Mark Deptuck

My name is Mark Deptuck and I am a Geologist who specializes in marine geology. I went to high school in Newmarket, Ontario where I graduated with honours from Huron Heights Secondary School in 1993. Most of my friends went to universities in Ontario, but because of my desire to be near the ocean, I chose a road less travelled and went to Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In my second year of university I became interested in marine geology after I got my first 'real' job as a summer research assistant at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. After spending 2 months studying cores from the Amazon submarine fan (collected from 3000 m below the sea!), 3 weeks collecting cores and seismic data on a research cruise in the North Atlantic, and another month walking the coast of Nova Scotia logging ancient deep sea deposits, I could see how exciting and diverse a career as a geologist could be!

My course work, combined with 3 additional summer internships at the Geological Survey of Canada, helped me develop expertise in marine depositional systems. I was (and am!) fascinated by the wide variety of features on and below the seafloor. From giant submarine canyons that dwarf the Grand Canyon, to meandering 'river-like' channels located thousands of meters below the sea, to destructive submarine landslides that, like snow avalanches, can wipe out everything in their path, I was amazed that the deep oceans were so 'active'. I wanted to know more, so after graduating from Saint Mary's in 1998 with a B.Sc. degree in Geology (Honours/Co-op) and a minor in Geography, I continued my studies as a graduate student in Halifax at Dalhousie University. My research was focused on older sedimentary rocks 250 km off the coast of Newfoundland. Using seismic profiles, I discovered evidence for ancient shorelines, deltas, canyons, and submarine fans that formed more than 65 million years ago, and are now buried by up to 3 km of sediment. Although some of the canyons were last active when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, using '3D seismic data' I was able to map them and, after stripping away the overburden, I was even able to 'fly' through them using sophisticated computer software!

My skills interpreting 3D seismic data opened up several job opportunities with oil companies, and while completing my Ph.D. I spent 2 summer internships with Chevron in Calgary working on data from offshore eastern Canada, and two additional internships with Shell in Houston, Texas working on data from the Arabian Sea and offshore West Africa. After completing my doctorate degree in Earth Sciences in 2003, I accepted a position in Shell's research lab in Houston where I continued to study deep-water deposits all over the world, and published several papers as well. I also did some fieldwork in many beautiful places and helped run a deep-water training course in SE Spain. The pull of the East Coast, however, once again prevailed and in 2006 I moved back to Nova Scotia. After a short stint back at the Geological Survey of Canada, where I participated in a couple of research cruises, I joined the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, where my primary task now is to unravel the deep water geology off Nova Scotia. This is very exciting because my work is helping unravel the offshore geological evolution of eastern Canada!

Q: What is the title of your job and what do you do?

A: My job title is 'Petroleum Geologist', but I consider myself a marine geologist. I study the sedimentary layers below the seafloor in an effort to understand their composition, when they were deposited, and how they were deformed (folded and faulted). This information is important for understanding how the Earth's geological layers evolved and is used to identify potential areas where hydrocarbons (oil or gas) could be trapped below the seafloor.

Q: Who do you work for, and where are you based?

A: I work for the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Q: What kind of hours/shifts do you work? or What is your typical work routine?

A: I typically work 8:30am to 5:30pm, Monday to Friday, but on occasion I get to go into the field when my work hours vary. When I feel inspired, I also spend time on weekends writing up results from various research projects for eventual publication in scientific journals.

Q: Where do you work?

A: Through my career I have worked in a wide variety of settings including the field (both on land and at sea on research vessels), in laboratories, and in an office. For the most part I work in an office now, but I also spend some time in a lab, studying cores and other samples collected by oil companies while drilling offshore wells.

Q: What equipment/machinery do you use?

A: While in the office, the primary equipment I use is a powerful desktop computer and software that helps me interpret 2D and 3D seismic data, as well as various kinds of data collected from offshore wells (like wireline logs). Seismic profiles are usually collected by oil companies or research institutions to help geoscientists 'see' what is buried deep below the seafloor. They are collected by towing a device that produces repetitive pulses of sound behind a ship. Each sound pulse travels through the water column and is reflected off the seafloor and the layers of sedimentary rocks below the seafloor. The reflected sound is then recorded by receivers that are also towed behind the ship, and this data provides a cross-sectional 'image' of buried layers as deep as 12 km or so below the seafloor.

Q: What education or training is required for your job?

A: A minimum of a Bachelor of Science degree is required to do my job, however, increasingly oil companies are requiring Master's or even Doctorate degrees.

Q: What kind of personal traits do you recommend for this profession?

A: If you are inquisitive about the Earth and the processes that created the landscapes or terrain you see around you (or in pictures), or if you have ever dreamed about what is at the bottom of the ocean or below the seafloor, then a career involving marine geology is probably a great choice for you.

Q: What is the salary range of your job?

A: The salary range for Geologists varies widely, but is generally between $70 000 to well over $100 000 per year.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: I enjoy using various pieces of evidence to understanding how the seafloor and layers below the seafloor evolved. It's like building a puzzle, and I am most satisfied when all of the pieces fit together. I get excited when, using multiple types of data, I am able to bring ancient seafloor surfaces 'alive' to tell a story about past depositional environments that were buried many millions of years ago. I also get excited when I see features at or below the seafloor that have previously gone unrecognized or that I don't understand. This becomes a challenge, and I feel very satisfied when I finally figure out what it is, particularly if I'm the first one to do it!

Q: What are the advantages?

A: There are many advantages to a career as a geologist, including high salaries, widely varying work in interesting places, and opportunities to be the first to make new discoveries and publish papers on them. One of the biggest advantages for me so far, however, has been the opportunity to travel the world. Since graduating in 2003, my career has afforded opportunities to give talks at conferences, consult, or do fieldwork in places like Holland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Greece, Malaysia, and Brazil, as well as British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, and California.

Because of technology, my career has also brought me many places remotely. While sitting in an office using a high-powered computer, my job has allowed me to explore the offshore geology of far-off places like Nigeria, Corsica, Venezuela, Brazil, Pakistan, and Borneo, as well as not-so-far-off places like California, the Gulf of Mexico, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Q: What are the advancement opportunities for this career?

A: In general there are many advancement opportunities for geologists, but this depends greatly on the type of geology you do. For geologist involved in the oil industry, some choose to go into management while many choose to climb into more senior ranks as technical experts (e.g. senior or chief geologists).

Q: How physically demanding is your job?

A: The physical demand of my job is generally low while in the office, but moderate to very high while in the field. For example, in the past my job has required me to hike in very steep, high altitude terrain.

Q: Why did you choose this career?

A: I did not intend to major in Geology; my father is a geologist and when I went to university my mind was initially bent on doing something ENTIRELY different. I actually wanted to be an astronomer, but because of a scheduling conflict caused by my first year Astronomy course, I was unable to take Biology and took a Geology science credit instead. It turns out that I absolutely loved geology! While my first year Astronomy professor was very dry and fully uninspired, my geology professors were interesting people, energized about their profession. My geology courses often involved going on field-trips to look at… you guessed it …rocks!!! This was a refreshing change from other courses (after all, you don't need to go outside to do Calculus) and it brought me to many remote places in Nova Scotia that I would not have seen otherwise. These fieldtrips also commonly ended at the university pub, but that's a relatively unimportant detail. From the steep red cliffs along the Bay of Fundy to the rolling rugged granites at Peggy's Cove to the dark gray fossil-rich cliffs at Joggins, I began to appreciate the importance of geology, and started to see 'geology' in unexpected places (like the wide variety of stones used to veneer buildings in down-town Halifax, or ripples on a sandy beach – geology is everywhere!).

Q: What is your most memorable moment/event/place related to your experience as an Earth scientist?

A: I have had many memorable moments so far in my career, in many beautiful places, so it is very hard to choose just one. The first most memorable moment was during my first summer internship at the Geological Survey of Canada as an undergraduate student, when I spent a month or so walking along the beautiful Nova Scotia coastline mapping outcrops of ancient deep sea deposits on the south shore. A fisherman would drop me and a colleague off each day on the uninhabited Cape LaHave Island - a butterfly shaped island with a long white sand beach in the middle. I will never forget the feeling I had as I sat on the edge of a cliff eating my lunch, watching the waves crash onto the shore and spotting whales and seals in the distance. It was absolutely beautiful and I was getting paid to do this!

Some other memorable experiences include:

  • Sunny southern California, where I walked along the beautiful coastline to study 10 to 20 million year old deep water deposits cropping out along cliff-lined beaches, while dolphins played in the surf
  • Remote areas of British Columbia (Caribou Mountains), where I flew in by helicopter, and with crampons and ice hammers, crossed a large glacier each day to study ~600 million year old submarine channels that long ago were thrust into mountain belts
  • Frigid northern waters of the Labrador Sea, where I participated in a research expedition to collect deep sea cores and seismic profiles offshore Labrador. Incredibly, some days were so calm that the water looked like glass and the icebergs looked like glistening gems.
  • Scorching hot West Texas, where I was lowered by a rope 200 ft down into a the Earth through an 18 inch wide (or should I say 'narrow') dripping wet borehole to go spelunking in limestone caves
  • Beautiful southeastern Spain, where I helped instruct a deepwater training course. We stayed at a hotel on the Mediterranean Sea that was built for the cast of "Lawrence of Arabia" and we studied outcrops that formed the backdrop for many spaghetti westerns filmed in the '60s and '70s (like "The good, the bad, and the ugly" starring Clint Eastwood)

Q: What is your advice to newcomers?

A: My advice to newcomers is to keep taking the fundamental science courses – you never know where you will need them. Some geoscience careers rely heavily on mathematics, chemistry, physics and even biology. If you are not skilled in all of these areas, not to worry, as there are many paths you can take that will draw from your strengths. If you love biology, consider palaeontology. If you love physics, consider geophysics. If you love chemistry, consider geochemistry. Mathematics is useful in any path you choose. Keep your options open!

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