the Front Ranges of the Rockies from north of Jasper to the Kananaskis – talk about great scenery! These were fantastic and memorable experiences for a young man. And then following my Bachelor Degree I worked with Mobil, getting some field experience and working on a project with Hans den Boer; again, many in the industry in Calgary would know. As I recall, the project involved trying to establish an empirical relationship between gamma ray and sonic logs. It turned out to be a linear one, so immediately got pegged within Mobil as the “Clowes Line”. That’s my actual industry experience, all from summer jobs.

Following my Ph.D., I received an NRC, now NSERC, Postdoctorate Fellowship that took me to the Australian National University in Canberra. It was supposed to be for two years but I got a job offer at UBC after the first year and decided it was a good opportunity. So I got to UBC in 1970 and have been there ever since.

What kind of research did you do for your Ph.D.?

For my Ph.D., Ernie and I and another faculty member, George Cumming, actually established the Seismic Reflection Technique as used in Industry as a viable technique for crustal studies. That’s what my Ph.D. was about. It’s an interesting story because at that point in time, in the early 60s, a book had been written by John Steinhart from Lamont Doherty and Bob Meyer from the University of Wisconsin explaining why you could never get near-vertical-incidence reflections from the base of the crust, the Moho. They were influenced by work that had gone on in the States using land refraction techniques and that had been unsuccessful in near-vertical imaging of the Moho. The difference with what we did at Alberta is that Ernie had industry experience from before he became a Prof., and he decided to try using industry-type techniques rather than academic refraction techniques.

Following our results, Bob Phinney from Princeton University worked with Ernie on some studies in the northwestern U.S. This subsequently led to the U.S. COCORP Program, which started in the mid-1970s, and established unequivocally the efficacy of using industry-type reflection techniques with vibroseis sources to image crustal structures.

Very interesting. So you were in Australia for about a year, then you joined UBC and have been there since. Could you give us some compelling reasons for you to stay on in just one place?

Maybe it’s inertia. When I was in Australia as a post-doc, I did what many young post-docs might do – thought about where I would like to live and where I would like to get an academic position. The places that I had in mind prior to receiving any information or making any applications were UBC, Dalhousie, and probably the University of Calgary because I thought it would be expanding at that point in time. Suffice it to say, I ended up at UBC and have enjoyed being there ever since. Metro Vancouver is a wonderful city. UBC is a fine university and the campus is one of the most beautiful in the country.

What really made UBC so good for me were the people I have worked with, both faculty and graduate students. One whom you would know, since you have interviewed him also, is Tad Ulrych. Bob Ellis, a good colleague and friend, is another seismologist with whom I worked for many years. Doug Oldenburg, another CSEG Honorary Member, influenced many of my students. So it’s that combination of people and place. When I went to UBC, I decided to set up the Marine Seismic Research Program. That program went very well, but when I became Director of Lithoprobe something had to give and it was the marine studies. Having become Director of Lithoprobe in 1987, the project continued until 2005, which was almost retirement time for me. Thus, there just was no real reason for me to leave UBC. Everything was going very well and my career has been very charmed.

Ron & Satinder

You were Director of Lithoprobe from 1987 until 2005 when the program ended. Could you tell our readers about the scope and objective of this experiment, and how were these fulfilled?

Lithoprobe was a project that was initiated in the early 1980s by a group of fairly senior scientists — I wasn’t a senior scientist then; I was sort of mid-career I guess you would say. At that point in time the Earth Sciences in Canada were not particularly in a strong position. We wanted to remedy that and one of the views of remedying that was to have a megaproject in the Earth Sciences. That’s eventually where Lithoprobe came in. The idea of Lithoprobe was to investigate the three-dimensional structure of the Canadian landmass and continental margins and the processes involved in their development. We already had fairly decent geology from the GSC, who have been actively mapping the country since the 1840s, and many other studies. What we didn’t have was the third dimension – depth.

The concept within Lithoprobe was to address the third dimension using remote-sensing techniques – basically seismic, but also including magnetotelluric to get another physical parameter, and gravity and magnetics when appropriate. One of the reasons that the Steering Committee chose to go in that direction is that at that time the lithosphere, i.e., the crust plus the uppermost mantle, was a very hot research topic world-wide. There was an International Lithosphere Program that Lithoprobe fit into. So Lithoprobe got its genesis through a series of meetings and cooperation and pushing from a bunch of people including members of the GSC and the Academic community.

In terms of the scope, we chose particular areas – we called them transects – with good geological targets that involved important tectonic processes. The first Transects, Vancouver Island as the start of the Southern Cordillera, and the Kapuskasing Structural Zone - a small area in the Archean Superior Province - were selected by the Steering Committee. Thereafter, selections were proposal-based. Scientists had to propose the next Transects, explaining why they were important and what the objectives for the particular study areas were.

“How were these fulfilled” was one of your questions. The national scope and the objectives were fulfilled by having decentralized research. And the research itself was very multidisciplinary – any aspect of solid earth sciences and geology, geophysics or geochemistry that you could name have probably been attempted in one or more Lithoprobe transects.

Another aspect of how it was fulfilled was the fact that we had a budget that enabled involvement of the broad Canadian academic community. My budget from NSERC during the active phases of Lithoprobe averaged around 4 million dollars. A quarter of that budget, typically about a million dollars a year, was directed toward a separate NSERC-style grant competition. On an equitable basis across the country, individual University scientists could apply for additional funding from Lithoprobe that was directed toward the objectives of the Transect and that they could add on to their normal NSERC funding. This was done on a competitive basis so we established a Grant Selection Committee. The individual proposals also went out for peer review. So the project was accomplished by bringing the community into it, partly through carrots such as having extra money, but also, once the project became fairly successful, people wanted to get in on it because it was a good opportunity to do research that they otherwise would not be able to do.

What personal qualities do you think helped you with your achievements?

That’s a good question. I guess determination and perseverance, and working hard, which of course goes along with them. In terms of being Director of Lithoprobe, I think it did require a certain ability to get people to work together, not really as a manager in a sense that you are controlling people, because I didn’t control them, but just to try to get them cooperating. That is some kind of, I don’t know what you call it, an ability to get groups of people working together and I guess also thinking about the big picture.

Once I became Director of Lithoprobe and realized how extensive the project was becoming, I had to expand my own vision because I started out just doing active-source seismology in the marine environment with very little geology background. I have never had a geology course because I took physics, so becoming Director of Lithoprobe with all of the geological components involved there, I really had a lot to learn. I guess that’s another quality if you like, it’s a lifetime of learning. I don’t know if that answers the question.

Yes, that certainly answers the question. Tell us about your teaching – what type of courses did you teach at UBC?

I have had a very unusual academic career because once I became Director of Lithoprobe, the demands of that particular position were such that I actually didn’t teach. Also, my salary was not paid by the University but by the Research Grant that I brought into the University, thereby leaving my UBC salary in the department for replacement teaching or other purposes.

Before I became Director of Lithoprobe I primarily taught a thirdyear course in seismology which includes basic seismology as well as applied seismology and also the fourth-year applied geophysics course which was geophysics except seismology - so electromagnetics, magnetics, gravity and those sorts of subjects. I also taught courses for non-science students. I’ve also taught the geophysics component of some first year courses and graduate level courses in seismology.

Going through your list of Graduate Students that you have supervised, I see some familiar names; how many students have you supervised in all, both for M.Sc. and Ph.D.?

Well since you have given me a little bit of forewarning about this I actually looked it up in my files. I have graduated 31 M.Sc. and 11 Ph.D. students, supervised 9 Postdoctoral fellows and 2 Research Associates and had 2 international visiting scientists, so it was a fairly active time in terms of research and supervision.

No doubt. What areas of geophysics interest you more than the others? I know you taught more courses on seismology than others maybe, and were your research efforts similarly focused?

My research efforts have focused entirely on active-source seismology with a view to understanding tectonics and crustal/lithospheric structure, but having said that I have often had to bring in gravity, magnetics and obviously geology. In the earlier stages of my career doing marine seismic — working in the marine environment is simpler than working in the continental environment where there haven’t been as many deformation and collisional events — I focused on refraction seismology and field experiments. That continued even when I was Director of Lithoprobe, as I was also the P.I. or co-P.I. for many Lithoprobe refraction/ wide-angle reflection experiments using explosives for the long off-set studies. Of course, having started my research career doing reflection seismology, I have always felt akin to it and was involved scientifically in many Lithoprobe reflection studies. But application to crustal studies is just a little different than what you do in the Petroleum Industry. Reflection seismology provides the images that you can relate most closely to geology and that brings in the geologist to work with you. In response to your question about areas of geophysics, my interest expands beyond geophysics into tectonics, the processes associated withg tectonics and the development of lithospheric structure. This interest comes about from my interaction with my many colleagues from Lithoprobe and from being Director. However, if you look at my publication list, most of the papers have a seismological slant to them.

Ron, could you share with us one or two of your most exciting successes? Of course as you mentioned the Lithoprobe experiment was a very successful project that you worked on for several years, and so I’m sure there are one or two specific successes that stand out from the rest.

One of them was doing the marine seismic work in 1985 over Juan de Fuca Ridge. We deployed ocean bottom seismographs, recorded the data and developed the analysis for the first tomographic study of a ridge crest. In so doing, we actually beat both Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Scripps Institute of Oceanography, although they followed shortly on other ridges. The project was very successful; we identified the magna chamber below Juan de Fuca Ridge. So that is one.

I guess another one would be the success of our SAREX (Southern Alberta Refraction Experiment) / Deep Probe experiment that extended from northern Alberta down to southern New Mexico. It was a 2500 km refraction profile. The original experiment was planned to be a profile within Alberta by the Lithoprobe Program. When some of my colleagues in the U.S. heard about it, they got funds from the National Science Foundation to piggyback our experiment and extend the profile into the U.S. Now we had a lot of shot points in Alberta because we planned and permitted for the experiment. The U.S. group had very few shot points because they were only able to use abandoned mine sites, but there were sufficient to determine the general crustal structure. We had receiver stations at 1-2 km intervals all the way from northern New Mexico to central Alberta in two different deployments.

The results were really interesting in identifying a very prominent thickening of the crust and what we interpreted was a Paleoproterozoic underplate of up to 20 km thick at the base of the crust and underlying the Archean rocks of the Wyoming Province. Our reason for a Paleoproterozoic interpretation was based on dated xenoliths from the lower crust from the Sweet Grass Hills of northern Montana. However, I think there is still some controversy about this particular interpretation. But the thick, high velocity lower crustal layer is well defined by turning rays and wide-angle reflections from the top and bottom of the feature. Another interesting result, possible because of the large-offset data, was the identification of two dipping reflectors in the mantle, at depths from about 60 to 100 km. Definition of such features is not common. We were able to model the dipping reflectors using finite difference techniques and indicate that the reflectors were about 5-10 km thick.

What do you see as your most important contribution to geophysics?

I guess overall my leadership and coordination of Lithoprobe is my most important contribution. And I need to keep repeating that the reason Lithoprobe was so successful was that I had such supportive collaborators who took the science very seriously and did a fantastic job. I had many funding proposals to prepare, and that was up to me to get done, but I could not have done it without the input from each of the Transect Leaders who got information from the Transect Team members.

Scientifically, I suppose some of the more important contributions I made are the seismic synthesis papers that I, with my students and colleagues from other universities, have put together for Southern Cordillera, Northern Cordillera, Alberta basement and Trans-Hudson Orogen. I think it’s very useful when you are running a large program that has many publications related to a particular area to have one or two papers that bring some aspects of it, in my case the seismological aspects, together to present the larger scale perspective. Of course, we have had our Transect Summaries in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences and the Transect Leaders have done tremendous jobs of putting together these volumes.

Of course over the years I have been aware of many of your achievements, and some of the awards and other forms of recognition you have received. In preparing for this interview I have learned of even more. Could you comment on this?

Well, I have been fortunate to receive many awards, as my CV shows. I think that’s in recognition of the role that I played at Lithoprobe but I want to comment explicitly that yes, I was the Director of Lithoprobe, but the accomplishments of Lithoprobe and many of the awards that I have been given as a result represent the work of many colleagues and students. Everyone knows you don’t have a big project like that with only one person. So I have received accolades on behalf of the project and certainly without question the award that is most meaningful is the Order of Canada.

When my wife, Sheila, and I were flown to Ottawa in October of 1998 to receive the Order in Rideau Hall, there was a formal reception and dinner after the ceremony. As Sheila said, it was like being Cinderella at the ball! It was an absolutely delightful experience and not just because of me receiving the Award, but because of the people that we met that were also receiving Awards. Some of the other Order of Canada recipients were big names you hear about in the news. Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau were there and being promoted to Companion, the Highest Order. For me as a hockey player and great fan, this was very exciting. George Chuvalo, the boxer, was there. He’s had some tragic events in his life and he was there with his partner and just talking to him was such a delight. Those are the big names but then there were tens of others who no one has heard of who have made amazing contributions.

One, who is relevant to Calgary, was an elderly fellow who came with his daughter. He was known as the “King of the Cowboys” and the reason he was known as that was that he was the person who established the Canadian Rodeo Association. He was there in his western-style tuxedo with black cowboy boots and he was just a delight to talk to; he has subsequently passed away. I’ll give just one other example because I think this gives a flavour of what the Order of Canada represents.

A person that we ended up having breakfast with the morning after the ceremony – I met him of course before that – was a fellow who was from northern Canada. He had actually conceived and developed the first ice roads in the North. Well, you know how important ice roads are to the economic development in the North and this is partly why he received the Order of Canada. But he was such a down-to-earth fellow. He had never been in a tuxedo in his life before and he was just so humble. Like him, we all wondered what we were doing there amongst all these people who have accomplished so much on such a broad range of things. It was just a wonderful experience. So that’s enough on the Order of Canada.

On a couple of other awards, being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada is pretty prestigious! But one of the very early ones that I think about was when I was a graduate student, and I mentioned it earlier on. I submitted my first paper to the journal Geophysics. It was on the deep reflection work that I had done with Ernie Kanasewich and George Cumming in Southern Alberta and I think it included part of my Masters and the beginning part of my Ph.D. Thesis work. It was published in 1968 and that year won the Best Paper Award for papers published in Geophysics. And there I was, still a graduate student, so I thought everything would be down hill from there on in.

And certainly you know the Industry Awards, such as Honorary Membership in CSEG, are interesting recognition from Industry, given that I really have not done anything that is specifically directed toward Industry. I respect very much the fact that I have been awarded the top medal from the Canadian Geophysical Union and also from the Geological Association of Canada. But I repeat, that’s in recognition of the success of Lithoprobe. I am the figurehead that receives the recognition but it really is recognition of a huge number of people that put in a lot of effort over a very long time.

Ron Clowes

What personal and professional vision did you work towards all throughout your career?

Vision? I come back to something I mentioned earlier, which is just the ability to work with people and treating all the people you are working with, whether they are Undergraduates, Graduate Students or your colleagues, treating them all the same. I think that it’s very important to have everyone feel that they are on the same level and that there is not a “Herr Professor” stating what “must be done”.

My long-term research vision has always been to try to provide information that will help us understand the current structure of the crustal lithosphere in particular parts of our country and then further to that, understand the tectonic processes that have been involved in generating the structure we see today. Of course, that leads to working with my colleagues and working backwards with respect to the evolution of the domains that we are talking about. So I think it’s a combination of a large number of smaller projects, and trying to build these into a greater understanding. Clearly there is no way I was going to do this on my own and I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one who has had those sorts of visions.

Perfect, thank you very much. Can you say something about the funding?

I think it’s very important that people appreciate where the funding came from. Science and Engineering Research Canada (NSERC) was the primary sponsor. Starting in 1984 they funded Phase I and then starting in 1987 they funded Lithoprobe on a sustaining basis through to 2003. The funds that I still had remaining in 2003 were carried forward for another two years. The other co-sponsor of Lithoprobe was the Geological Survey of Canada. They would put up half a million dollars per year towards the seismic reflection contracts, plus they had a lot of their scientists spending their entire research effort on Lithoprobe studies. Then there were field camps, student assistants and all the analyses that went on from the GSC side. So NSERC and the GSC were the two primary sponsors and funders.

But in addition, there were three other important aspects. One of course was Industry – both the Base Metal Mining and the Petroleum industries. Mining provided significant amounts of cash and a lot of in-kind support – like drill core, logistics support, access to their drill holes for things like heat flow studies, etc. The Petroleum Industry was very supportive both with cash and donations of data. We had a huge donation of data from Southeastern B.C. and another large donation of data within Alberta. These were Vibroseis data that could be correlated to greater travel times by extended correlation techniques and image to near the base of the crust. Pan Canadian, mainly through Pete Savage, was very supportive and gave us data that became part of Lithoprobe.

We interviewed Pete Savage some years ago.

Yeah, Pete is a great guy. As I mentioned in my luncheon talk, the Petroleum Industry totally funded the Peace River Arch Industry Seismic Experiment, which was about 620 km of deep reflection data. Then when diamonds became a big thing in the Slave Province of the Northwest Territories, the Diamond Industry was supportive, particularly of magnetotelluric studies because they can detect the base of the lithosphere. There was a lot of support financially and in-kind, such as providing floatplanes to deploy some of the instruments. For example, we deployed lake-bottom instruments for a year as well as worked on the ice roads in the North.

Then when we were working in Provincial jurisdictions, the Provincial Geological Surveys realized it was an advantage for them because their objective is to provide background geological information and geophysical information to encourage resource development and resource exploration. So they would combine their efforts with us as well.

The third additional basis of funding support is something that I kept track of because it was important to pass this information back to NSERC. A lot of Lithoprobe scientists applied their NSERC Discovery grants, i.e., their normal research grants, directly to Lithoprobe studies. That amounted to many millions of dollars over the years. For example, all of my personal NSERC funding was used on Lithoprobe studies for many, many years, close to twenty. Discovery grant funds mostly were going to be spent on the Earth Sciences in Canada anyway, but in this way they got focused on Lithoprobe and I think again contributed to the overall success of the project.

Because Lithoprobe was getting funding from all these different areas, and involved many different disciplines, did it act as a catalyst to pull them together into new working relationships?

Yes, absolutely, you’re on to something there. I think Lithoprobe achieved something really important – it really set a new direction for Earth Science Research in Canada. Prior to Lithoprobe, geologists and geophysicists in the academic field didn’t work together as much as they do in Industry. Lithoprobe definitely changed that, and I think that was very important and it continues to this day. Everyone realizes that the sum of having a whole bunch of groups working together provides a much more comprehensive result than what you can achieve individually. So that is one point. And that is a big shift in the way Academic Earth Science Research is carried out in Canada.

The other big shift that was fostered by Lithoprobe was the collaboration that developed between the Geological Survey of Canada, the Provincial/Territorial Geological Surveys, Academia and Industry. The Universities and the Geological Survey had a fairly strong interaction prior to Lithoprobe, but the Geological Survey of Canada did not interact well with its provincial counterparts. They just went into a region and worked. Lithoprobe, through its focus in specific areas, actually brought these groups closer together such that now the GSC, wherever it’s in a provincial jurisdiction, works collaboratively with them. That did not exist before Lithoprobe. Of course bringing in Industry with all of those groups also was important, although there were many individual academics that obviously worked with Industry for years before Lithoprobe. But I think the whole vision of the different sectors working together was demonstrated to be very valuable to the results that we were all trying to achieve together. And so I think in this way, Lithoprobe made a paradigm shift in the way in which Earth Science Research is conducted in Canada.

Ron you have a really impressive list of publications and the question that came to my mind was – have you ever thought of writing a comprehensive book which sort of compiles the relevant information all under one cover?

To be honest – no. I have not thought about writing such a book.

In your luncheon talk, you referred to a book just published.

It’s a real struggle to write books so I never really thought about writing a book for scientists. As you just inferred, there is another book that I have got involved in writing but this is a book for the adult public. I am quite pleased with it. My co-author, John Wilson, is a geologist by background and training. He actually worked with the Alberta Geological Survey, but in the 80s he decided that his interest really was in writing, particularly fiction and non-fiction for youth. So he is the person who wrote the children’s book based on Lithoprobe results which was published in 2003.

Then he and I have collaborated over the last few years in developing this book called “Ghost Mountains and Vanished Oceans – North America from Birth to Middle Age”. It’s not a scientific publication. I think it’s important though because one of the reasons I really felt good about doing that book, and it took a lot more effort than I even thought it would, is because I do think it is important to get science into a venue that the interested public can absorb, because you can’t expect the public to read scientific publications. They are intended for scientists. This was a challenge to write a book that was a summary of science projects but in a way that would be interesting to the general public. We will see whether we have succeeded or not. The release date for the book is April 25th.

But coming back to an earlier point that you were raising about bringing it all together, in fact Lithoprobe as a project identified that this was important in our final proposals to NSERC and indicated that that’s what we would do. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to do it as promptly as I would have liked but it is in progress. There is one synthesis volume that is looking at the Transects in terms of a comparison of orogens and their crustal structures across the country, from Phanerozoic through the Archean. This is a book that’s being edited by John Percival of the GSC and Fred Cook at U of C. It will be a GAC Special Paper with the tentative title “Tectonic Styles in Canada Revisited – the Lithoprobe View”. The title comes back to a book that was published as a GAC Special Paper in 1972, called “Variations in Tectonic Styles in Canada”, by Ray Price and Bob Douglas. This was the first book that talked about Canadian Geology post the plate tectonics revolution, so it was influential in the sense that it took into account the plate tectonics concept. So we thought that with what Lithoprobe has done across the country we have actually expanded on that theme. The book is in an advanced stage of preparation.

A second synthesis volume, to be called “LITHOPROBE – Parameters, Processes and the Evolution of a Continent”, is also being prepared and I am the editor of that one. It focuses on processes that we now think we understand a little more about as well as a number of aspects that don’t fit into the comparison of orogenic anatomy. For example, there is a series of papers on geodynamic modeling and how that ties in with some of the Lithoprobe results. Some other papers relate to the sub-crustal lithosphere and to Lithoprobe’s scientific contributions to industry. I think that these aspects are important because they are all components that contribute to the larger picture that we are aiming for.

Absolutely. That is ideal because it is good to have some form of compilation for future generations too.

I agree with you, I think it is very important, and that’s why even though I am now retired I am pushing this forward.

Ron let me ask you about your experiences as a CSEG Distinguished Lecturer. I know you are still continuing with that; how many places have you been to so far?

I don’t know exactly, probably around twenty now.

So you have another ten or so to go?

Yes, about ten, three within the next few weeks. Due to illness in February, I had to cancel out a week in Ontario, so that has actually been postponed to the fall; there were no other weeks to fit it in. So in the fall I think I will have six more to go. It is a large commitment but I am very grateful for the support of the CSEG and the fact they put on no restrictions. Frankly, I have been to places where the CSEG is not represented but they were very interested in hearing about Lithoprobe.

And you were asking about experiences. In my trip to the Maritimes, which was last November, I was at a number of smaller Universities, Acadia in Wolfville and St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. There was very good attendance from undergraduates. The lectures were received well and I was very pleased with that. Anyway, one day I was traveling from Antigonish to Wolfville which is only about a three hour drive or something like that. As I started out late it in the afternoon, snow started coming down. Well it turns out there was this big storm just coming in. There is a part of the road that’s known as the Snow Belt and that’s just exactly where I was heading. OK, but an eighteenwheeler jackknifed across the two lanes of a four lane divided highway, closing the highway. So I was stuck on my way to Wolfville for about four hours as the snow was coming down – about two feet of it during that time. I had planned on filling up with gas in Wolfville so I had very little gas - not good. Eventually I went to the car behind me and asked if the person was familiar with the area and where I could get off to get gasoline, once we all got moving. So she invited me to sit in her car, which was very kind. When we eventually got going again, the two lanes going in my direction were just two little tracks that you had to follow to get out of the area. At the first opportunity, when I saw a Super 8 Motel that was off the highway, I went in there because it was way too dangerous to continue my drive to Wolfville. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to my reserved accommodation – one of the best B&Bs in Nova Scotia. That was an interesting experience from the negative side I suppose. But I had a really positive experience with the lectureship in that area.

When I went to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, the flights were such that you have to fly one day, then you spend the day and then you fly back the next day. Because of that timing, the NWT Geoscience group asked me if I would be prepared to give a public lecture as well as the CSEG tour lecture. So I agreed to give the public lecture — on earthquakes and tsunamis. They advertised it under the title “Monstrous earthquakes and tsunamis on the West Coast”. The lecture was held on a Tuesday evening in a relatively new museum with a great lecture room. I think it was something like -15 °C, relatively mild for Yellowknife in late January. They warned me that “we have no idea how many people would be turning out”. So they put out fifty chairs, they filled up, they put out a bunch more, they filled up, etc. In the end there were over ninety people who came to this talk, including a number of young people that came with their parents. The talk was about an hour or so and included some videos from the Sumatra tsunami and animations about tsunami dangers on the west coast. It went over very well. When I was introduced, it was made clear that I was the CSEG Distinguished Lecturer and explained what that was. At the end I was kept up on the stage for twenty minutes responding to questions. I found this extremely gratifying, given that I prepared this public lecture separate from the five different versions of the CSEG tour talk.

Just the response I get from different Universities has been very gratifying. Of course from a personal viewpoint the opportunity to reconnect with many of the Lithoprobe scientists that were involved in the project over the past 20 years has been great because I don’t see them as often anymore. Also, I really appreciate the opportunity the tour has given me to go back and provide a summary of Lithoprobe results to groups that have heard specifics of it but never seen an overview, and particularly because when I first was Director of Lithoprobe I funded myself to go on a national tour, partly because there were some naysayers and concerns that Lithoprobe was taking money away from the Earth Sciences.

People like to know what is coming out of it.

Yes, exactly. At that time early on in the project, there was a lot of support but there was also some concern, particularly within the geological community, that this was a geophysical boondoggle. So I made a point of explaining how Lithoprobe was going to work and the fact that we were bringing in a lot more money to the Earth Sciences. There was a very minor penalty the first year of Lithoprobe and after that it was all positive. Obviously we had much success over the years but right at the beginning that was an important thing to do. I often thought that it would be great to redo such a tour and present results, but no longer had the funds to do this. So the CSEG tour opportunity came at the right time and we advertised it as a CSEG tour that happens to have Lithoprobe content in terms of the talk.

Ron, what are your other interests apart from the science that you practice?

My wife and I like to travel a lot so we try to travel around. Before I got too busy with science as a faculty member, particularly Lithoprobe, I actually did pottery as a hobby. I still have a potter’s wheel that I am thinking I may get back to once I get the synthesis volumes out and some of my files that have been sitting in the filing cabinet that need to be written up. Another interest is sports and keeping fit. I played hockey until maybe ten years ago. I can’t say I particularly like to jog — I do it because it’s good for my health, but I prefer cycling, swimming and things like that.

My wife and I like to travel a lot so we try to travel around. Before I got too busy with science as a faculty member, particularly Lithoprobe, I actually did pottery as a hobby. I still have a potter’s wheel that I am thinking I may get back to once I get the synthesis volumes out and some of my files that have been sitting in the filing cabinet that need to be written up. Another interest is sports and keeping fit. I played hockey until maybe ten years ago. I can’t say I particularly like to jog — I do it because it’s good for my health, but I prefer cycling, swimming and things like that.

One final question. What would be your message for young geophysicists entering and taking up your position as a career?

Well, first of all I think there is still a lot of opportunity, in spite of naysayers who don’t know the situation, for geophysicists and earth scientists in general. Certainly the Petroleum Industry isn’t going to die any time soon, it may contract but it’s not going to die out. Geophysics is so broad that it can be applied in many directions. This is where I think a lot of students don’t appreciate it, particularly those that don’t know about the Earth Sciences because they see it as related to resource development and perceive that as being negative. But geophysics can be used for all sorts of environmental studies and in fact I think is essential for many of the environmental studies that will have to be done – things like ground penetrating radar are noninvasive methods where there is contamination, so there are opportunities there from that point of view. In terms of what you might learn as a geophysicist I think you really have to keep your mind open and get as broad an education in geophysics and in the Earth Sciences as you can because it’s clear, much more so than in my day, it’s clear that the number of jobs you may have and the number of companies you may work for will change, will increase over your career and you have to be able to have that background that enables you to adapt and take advantage of opportunities that are offered to you.

Another aspect of the question – I think geophysicists and earth scientists in general have to keep an open mind and particularly be able to appreciate what the other aspects of their discipline can add to their own specialty. No one can understand or have the entire background that is necessary to address a problem and I think the oil industry is probably the one that is emblematic of that because you have to work as teams. So not only do you have to be willing to accept the viewpoints and understand the viewpoints of others, you have to be able to work collaboratively in teams. That applies a lot for sure in Industry; it actually applies a lot in academia as well. You can be an isolated person but most departments prefer scientists or academics that are going to contribute, not only to their own research, but contribute to the “esprit de corps”, to the environment of the entire department. And that means you can’t be sort of holed off in your office your entire life, you have to be a person that gets out and tries to engage students, tries to talk about things with your other faculty members.

I don’t know if I have answered the question entirely, but I think that geophysicists are important and needed. Geophysics, coming back to its definition, is the application of basic physics or classical physics to a study of the earth. That’s what geophysics is and it will always be needed. The idea of classical physics techniques applied to the study of the earth is what excited me about geophysics and I think there is still a lot of excitement to be found in the particular program.

Well Ron, I thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to sit and talk with you.

You’re welcome! I think you have been thorough in your questions, and I have been pretty long-winded in my responses, and it has been very interesting. Thank you.


Share This Interview