Imagine groundwater seeping through rocks beneath the earth’s surface and large saturated reservoirs where it is held. Known as aquifers, they can be as shallow as 200 feet down or as deep as 2,000. Wells drilled into them provide water for drinking, irrigation, and industrial uses. A precious and vulnerable resource, they are easily contaminated.
Take the Hanford Department of Energy site in the tri-cities area of southeastern Washington, for example, where aquifers are threatened by leaks from drums of radioactive waste buried in 1942. Andrew Genco ’06 was on the scene. The company he worked for at the time developed a system to monitor the tanks based on a resistivity survey.
Finding, describing, and analyzing water resources are all in a day’s work for Genco, now a geophysicist for XRI Geophysics, of Golden, Colo.
“We use electromagnetic pulses to gather data,” says Genco, a geology graduate who returned to campus recently to talk with students about his experience in geophysics and geographic information systems (GIS). He explains that a large hexagonal frame, holding a bundle of copper wires, uses a transmitter to send pulses down into the earth that bounce back and are picked up by a receiver. The data is interpreted to determine whether the pulse went into clay, gravel, sand, or other material.
He and fellow geology graduate Sean Murphy ’11 spoke with students in GIS, a course taught by John Wilson, geology lab coordinator. Genco notes that he was hired for one of his first GIS jobs on the basis of work he had done in the class.
Murphy is a geologist for Southwestern Energy, Houston. He is on call for two horizontal drilling rigs based in the Fayetteville Shale area of northern Arkansas that involve hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. He holds an MS in subsurface geoscience from Rice University.