Steven Kidder is an assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the City College of New York. He received a doctorate from the University of California Institute of Technology in 2012 and a master’s degree from Arizona University. These accomplishments allowed Mr. Kidder to specialize in structural geology, which refers to the study of the three-dimensional “distribution of large bodies of rock, their surfaces, and the composition of their inside” targeted at learning geological history as well as discerning the previous environments that could have contributed to the formation of such large rock bodies (American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 2018, para. 1).
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Methods that structural geologists use to conduct their studies are diverse because the discipline as a whole requires the application of multiple skills. For example, researchers can study structural features on a smaller scale through the use of petrology-oriented techniques. These methods include mounting small sections of rock on glass slides and then examining the samples with the help of polarizing microscopes.
For larger-scale samples, field geology is the preferred method. When operating outdoors, structural geologists usually have the objective of plotting the orientation of different features of rock (i.e., joints, folds, faults) to interpret the structure beneath the surface of the earth. Also, applied geophysics is another method that researchers can use to study ocean basins, mountains, and continents, as well as other large formations.
Structural Geology as a Multi-Dimensional Discipline
An interesting point that Mr. Kidder mentioned regarding the study of geology in comparison to other sciences is that it covers a large area of activities ranging from laboratory work to field trips. In addition, the interviewee underlined the contribution of industries such as oil mining to structural geology as in the case of finding excellent three-dimensional samples of rocks that can be studied in greater detail.
For example, structural geology can be used to map potential containers for petroleum through the use of seismic images (Richardson, Richards, Rippington, Bond, & Wilson, 2015). This type of assessment requires researchers to be particularly careful because of the possible risks of exploration well failures. Moreover, structural geologists must continuously monitor their oil mining projects to be able to identify potential problem areas and advise companies on possibilities for mitigation.
Another aspect related to the practical application of structural geology is its effect on rock slope stability (Stead & Wolter, 2015). Thus, the authors claim that structural geology is used to determine tectonic environment and damage. Also, they analyze the importance of structures in sedimentary rock slopes, the meaning of structures in igneous rock slopes, and the importance of structures in metamorphic rock slopes (Stead & Wolter, 2015). Some other benefits of structural geology are as follows. It limits equilibrium analysis, empowers continuous analysis of rock slope failure, conducts discontinuum analysis, and allows modeling rock damage and brittle fracture.
The study of structural geology includes conducting various experiments targeted at formulating conclusions on the structural integrity of rocks and how they can influence the development of the Earth. An example of this is experimental deformation, which involves the heating of rock samples to 1000F in a high-pressure environment and then compressing them to predict the strength of the Earth’s crust. While GPS technologies usually allow geologists to record changes in the crust and its movement, scientists can use such exploratory techniques as experimental deformation to look more deeply into how rocks will subsequently develop.
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It is important to mention that the experiments that geologists conduct in their labs are usually targeted at simulating an environment that is only available at deep mining sites because it is usually hard to get access to such conditions. With the use of appropriate samples that may be collected over ten or twenty years, laboratory experiments are the only resource-efficient ways to help geologists obtain needed results. No unified approach is currently available for how researchers choose to study the phenomena of their interest because samples can differ in size, age, and composition, and thus, this requires geologists to be innovative to come to fruitful conclusions.
Research and Career Opportunities
An interesting point that Mr. Kidder mentioned in the interview refers to the potential jobs that undergraduate geology students can find when entering this field of study. Ranging from occupations in the oil industry to environmental consulting work, a variety of directions are open to students. During times of war, geologists were sought after due to their skills in dealing with ‘messy’ data.
Geologists use a wide assortment of tools, which makes geology a unique discipline having different approaches and directions (for example, geophysics or geochemistry) that scientists can follow and synthesize to aid in their research. An example of tools used in structural geology is the Phased Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR) investigated by Pour and Hashim (2014). The researchers claim that PALSAR data allow the mapping of mineralized zones, which empowers a more efficient use of natural deposits.
During the interview, Professor Kidder also mentioned that the City College of New York was located on the Manhattan Schist, exceptionally hard rock that contributed to the shaping of the New York skyline (Fettke, 2008). In his laboratory classes, Mr. Kidder often takes his students to see the schist because it is a fascinating rock formation that can tell geologists a great deal; for example, when looking at the layers in the rock, it is possible to see that they can go in different directions.
This points to the fact that these layers were extensively compacted throughout the long history of the development of Earth. In the discussion about field trips, the interviewee mentioned a gradual conversion from traditional means of taking measurements to innovation-led ways. For example, while Mr. Kidder still prefers to use a regular compass—which, in his opinion, is more reliable—he welcomes students to use their phones’ installed compass applications.
Mr. Kidder indicated that the oil industry was the most likely to employ new geology specialists due to the need to carefully examine the structure of the Earth when regulating the mining of oil. Structural geologists are more likely to find jobs when gas prices are high and the oil industry is experiencing growth, which indicates a direct correlation between the two. Other employment opportunities include consulting work both in the private and public sectors as well as teaching. Because geology is a well-rounded discipline that requires students to be proficient in multiple subjects, opportunities when it comes to finding a job are vast.
The interview with Professor Kidder shed light on the complex but interesting processes involved in the study of geology. It was found that the discipline does not have a unified approach due to the variety of tools and methods that are available to researchers. Ranging from geophysics to geochemistry, the study of rock deformation can take any of several directions. Mr. Kidder was very generous in sharing information and gave answers to all questions that came his way.
An important point to mention is associated with the fact that students who graduate with a degree in structural geology can choose the career that will be the most suitable for them. While some prefer following their research passions and continue studying rock deformations on different continents (e.g., Mr. Kidder has spent one and a half years researching in New Zealand), others may choose to teach or pursue a career in environmental consulting.
Also, the oil industry plays a massive role in providing geology graduates with work opportunities, especially when gas prices are high and the sector is experiencing growth. The future of the oil industry in terms of the contribution of geology was explored by Benes et al. (2012), who concluded that the real price of oil would nearly double in the coming decade, thus facilitating an increased demand for structural geologists who will be able to contribute to the expansion of the industry. Overall, geology remains a fascinating profession that can take different directions depending on what career professionals may choose.
Interview Questions for Mr. Kidder
During the interview, Professor Kidder was asked the following questions:
- Your title is a structural geologist; what made you pursue this career?
- How soon after starting your studies were you conducting field trips?
- What is the difference between geology and other sciences in terms of laboratory versus fieldwork?
- Are there any industries that can be particularly helpful in providing you with rock samples for conducting laboratory work?
- What is the scale of studies that you usually conduct?
- What types of jobs can graduates find after obtaining a degree in structural geology?
- Could you say a few words about the Manhattan Schist, on which the City College of New York is situated?
- Do you and your students still use traditional tools of measurement such as the non-digital compass?
- What are the current trends in structural geology in terms of professional growth?
American Association of Petroleum Geologists. (2018). Structural geology. Web.
Benes, J., Chauvet, M., Kamenik, O., Kumhof, M., Laxton, F., Mursula, S., & Selody, J. (2012). The future of oil: Geology versus technology. International Monetary Fund, 12(109), 3-32.
Fettke, C. (2008). The Manhattan schist of Southeastern New York state and its associated igneous rocks. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 23(1), 193-260.
Pour, A., & Hashim, M. (2014). Structural geology mapping using PALSAR data in the Bau gold mining district, Sarawak, Malaysia. Advances in Space Research, 54(4), 644-654. Web.
Richardson, N., Richards, F., Rippington, S., Bond, C., & Wilson, R. (Eds.). (2015). Industrial structural geology: Principles, techniques and integration: An introduction. London, UK: Special Publications.
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Stead, D., & Wolter, A. (2015). A critical review of rock scope failure mechanisms: The importance of structural geology. Journal of Structural Geology, 74, 1-23.