John tells us about his role in Geosciences, as well as his love of field work and the great outdoors. 

Tell us about your role at the University.

I am a Professor in the School of Geosciences. I specialise in helping oil companies understand the sub-surface by using outcrop analogues. A good analogue is a large cliff that has similar properties to the rocks in the subsurface that we can see because they are only sample with narrow, widely spaced boreholes.  Over the last 15 years I have pioneered the use of “Virtual Outcrops” which are photorealistic 3D computer models of cliffs, which allow us to capture the cliff sections accurately on the workstation. 

We started collecting those data using expansive laser scanners but now we use drones and the work flows and ideas we developed have become far more mainstream, it’s very satisfying. It’s also exciting to keep looking for new ways to develop the applications of the technology. We just completed a great project that involved thermally mapping an active volcano, so it’s not all industry related but really exciting. I also teach on the Petroleum Geology Masters Course which I love doing and have several admin roles which I don’t love.  

How do you usually start your day?

If I am at home and not doing fieldwork I get up, have a cup of tea, make breakfast for the kids and then go out to feed the sheep and let the chickens out. Then clear up the breakfast stuff and drive to work. Once in work, it’s highly varied but I’ll grab a coffee from Kilau and plan my day. 

What brought you to the University of Aberdeen?

I lived in Norway for ten years and loved it over there but my wife and I decided that we wanted our children to grow up in the UK. We started looking for a somewhere to repatriate to but as she works in the oil industry that limited our options. London is my worst nightmare so Aberdeen was the obvious choice. We bought a derelict farm which overlooks the sea, just south of Dunnottar; spent 2 years rebuilding it and moved in the week after our second child was born. We love Aberdeenshire, the sea, the mountains, great access to beautiful outdoors, it’s a fantastic place to live and raise a family.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

Ask any geologist and they will invariably say the best part of the job is fieldwork. I spend about a third of the year in various exciting and beautiful parts of the World such as Utah (my second home), southern Africa, South America and all over Europe. There is a saying that “the worst day in the field is better than any day in the office” and I am always very happy to be out in the field with good friends and colleagues, learning new things.

What are your work priorities at the moment?

We have a large industry funded consortium called SAFARI which has built a global database of virtual geological outcrops which helps the sponsoring companies understand the subsurface better. We are just about to launch the fourth phase and I am trying to get everything in place for that. We are leaving soon for 8 days in the Spanish Pyrenees with our Masters students, so I am also making final preparation for that. 

How do you like to relax outside work?

I have two young daughters, so much of my spare time is spent taxi driving them to various activities. We keep rare breed sheep that were originally from Orkney on our farm so there are always jobs that need doing around the place. Away from home I have always been active in outdoor sports, especially climbing and mountaineering. I also enjoy mountain biking and sea kayaking and I am enjoying watching my girls develop their passion for the outdoors. My eldest daughter is a great climber and the youngster loves biking. There is never enough time for the fun stuff.