100 days in the Cold

I’m back from some winter work.  It wasn’t one hundred days but I like the ring of it better!  I started in Saskatchewan on a project for Mosaic making an underground map of the groundwater flows around their potash mines.  This project was surrounding the Colonsay mine as well as the Vanscoy mine.IMG_0128

Above:  After my day of field work, my evening work consists of mapping and downloading the information from my GPS datalogger at right.  In addition, I have to give detailed notes and directions for the drillers including any field hazards or special directions.  For example, within specific proximity to various infrastructure, detonation cord must be used rather than explosives.  These need to be mapped out on a special field map I’m preparing in the foreground.  The project went smoothly other than the blizzards and then it was back to Alberta.

I’m currently working on Encana’s multi-billion dollar exploration project north of Rocky Mountain House.  Continuing my work from last year, I’m locating, mapping and surveying the drill points.  So far, I have been working on the ranch country that borders the forest.  This presents many challenges as there is so much infrastructure to work around.  It is my job to fit the gridded drill points into the real world.

DSCN6048 Most of the points fall on houses, low and high pressure pipelines, power lines, and high power transmission lines, roads, and the plethora of existing oil infrastructure.  These points must be moved to safe locations using a complex set of geometry rules and government regulated minimum distances.  Our first job is to map out everything with GPS.  Fences, pipelines, houses, wells, creeks and everything we need to buffer back from.  The map above shows  a tiny section, the pink areas are the things we’ve determined we must avoid.  The yellow dots are the drill points I’ve moved using a complex set of geometric priorities to achieve the best possible data set of the rocks below.  Brown lines show where the points originated from.  The blue dots are where a computer in Calgary has established as the ideal points.  Only rarely is it possible to put them in these locations.

The part of my job I enjoy apart from being outside and seeing lots of interesting places, is the creative geometry problem of getting all the points in the ground to achieve maximum coverage.  It can be a real puzzle sometimes to make it work without getting too close to sensitive areas.

By early January, this difficult ranch land area was finished leaving now the forested areas which is the bulk of the project.  Unfortunately, Encana has had some difficulty getting the proper clearance from the correct bureaucracies to continue.  Its hard to believe that you would commit billions of dollars without getting all your ducks in a row but here we are.  So we are on time off right now while these issues get sorted out.

Now that I carry an iPhone, I have a camera as well, so I’ve taken a few pictures.  There’s almost always something interesting each day.IMG_0177

This Parhelia was blindingly bright on an otherwise cold day.  The actual sun was only slightly more intense.  When I picked up  one of my co workers at the end of the day he remarked, “Not even an extra sun made it any @#$% warmer today!”

IMG_0178Above and below:  The biggest surface hoar crystals I’ve ever seen! Some of the individual crystals where as big as a toonie and the whole thing was nearly a foot across.  Perfect storm of ideal conditions to grow so large.IMG_0180


Above: Self portrait in my ATV helmet

IMG_0204Above:  ATVing through some terrain can be pretty challenging.  I’m one of the few people out there who aren’t on tracked machines.  Having spent thousands of hours ATVing in horrible places, I can usually wiggle my way through almost anything with a little terrain recognition and a combination of delicate action and brute force.  But occasionally, I find myself thwarted as I did here.  Only cost me a 15 minute delay extricating myself from here.  Drifted snow had hidden frozen hummocks creating a “high centering” nightmare.  In the picture above, none of the wheels are actually touching the ground and are freely spinning.  A shovel, some dead trees and my thermos of coffee saved the day here.

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 4.36.00 PMAbove:  Cold but beautiful


Above: This Northern Hawk Owl let me walk right up to him which is not uncommon for this species of owl.  He was facing the other direction and I would whistle a little and he would spin his head around 180 and blink at me unimpressed and then spin his head around.  We did this several times much to my amusement.IMG_0149

Above:  It’s always either sunrise or sunset in the winter, one of the great things about winter work is the permanent light show at the horizon.


Above:  Travelling through some frozen corner of Alberta.

Had a couple run ins with some mean and territorial horses, but for one wonderful morning, I had a herd of two dozen nice horses follow me around.  They would graze while I did my datalogging and placing a marking in the ground for the drill location.  Then when I would take off to locate the next point and they would gather up and follow me to my next stop.

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One Response to 100 days in the Cold

  1. Mike Diakuw says:

    That’s pretty awesome photography. I absolutely love those frost crystals. Amazing. Clearly, you are very much enjoying your iPhone. And now, I am too.

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