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There's no denying that Jurassic Park was a staple of the 1990s: a trilogy (and soon-to-be quadrilogy) that likely inspired the newest generation of archeologists, paleontologists, and geneticists. Who can forget the opening scenes when a much younger Sam Neill used those cool, seismic technologies to uncover the ancient remains of a velociraptor?

If you don't remember or haven't even seen the original Jurassic Park, Devon Energy geophysicist Alanna Caldwell can help lift the rock you're living under. She may not dig for dinosaur bones, but she's part of a career that's erupting with innovative technologies and a fast-growing number of jobs to match.

From her high-tech office in Calgary, Alberta, Caldwell regularly interprets seismic data'sound waves that are released into the earth'and these data, called shot records, are compiled together and processed into an image of the subsurface. According to Caldwell, the cycle of her duties includes acquiring data, processing and interpreting it, and working closely with geologists and engineers to collaborate on choosing ideal oil and gas locations.

Oil, gas, and a bad rap?

Generally, geophysicists use a variety of tools to locate oil, natural gas, coal, copper, iron, and other minerals, which can be helpful in identifying environmental hazards and evaluating potential oil and gas sites. As an added bonus, the job doesn't harm the Earth's surface with drills or other destructive tools. But, according to Caldwell, the oil and gas industry tends to be riddled with negative criticism from the public.  

I think what people need to remember is that the economy of this city'of this country'is largely dependent on oil and gas, says Caldwell. Everybody in this city benefits indirectly from the oil and gas industry, so when I hear my friends ragging on it, I see it as my duty to educate them about the facts ÔǪ I think there is a lot of misinformation floating around about the ÔÇÿbig, bad' oil and gas companies.

Anil Sharma, president of AKS Geoscience, looks for contamination and subsurface pollution caused by manmade effects, such as those brought on by broken pipelines. Today, geophysical methods typically come into play in subsurface exploration since they produce the most efficient and accurate results.

Alberta: a humble (and oily) abode

According to Sharma, an active environmental geophysicist, there are about 1,300 geophysicists in Calgary, (primarily involved in oil and gas exploration), and the city will be welcoming plenty more in the coming years. He attributes this to the fact that exploration is global in nature and the demand is expected to rise. Today there are hundreds of geophysicist positions, whether they are affiliated with petroleum, mining, or the environment.

Because [most] projects in environmental geophysics are relatively small, you actually go out and collect your own data, process, and interpret it, says Sharma. You're kind of doing everything, and it can be pretty intense, physically. I personally really like that because it gets me out into the outdoors and you see places you would normally never see.

Caldwell agrees with Sharma on the future of geophysics: The demand for geophysicists is only going to increase in this industry, especially considering a lot of our more seasoned geophysicists are going to be retiring soon  I recommend to any student who has a passion for math, physics, [and] geology, to pursue it.

But don't take it for granite. (Err  granted!) A career in geophysics is a career hard-earned. The more experience you can nab with various computer platforms and software programs, the better. A bachelor's degree in physics, math, or geology is also highly encouraged.

I'm educated, not just in a technical sense, but also from a personal growth perspective, says Caldwell. It's a very challenging job, but it's very rewarding.

Photo: Youst/iStock