Seismic Technician

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Seismic Technician


When an earthquake strikes, who measures its velocity? Seismic technicians study the earth by measuring responses to different types of sound and electromagnetic energy. They look at the physical structure and behavior of the earth including earthquakes. Although earthquakes have fascinated people for centuries, the roots of modern seismology date back only about 100 years to the development of the first instruments capable of recording seismic waves. Seismic technicians use scientific instruments to measure the electrical fields, gravity fields, or sound waves traveling through the earth. They also develop theories about the slow flow of rocks and earth plates over geological time.

Seismic technicians set up tests in which controlled explosions or vibrations create soundwaves in the earth's surface. Hauling long electrical cables, the seismic technician finds the small holes in the ground dug by seismic drillers and attaches the cables to detonators and explosives. Often trudging through forests, swamps and traversing rocky terrain for 12 or 14 hours a day, their work is physically demanding.

They are usually involved in one of two specialty areas: petroleum exploration or earthquake studies. The majority are involved in petroleum exploration, as the most important commercial aspect of seismic activity is the search for oil.

Before oil companies decide to drill a well in a new location, they usually require information from seismic tests to analyze the underground rock formation and its potential for holding reserves of oil or gas. Using the same basic principles to explore the interior of the planet using earthquake waves can be applied on a much smaller scale to the detailed mapping of subsurface oil and minerals. These studies use waves generated by small explosions or mechanical devices to detect oil sources.

A great deal of time and money is spent on seismic operations and major decisions are made on the basis of seismic data. Yet in the long run it is more economical to perform the test and find an insufficient amount of oil for drilling, versus past practices in which engineers would randomly drill in hopes of striking oil.

With tremendous research and observation, seismic technicians have been able to help seismologists determine the locations at which earthquakes occurred most commonly in the past, and therefore are expected to be most likely in the future. Using statistical analysis to extrapolate answers, they study the various fault lines in our Earth's structure and track data about past earthquakes over time as a source of determining the location of future earthquake activity.

The collection of seismic data through shockwaves measures how long it takes the subsurface rocks to reflect the waves back to the surface. Shockwaves are generated by pounding the earth with a vibrator truck or by exploding small dynamite charges in shallow holes. Boundaries exist between the rocks bounce the waves back, and seismologists listen for these waves using detection devices called geophones. Computers process the geophone data and convert it into seismic lines, which are nothing more than two-dimensional displays that resemble cross-sections. This tells geologists how much oil is in the ground and helps create three-dimensional computer models of the underground geometries of the rocks.
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  Interests and Skills  
What does it take to become a seismic technician? First, curiosity and a thirst for geological knowledge are essential to the seismic technician. Moreover, a meticulous nature, an interest in computer science, and in certain cases, in outdoor activities, is necessary. Seismic technicians must be able to work effectively with a team but also individually. Seismic technicians should enjoy working with sophisticated instruments and equipment at tasks requiring precision. They must also like compiling data and assisting in various technical and experimental functions.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Transport the equipment required for a drilling operation including shooting and explosive equipment
  • Haul various sizes and lengths of electrical cable over designated areas of land and hook them up to detonating devices
  • Keep continual logs of the drilling activity
  • Assist in analyzing seismic data with seismologists and engineers
  • Load holes with explosives
  • Report any irregularities in procedures and conditions to the seismologist
  • Organize the placement of equipment
  • Operate and maintain vibrator equipment
  • A typical workday will vary for the seismic technician, depending on what kind of work they do. Those working in the petroleum industry or an earthquake monitoring center may have to work night shifts and on weekends. Especially in the case of an earthquake, seismic technicians may be on call 24 hours a day. There is usually a good mix of indoor, office work and outdoor fieldwork. In the field, they might work about 28 days straight, then receive six or seven days off in a row. Working with explosives can be dangerous, so safety is a large part of a seismic technician's job.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Seismic technicians are commonly employed by geophysical companies, oil and petroleum companies, and independent data processing companies. They also work for geological and earthquake survey departments in the government and teach at the high school or college level.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With further education, seismic technicians can become seismologists, mining engineers, metallurgists or work as a senior seismic technologist for a petroleum company. With experience, the technicians could take upon a more managerial role or supervisory position with less technical duties. They can also become seismic drillers or observers, depending on how technical they choose to be.

  Educational Paths  
Seismic technicians usually require completion of a one- or two-year college program in seismology, geology or geophysical engineering technology. Certification in seismic or geophysical technology or in a related field is available through associations of technicians and may be required by some employers. Usually, a two-year period of supervised work experience is required before certification as a seismic technician is granted.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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