Above: Maria and the crew of the Celtic Explorer.
Ever see those robots that go down into the depths of uncharted ocean?
Well right now Maria and her colleagues are operating one from a 20ft container called the ROV shack, on the Celtic Explorer research vessel, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
This is the second article in our “Making Ends Meet” series where we promise to take your mind off this week’s big exams and instead focus on the bizz-ill-eee-uuns of fascinating career options that are waiting for you and your robot to discover.
Meet Maria Judge …
My official title is …
That means that I …
… am an Earth Scientist. I study how the Earth formed and how it continues to evolve.
By studying rocks, geologists ultimately know how to locate earth resources, (including water, building materials and metals) that our society depends on. As scientists that can read the landscape and evaluate geological hazards like earthquakes and landslides (these happen under water too), geologists are instrumental in supporting local planning. We also influence environmental policy, legislation and protection.
There are many areas of expertise for geologists. I focus on the under-explored marine area.
Gaining more of an understanding of our seabed, helps us to:
- unravel the mysteries of plate tectonics & Earth’s evolution.
- ensure safety for all vessels at sea.
- plan sites for infrastructure, like pan-ocean fiber-optic cables we use for communication or pipe lines we use to transport fuel, like home heating gas.
- understand climate change.
- understand the “Earth systems interactions” from the Earth’s core, to the hydrosphere (or ocean) and atmosphere.
- map ocean currents, that are directed by topography on the seabed and oceanic influences on weather systems.
- understand the ocean’s biological communities who thrive in specific habitats. Geologists characterise these habitats so we can understand more about life in our oceans and how to protect it.
The three best things about my job that make me jump out of bed in the morning are …
People – I have worked with the kindest, most friendly and interesting people from all over the world. I have made great friends all along the way and shared special memories. Geologists are very down-to-earth (and that’s not a pun!). They really are solid, honest people. I have learned a great deal of life skills and life advice along the way.
Travel – I have been to many interesting countries with my job. Field work is an important part of the role. During field trips we learn more about the diversity of geology in a global context and work with experts from around the globe. I have found myself in really stunning places. Being able to read the landscape, is of course also a really handy benefit when choosing dramatic holiday locations full of adventure!
Learning – there are always more fascinating things to learn about the earth, from enormous to nano processes. Ever-emerging technological developments continue to benefit advances in all specialised areas of geology.
The three not-so-great things about my job that make me roll over and bury my head in my pillow are …
I really love my job. I am writing this on a research vessel in the middle of the Atlantic, we are using sound and robots to visualise and sample an area of the planet never studied before … what’s not to love?
Above: Maria and her colleague Izzy (also a deep-sea exploring geologist) operating the marine robot from the ROV shack.
Unfortunately, every day is not filled with cutting edge science, discoveries and unique travel. I do also spend time with administrative tasks, there is plenty of equipment to be procured and reports to be written.
I really enjoy working on the puzzles and mysteries associated with marine geology. Learning about the processes that form the 70% of our planet which is under water is challenging. It is deep, dark and wet down there! This makes research and mapping our marine environment expensive. Though marine mapping and geological interpretation of our entire planet is incredibly useful for all manner of infrastructure, we find it difficult to access the funding required. This keeps us working hard, thinking hard, writing a lot. It is a big challenge … but a challenge we welcome and by no means a reason to roll over and bury my head.
Finally, the unfortunate fact is that marine geology jobs are very specialised. They are international, they are exciting, but they are also hard to come by.
I bagged this job by …
Figuring out what I wanted to do and pursuing my gut instinct.
Geology wasn’t taught in school. I was good at Technical Drawing, Science and Geography. I like to think geology is a combination of all three subjects. If you have an inquisitive mind and find yourself always asking “why?”, that’s a good indicator that you might make a great scientist (geology is ultimately a science). From a young age, I often looked at mountains and wondered how they got there, looked out to the ocean from a beach and wondered if the sand continues in a boring decent to the abyss, or was it likely there were mountains down there too? I was lucky to have had a friend who had already pursued geology and pointed out that I might enjoy it. She suggested it to me, and after researching geology, I was pretty confident I would love it.
After my leaving cert, I got enough points to study Earth and Ocean Science in Galway. During my time studying, I felt more excited about marine geology. So I talked to people … the lecturers, people I met in the industry … anyone. I asked questions. I looked up the Geological Survey Ireland website and researched the work they do. I looked up oil companies and any other agency I could find that works in marine geology. I started to go to conferences, events and get to know people. I gained experience through these contacts, organised an internship, volunteered as a research assistant on an ocean-going voyage, worked hard, asked lots more questions and read lots on the subject. While looking for a route into marine geology may have been frustrating at times, I had fun experiences along the way!
I now work as a consultant for the Irish government and have colleagues all around the world.
The best advice I could give someone who likes the sound of my job is …
If you think geology sounds interesting, maybe check out the Geological Survey of Ireland’s website, or indeed any other national survey. That should give you a good understanding of the specialist areas that geologists work at, in a national agency capacity.
For more of an idea about the kind of applied geological research that is taking place in Ireland, you can investigate national universities and the iCRAG centre.
As for marine geology, check out Ireland’s national seabed mapping programmes website: http://www.infomar.ie/
Another really good resource, based in America, is the Ocean Exploration Trust. It run direct feeds from oceanic exploration surveys on the Nautilus ship. Using this telepresence the science team ask and answer questions live, during surveys.
Industry-wise, you should search the internet for engineering geology, petroleum geology and minerals companies.
Maria has always been really drawn to the Earth …
… and has all kinds of other interesting talents …
Thanks Maria! xxx