Why I’m a Geologist

As a boy, I was always digging in the dirt and mucking about in streams, but that didn’t necessarily mean I would become a geologist.

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s in Holliston, Massachusetts I spent a great deal of time outdoors in the woods and swamps. I went on many hiking and camping trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my father, Jack Springston. When I reached High School, two science teachers certainly stand out as mentors: Ronald Tosti and Gerald Paige. Mr. Tosti taught Environmental Science and passed on a tremendous enthusiasm for science and a life-long interest in environmental issues. Mr. Paige taught Chemistry and drummed into me the importance of rigorous scientific experiment and logical analysis of results. However, although I certainly had developed a strong interest in the natural world and the sciences, the idea of a scientific career didn’t really dawn on me until I had spent a year at college.

I entered Clemson University in the fall of 1978 with the somewhat vague intention of studying engineering. As a sophomore, I took an introductory geology course and was fascinated by what the  science of geology could reveal about the evolution of the Earth. From then on, I was seeing the landscape around me as having developed over time and by a set of discernible processes. This newfound drive to understand geology gave a focus to my previously inconsistent efforts in school and I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology in 1982.

In 1985, after working as a surveyor for a couple years, I went to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. My master’s thesis (with Peter Robinson as Advisor) was on the stratigraphy and structural geology of metamorphic rocks southwest of Mt. Monadnock near the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border.

While at UMass, I worked for four years as an aerial photo interpreter for Janice Stone and William “Mac” MacConell at the Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management. Our task was to map wetlands throughout the eastern and Midwestern U.S. for the National Wetlands Inventory. Although my job was to identify the wetlands, at the same time I couldn’t help but apply my young geologist’s eyes to thousands of square miles of terrain. I think that this is where I really began learning to “read” the landscape.

In 1991 I moved to Vermont and worked as a wetland ecologist at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. In 1995 I left that position and became an environmental consultant. I began working with the Vermont Geological Survey, first on bedrock geologic mapping and then in 1998 on surficial geologic mapping. In those years I began learning about Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

In 2002 I began work as a Research Associate at Norwich University, funded by grants from the Vermont Geological Survey.  Since then, projects have included studies of landslides, highway rockfall hazards, and streambank stability, as well as surficial geologic mapping. In recent years I’ve cooperated with my colleagues at the Vermont Geological Survey on hydrogeologic studies of several communities in Vermont. In these projects we bring together a wide variety of bedrock and surficial geologic information to better understand groundwater conditions.

In the end, here I am digging in the dirt and mucking about in streams, having a grand old time puzzling out the history of our landscape. Perhaps I always was a geologist?

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