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3 Posts authored by: rkernen

There is something so indescribably satisfying about flying to the other side of the world to do your research.  This is my seventh and final trip to Australia (for now!).  I must collect every piece of data I can possibly think of so I can finish my PhD in geology.  The pressure is on…but in the best way possible because failure is not an option.  I thrive under this type of pressure and feel as though I was born to travel and do field research for petroleum exploration companies. 


This trip is different-I’m traveling with only one master’s student, Piper and it’s her first time to Australia.  I love bringing new students with me…I get to experience Australia for the first time through their eyes.  Piper is special, she has an amazing ability to look at rocks and immediately know their geochemical origin and evolution.  She is literally a walking chemistry lab.  Piper is specializing in understanding the origin of ‘caprock,’ a rock associated with salt bodies, derived from the chemical alteration of salt residues. Caprock is found along the gulf coast of the United States, which is often associated with salt dome mines and shelfal oil production.  For oil exploration, understanding the timing and the geochemical processes related to the formation of caprock is essential – yet few studies to date have been completed to focus on these complex processes.


It is our belief that ancient caprock is located in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia.  The caprock in Australia is significantly older than what is find along the gulf coast…potentially 500 million years older and formed when the Earth as we know today looked very different.  Our advisor, Dr. Katherine Giles, has been researching and collecting caprock data for the past 8 years or so and it’s our goal to finish collecting the data and refine a geological model that she first presented at the 2012 American Association of Petroleum Geologists annual meeting. 


Why caprock? Caprock forms at the top of a salt body as salt dissolves as the product of the salt’s chemically altered residue. Typical caprock assemblages consist of a vertically zoned sequence of gypsum, anhydrite, limestone, and/or dolomite that display outcrop fabrics and petrophysical textures that are as complex as their geochemical evolution.  As a result, caprock can be very difficult to understand and interpret in the field and often goes unrecognized on offshore seismic data prior to drilling a well – which can have huge consequences for the success of a drilling project. Our small research group ‘Caprock Club’ has come to the point where we feel confident in our geological model interpretation and we will be publishing the results in The Australian Journal of Earth Sciences (AJES).  The Flinders Ranges has been nominated for a World Heritage site and it is our goal that by publishing our research results in the AJES it will help emphasize the scientific importance and demonstrate the need to preserve the land for future generations to explore.


Continue to follow our adventure through Pink Petro and other social media outlets over the next month as we take on the Outback as a fearless duo!



We're full of life and strong as ever. 


geologists in the field changing a tireAfter missing our flight to Adelaide, luggage being lost for days, flat tires, a broken stove and refrigerator we are finally able to begin our field work. 


Our first week was amazing…frost in the morning and sunny skies during the day. Our second week started out rainy and became warm, so warm the mosquitoes came out in full force.  We had cycles of intense rain followed by frost, sun, and high winds the last two weeks.  We fought the elements with our Patagonia jackets and took to shelter when the flooding made the dirt roads unsafe for travel.  


The weather becomes the focal point of your life while collecting data in the field. 


We use iPhones and iPads loaded with Midland Valley’s Field Move and Clino apps to take directional measurements of rocks in three dimensions, measure the thickness of specific rock types, collect samples and photos.  This data is then used to make geologic maps, stratigraphic diagrams and conceptual geologic models. The rock samples are taken to a lab for geochemical analyses which are used to build graphs and charts to analytically describe the conceptual geologic models.  Thin sections are made which allow geologists to view the rocks under a microscope and interpret rock type and fluid behavior. Ultimately my goal is to integrate field geology with analytic data to tell a comprehensive ‘geologic story.’


climbing rocks geologists petroleumProjects such as these develop the science behind petroleum geology.  This work can be used to describe and identify new hydrocarbon plays or how to manage the reservoir of a producing hydrocarbon field in a salt basin.  Often times field and research geology are the first expenses to be cut from an oil company’s budget, however it is important to identify which research consortiums are advancing petroleum science and producing quality geoscientists. 



All and all a holistic view of geologic processes that address business-driven questions will be the key to advancing petroleum geology.        


Haven't read the series?  Go back and read the first one:  Energy Field Trip: 'Rocking' it out in Australia


Or post your own Field Trip here in Pink Petro. If you're not a member, join!


Until we see you again....


image3.jpgToo technical for industry, too business for academia...what's a girl to do?


Run to the mountains and go back to where it all started. As they say in yoga, "Get grounded." Literally...



Go back to the rocks, document what you see, describe geologic contacts and interpret with the latest well results and geologic play concepts in mind. These are a few of my key goals for my petroleum-based PhD field season.


What exactly do I do?


I describe and map rocks in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. Why go to the Outback of all places? The rocks in the Outback provide field analogs for explorationists when drilling in various offshore salt basins such as the Gulf of Mexico, North Sea, Santos and Campos basins plus many more. All too often oil companies spend millions of dollars drilling wells and finding rocks that are completely the wrong age, wrong trapping configuration and contain absolutely zero hydrocarbons. The goal of my research is to help oil companies get creative, think outside the box while using technically sound geologic principals. Making discoveries, saving money and being kind to your colleagues is what it's all about.



As an explorationist one must always focus on the positive. 


image1[1].pngFinding your way through your early career is no easy task. Foraging into the unknown is exhilarating...might as well take a couple young, aspiring geologists along for the ride! I am a huge proponent of mentoring and passing on your best skills to the next generating in hope they will some day be better than you.


image2[1].jpgI am fortunate to have the opportunity to take Sarah Giles from Texas A&M  (LEFT) and Asmara Lehrmann (RIGHT) from Trinity University with me to South Australia. Both women are geology-declared undergraduate students with a bright future.


Keep an eye on our adventure as we take on the Outback as a fearless trio!