2020-07-22 | Dr. John Hopkins
By John Keller
It’s field mapping time, and much of our staff are out in several different areas of the state, doing field work. A majority of the field work is part of the STATEMAP program—preparing geologic maps of particular quadrangles for the US Geological Survey sponsors of that nation-wide program.
The CGS emphasizes safety in the field and takes pride in the safety record of our mappers. Geologists who are involved in geologic mapping spend many weeks in the field gathering data for each quadrangle map. This means that a lot of time is spent away from people, roads, and the relative safety of the field vehicle.
Like any wise backcountry traveler, a field geologist must take the time to learn how to conduct their business in a safe and responsible way, and to be prepared for accidents and emergencies along the way. Two of the most important things CGS mappers try to remember are 1) to be aware of their surroundings and the inherent dangers, and 2) to use good judgment and common sense. A course in first aid and CPR is provided for all CGS employees.
CGS geologists use a buddy system while mapping, particularly if the work is in a remote area. We frequently hire university geology students to assist with mapping during the summer months. This gives the students some beneficial work experience and reduces the dangers of working alone in remote areas. If mapping alone, the mapper is required to let someone know where he/she plans to go that day; and then checks in with the same person to let them know they are safely out of the field.
The following list outlines some of the dangers involved in field geology. By being aware of these hazards, we can be prepared to prevent and/or deal with them. It is by no means a complete list.
- Foot and leg injuries – wear sturdy boots and try to watch our step.
- Eye injuries – wear safety glasses when taking rock samples with hammer.
- Falls – avoid climbing steep rock faces, particularly if working alone.
- Rockfall – watch for loose boulders and watch our step.
- Lightning – respect it, and learn safe practices, avoid unsafe practices.
- Wildfires – plan escape routes and don’t linger if a fire is nearby.
- Hypothermia – keep extra clothes in our pack at all times.
- Dehydration – carry plenty of water, and drink it often.
- Heat exhaustion – At first sign, find shade, rest, and hydrate.
- Giardia – avoid drinking stream or lake water, unless treated first.
- Snake bites – stay up-to-date on the latest emergency procedures.
- Cuts, wounds, and external bleeding – learn first aid and carry QuikClot.
- Black bear encounters – learn proper techniques and carry bear spray.
- Mountain lion encounters – learn proper defensive moves.
- Vehicles – drive defensively, wear seat belts, maintain vehicles, stock them with emergency supplies, and don’t take chances.
What’s in my backpack?
It seems my field backpack gets heavier every year. The more backcountry experience I get, the more I realize how important it is to always keep my pack stocked with safety gear. I’ve been “surprised” too many times to go into the field unprepared anymore. Here’s a list of safety gear that is in my field pack everyday:
- Extra clothes – A warm hat is a must. I also have warm gloves, thermal underwear top, and an extra pair of warm socks.
- Rain gear – A raincoat and rain pants. The breathable type is best. It’s amazing how fast vicious storms can build out of a clear blue sky on summer days. Gaiters are helpful in certain situations.
- Emergency blanket – These are the shiny metallic blankets. They’re lightweight and very effective for retaining body heat. They may save you from hypothermia if you get caught in a cold storm overnight.
- First aid kit – These come in several sizes and are lightweight.
- Flashlight – I’ve been caught out after dark without one and it’s no fun if the moon isn’t bright and there is no trail.
- Waterproof matches and lighter
- Extra batteries – for flashlight or any other electronics is necessary.
- Plenty of water – Never get back to the vehicle with empty water bottles.
- Extra food – I like beef jerky and “energy” bars.
What’s in my field vehicle when mapping?
For most geologists, just getting to the field area often requires many miles of driving. Often, much of the driving is in remote areas on rarely-used gravel and four-wheel-drive roads. It is important to have one’s vehicle supplied and ready to encounter surprises and emergencies. Besides having a good spare tire or two and a functional jack, these are few things that are good to have in the field vehicle at all times:
- Camping gear – A minimal camping supply can make an unexpected overnight stay more pleasant. Your vehicle could break down miles from the nearest house or paved road. Backcountry roads can become impassable from mud in a storm, forcing an overnight stay.
- Extra water – One gallon per person per day.
- Extra food – In case we need to camp out unexpectedly.
- An axe or saw – Fallen trees can block dead-end roads in the backcountry. Without an axe or a saw, you’re not going anywhere soon.
- A shovel – We might get stuck or high-centered and a shovel helps to get moving again.
- Toolbox – All CGS vehicles are equipped with toolboxes containing an assortment of tools, a first aid kit, emergency flares, and most importantly—duct tape.
- Check the gas gauge! – We make sure that we have enough fuel to get back to a gas station!