Education and Career


 

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The Solitario and a Master of Science degree

After the horse trip I started graduate school at the University of Utah in September, 1970. Ruth and I bought an old house off Fourth South in Salt Lake near the university and fixed that up while waiting to start school.

We sold my saddle horse and the mule at auction that fall in Ogden. We kept the pack horse, Bill, and Ruth's saddle horse until early 1977.

I had been interested in meteorite impact structures since working in the Guatemala Basin. My undergraduate adviser, Dr. Clyde Hardy at Utah State, suggested I look at the Solitario in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas as a possible astrobleme. I followed through on his suggestion and with my master's thesis began a long association with the Big Bend area of Trans-Pecos Texas. After a few drinks, I've even been known to relate how I met Pancho Villa while working in the vicinity of Lajitas, where he used to trade.

The Solitario didn't prove to be a meteorite impact crater but, instead, it is an unusually circular, large laccolith. And that got me started on laccoliths.

I finished up a Master of Science degree majoring in geophysics, with a minor in computer science, in June of 1972. That summer we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, but after a disastrous semester at the University of New Mexico, I transferred to Texas A&M and we moved to College Station, Texas, in January, 1973.

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On to a doctorate and laccoliths

I used the horses for a number of surveys while doing my dissertation research on laccoliths in Utah and Trans-Pecos Texas. On one occasion my field assistant broke his leg while working in the Henry Mountains, Utah, and had to be flown home. Ruth was about four months pregnant but met me and the horses in El Paso, Texas, and worked as my field assistant in the Solitario near Big Bend National Park for the next two weeks, riding with a pillow under her stomach.

We had bought an old farmhouse and eleven acres in the Brazos Valley near Snook, Texas, while I was working on my doctorate. Our first son, Christopher, was born there in January of 1975, just four months before I took my comprehensive exams. He was also a colicky baby and those were rough times.

Doing a Ph.D. in geophysics while completing all the requirements for the Center for Tectonophysics was the only thing I've ever done that made Marine Corps boot camp look easy. However, I graduated in three and one-half years, finishing in July of 1976. Given my record since, I must not have done too badly.

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Consulting in oil shale

We had fixed up the farmhouse and had enough profit from the sale to lay on the beach in San Diego for a month after I graduated. After that I got a job with a company based in Del Mar, California, as a consultant in oil shale working out of DeBeque, Colorado. We rented a beach condo in Solana Beach to live in while there and bought an Airstream trailer to use while I was working in Colorado. We later moved to an apartment in Del Mar, California, when problems developed with the condo.

If you have ever driven I-70 through Rifle, Colorado, you have probably seen the towering cliffs on the north side of the highway. Those cliffs are formed of oil shale and expose part of one of the largest known hydrocarbon reservoirs on the planet.

The problem is getting the oil out of the rock in an economic way. Always a problem in mining. The oil company's engineers had the very clever idea that if they broke up the rock in place in a chimney they could then set the top of the rubble heap on fire. Air could be pumped down from the top, and a lot of the oil would run down through the rubble beneath the fire zone to collection areas at the bottom and, thus, form an in situ retort. Good basic idea but they had limited experience with explosives and rock mechanics. I've been blowing up things since I was a kid, am a former Marine, and had a mint fresh Ph.D. from one of the world's leading centers for rock mechanics.

It also seemed to me then, and now, that as a consultant I wasn't hired to tell a client what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear. What they needed to hear was that the nearby cliff face formed a free surface and that it would strongly affect their blasting. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon with the consulting company I was working for as they had just sold the oil company a computer program to model the blasting that assumed the rocks would be symmetrically broken and radially distributed by the blast. Any blaster that had ever done a road cut could have told them that didn't happen. Reality is always interfering with computer models though.

Next, we set off some test charges underground. One of their engineers and I then excavated one the blast holes to look at the effects. The rock broke as I predicted, parallel to the free face, and perpendicular to the direction of the least principal stress. The rock was known to be fractured and the blasting followed the fractures. Pretty basic so far. What was unexpected was that the oil shale did not fragment uniformly. Instead there was a much higher percentage of fines than anticipated. Fines interfere with air circulation when you are trying to pump air through the rubble and also tend to burn up entirely rather than releasing the trapped oil. Overall recovery would thus be much less than predicted. Economics getting in the way of having fun again.

The final problem was that I showed them good evidence that, with all the fines produced, the explosive gases were producing a slurry. That really messed up their plans to fragment the rock in place because slurries have the tendency to move quickly in a single direction, in this case controlled by the cliff face and related, preexisting fractures. Since they wanted a uniform rubble pile, a slurry hardly fit their ideal. Even worse, slurries move very rapidly. In the circumstances, 100 meters per second was probably a reasonable upper estimate for how fast the rock slurry would move when blasting.

For those of you who don't go around blowing things up, the explosives are not all detonated simultaneously. Instead, charges are placed in a sequence, and the charges behind are exploded after the rock in front has had time to move out of the way after the first blast. A third, and sometimes a fourth row, are detonated in a precisely timed sequence that allows the rock to be moved where and how the blaster wants it. DuPont publishes a real good handbook if you have some stumps or rock to move.

For really big blasts, like an in situ retort for oil shale, the blast sequence is extremely critical and bad things happen if the rock doesn't break, or move, as predicted. To move much rock, you have to have a void in front of the face you are trying to blast. For their retort they cut a slot to form the initial void required, and timed their charges accordingly. But with a slurry, the rock moves too fast, and blocks the free face on the other side of the slot, or laterally down the slot depending on the direction of the precut slot, the timing of your shots, and the preferred direction the slurry takes. All in all, it didn't work the way they thought it would. Since mining out the initial slot cost roughly $100 million it was essential that a scapegoat be found. Guess who? So after they killed the messenger I moved on.

The company gave up on their oil shale project shortly after this. In the meantime, we had been staying in Palisade, Colorado, while I was working at the mine up near DeBeque. Ruth got pregnant with our second son, Matthew, during this time period. But back to Del Mar to move out of our apartment and store our stuff. Then off to find a job and tour a bit living out of the Airstream. Roughing it, so to speak.

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Manager of geophysical research at a Fortune 500 company

I had been talking to people from American Metals Climax (AMAX) for about a year about a position as manager of geophysical research, which had been offered to me just after taking the job associated with oil shale. When the consulting position folded, I naturally called and asked if the position was still open? It was, and after interviewing me yet again, they offered me the job again with the Climax Molybdenum division, and this time I accepted in July, 1997.

We moved to Golden, Colorado, in August and were living in the Airstream until we could buy a house. The second week after I started work a woman backed her full-sized Chevrolet station wagon over our two and a half year old son, Christopher. Both tires right over his midsection. I thought he was a goner and the ambulance driver was so shook he had to ask Ruth to hold the mask on the little tyke's face. But Chris turned out to be tougher than a Baja cockroach, and other than numerous cuts and abrasions, all he had was a broken rib. Grew up to be a Marine like his Dad!

Our second son, Matthew, was born on January 4,1978, just three weeks after we managed to move into the house on a hill that we bought. I'm still mad at Ruth for waiting until January when we could have had a whole year's tax deduction if she had been a few days earlier.

For the only time in my life doing research I now had more money than I could spend. I employed a couple of geophysicists directly and in the summers I had two or three two-man field crews working for me, as well as three to five contract crews doing gravity, magnetic, and electrical surveys. As the research proved itself, the exploration geologists began to call on my group more and more to run surveys over their claims. Those surveys were successful in turn and the program mushroomed until metal prices dropped in late 1982. My research group was then first out the door.

I look back with pride at what we accomplished during those five years. With Zonge Engineering in Tucson (see following article) we took controlled source audiomagnetotelluric (CSAMT) surveys from a crude research tool and made it into one of the most widely used electrical geophysical tools in the world today. From our extensive self- or spontaneous-potential surveys I changed a paradigm for that phenomenon that had been in place for more than 150 years. With the CSAMT surveys it was evident that the responsible mechanism was grossly different than the then accepted theories. I was eventually able to show that ore minerals are commonly ferroelectric.

In May of 1996, Prof. Ted Madden was introducing me prior to a lecture I was giving at MIT and stated: "Chuck has taken a very different approach than the rest of us to these problems, but Chuck is right." That recognition was one of the high points of my life!

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Tough times

In the 1980's the extractive industries underwent a much worse depression than they did during the Great Depression of the 1930's. The oil companies alone laid off more than 500,000 people between 1982 and 1985. AMAX went from 15 geophysicists in 1982 to zero by the end of 1983. In mid-1982, AMAX had about 30,000 employees in Colorado. A year later they had fewer than 10,000. By the end of 1985 they were down to fewer than 3,000 people. Leadville once again became a virtual ghost town.

I found a short-lived job in Houston that nearly broke us. Then we tried to market a nonlinear finite element code I had helped develop as a graduate student at Texas A&M. But the early 1980's were not the time to start any new ventures in the earth sciences. Fortunately, we had the Airstream trailer to live in with a bedroom in the back for the boys.

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Back to academia

The department of geophysics at Texas A&M offered me a position as a visiting and adjunct associate professor for a year and that got us by for a bit. I think I was the only graduate of the department they ever made a faculty member. I taught at their summer geology field camp in 1984, and that helped as well.

A number of people who worked for me at AMAX ended up as graduate students at Texas A&M and I dragooned one of them into doing some ferroelectric research with me. We were able to show that chalcocite, a common copper ore mineral, was ferroelectric, and that encouraged me to do further research on ferroelectrics.

I was offered a tenure-track position as an associate professor the fall of 1984 at the University of Missouri-Rolla and we moved up there after I finished at Texas A&M's geology field camp.

Ruth divorced me in February, 1985, though we remain friends to this day, and get together with our sons whenever opportunity presents itself.

Student enrollment declined about 80% in the five years I was at Rolla and I didn't get tenure. Since teaching large classes wasn't involved, I managed to write two books. One was on laccoliths, and another on the Solitario. I also managed to get my self-potential work published and do considerable research on ferroelectric ore minerals. Rolla was a good place to work on ore minerals as it was a specialty of the department.

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Setting sail again

In early 1990 I was offered a position as coordinator of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. WOCE is far and away the largest oceanographic program ever undertaken. I was tasked with coordinating the hydrographic surveys of about 30 countries between 1990 and 1995, in addition with tieing their seagoing efforts into other oceanographic programs. In the process, I helped develop one of the first 100 Web sites, OCEANIC. If you have any interest in oceanography you should visit that site, and it provides links to many other sites related to oceanography and satellite data.

Between the Marine Corps and working at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I had already spent about two years of my life at sea. I mean floating around on the briny deep covering most of the North Pacific. Thus, I felt I had done my time and wasn't anxious to go back for more when I returned to Woods Hole. Samuel Johnson's quote: "Being in a ship is like being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned." has always struck me as apropos. However, I did do a one-month cruise from Auckland, New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia. I particularly enjoyed the one-week vacation I took in Port Douglas after reaching Australia. That cruise was the only time I've been at sea south of the equator.

Despite having worked at Woods Hole twice, the furthest I've been to sea in the Atlantic is from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard.

After our divorce, Ruth settled in Golden, Colorado, with our sons. Unfortunately, they didn't do well in school without my tutelage. They would sequentially flunk out of school and then come live with me for a year. During that year I would restore discipline and bring their scholarship up to reasonable levels. They would then feel that they could do it on their own and return to Colorado to live with their mother. I went through four cycles of this with the oldest son, Chris, before he finally graduated from high school and went into the Marine Corps in 1994.

Working with my sons got me involved in trying to restructure Falmouth High School. My experience with that is chronicled in my proposed school reforms. However, the second year of the experiment the school board voted to put condoms in the boy's bathroom, and the fundamental Christian(?) parents I was working with sued in a case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. Those parents didn't think much of me either.

I had also gone through three cycles of the same thing with our youngest son, Matt, before he flunked his junior year in high school in 1995. He then came to live with me for the summer. I got him caught up as best I could but you can't make up an entire year in summer school.

It was quite obvious that without the presence of his father that it was extremely unlikely he would graduate from high school. He detested Cape Cod for a variety of reasons. I had remarried and he disliked his stepmother as well.

Matt was born in Golden, Colorado, and determined to graduate from there. I felt much the same as he did about Cape Cod and had been wanting to get back out west. As a result, I resigned my position at Woods Hole Oceanographic in August, 1995, and Matt and I moved back to Golden.

By the skin of his teeth, and ten years off my life, Matt graduated from Golden High School in May, 1996.

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Last modified 3/17/16