On the Rocks: Geologist Makes Business Pleasure

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
Desjardins, and his beloved Canadian Rockies: “The best thing is that by walking all over those mountains, I was able to find places where the rocks were just perfect to collect the data I wanted.
Desjardins, and his beloved Canadian Rockies: “The best thing is that by walking all over those mountains, I was able to find places where the rocks were just perfect to collect the data I wanted."

Patricio Desjardins studied in Saskatchewan, works in Houston and in 2011 received the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists’ “Best Ph.D. Thesis Award.”

He’s thinking at the moment, though, about his home in Argentina – and a particular summer a long time ago.

It was after his first Historical Geology class.

“A famous Argentine geologist, friend of Gabriela Mangano and Luis Buatois, Eduardo Olivero, offered me an opportunity to be the field assistant of one of his Ph.D. students, Juan Jose Ponce, in Tierra del Fuego (the most southern point of the continent). During 20 days of camping by a cliff, looking at the ocean, away from everything, Juan taught me everything that needs to be known about field geology, and I just learned!”

And did he ever.

Desjardins, an AAPG member, was honored for his graduate work at the University of Saskatchewan, which focused on shallow-marine sandstone of the Early Cambrian Gog Group in the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains. The rocks are part of the vast terrace of similar deposits that can be found almost contiguously around North America.

His main objective was to further discover the ancient continental margin – to essentially see what other chapters may have been written about the history of the North American continent.

“These 510 million years old rocks,” Desjardins said, “have received very little attention in the past, maybe because they seem monotonous from the distance, but also because they are a daunting big pile of sediment, over 1,000 meters, that need some serious hiking for their study.”

That serious hiking translated into three years of fieldwork, which ultimately resulted in detailed mapping and descriptions that have been published in four prestigious geologic journals.

“I believe that by studying the Gog Group I have ‘awakened a giant,’ as it were, and these rocks will play a major role in our understanding of tide-dominated shallow-marine systems.”

An Emotional Connection

For Desjardins, the endeavor wasn’t just business.

“I love the mountains, being outdoors, camping,” he said. “The best thing is that by walking all over those mountains, I was able to find places where the rocks were just perfect to collect the data I wanted.

“Also, walking and finding outcrops, I felt truly like an explorer, reaching places where no geologist searching for these rocks had been before,” he continued. “It was really fun. However, you have to deal with the rain, snow, bears, backpacks full of rocks, angry field assistants. Sometimes it was really painful.”

Clearly, it’s not just science for Desjardins; he describes the work, the earth and the connection more emotionally.

“In Argentina I grew up in a place called Tucumán, at the foothills of the Andes. There is no doubt that by living by the mountains you built a relationship with them and you become passionate about them.”

He then came to Canada when he was 17 as an exchange student.

“I really wanted to go back to Canada at some point, but never thought that was going to be as a geology Ph.D. student.”

He did, though.

Finding the Right Path

And then when he got there, he realized how much he wanted to study and, ultimately, give back to both his adopted home and his native one.

In Argentina, he founded the “El Mirador Group” (The Lookout) in 2003, and its goal, he says, was to inspire creativity through geology.

“We are a team of many and we focus in the Aboriginal community of Amaicha del Valle in Tucumán,” he said. “I was the one running the geology workshop, while a friend of mine who is a photographer coordinated the photography workshops.”

His main workshop, Tierra Viva (Living Earth), was designed to teach basic geology concepts to locals – specifically teenagers – with a rudimentary knowledge of what had literally happened beneath their feet.

“Once the trail was designed, the goal was to set it as a tourist attraction so that the members of the workshops could serve as guides and generate an income.” He says he is most proud, though, of the book that came out of that period “Journey to the Depths of Time” – a textbook and a story that incorporates an Aboriginal perspective.

In Saskatchewan, he was an active member of the graduate student-run group called “Let’s Talk Science,” which gives class presentations in many elementary and high schools throughout western Canada. In recognition of that, he was awarded the 2006 University of Saskatchewan Appel Global Citizenship Award.

Desjardins now works for Shell in Houston in its international exploration division – but he still keeps an eye on his outreach work in both Canada and Argentina.

“My love for geology, it’s the same – I always carry the same passion,” he said. “However the perspective changes, for me it’s constant learning.

“In Saskatchewan, my goal was to publish papers,” he said. “Here in Houston it is to find and develop oil fields.”

He then says something both profound and simple.

“Rocks are rocks. It’s the same earth.”

He says his goal, then, is to see more of them, explore more. In short, to become a better geologist, he adds, “enjoying every second of that path.”

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