This story is part of the Comox Valley Record’s fall edition of Trio Magazine, published quarterly and available throughout the Comox Valley.
Special to the Record
Ben Coats got a sense of what he wanted to do while standing in a Comox Valley river doing math.
The Highland grad was estimating the river’s flow rate for a high school project, and he realized he wanted something where he could apply his interest in science in practical ways.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I could do this forever,’” he says.
Now, he works in natural environments about which people know little, helping to provide some answers about what’s beneath his feet.
After high school, he moved on to post-secondary and became more interested in earth sciences, deciding to pursue it at the University of Victoria. A professor who had worked on a geologic survey suggested he look into work opportunities. In his graduation year last spring, he submitted an application and was hired as a field assistant with the British Columbia Geological Survey to help map bedrock in a remote part of the B.C. coast. This involved flying in via helicopter to the Alice Arm area near the Alaskan Panhandle.
“You’re still on the Canadian side of things … a fjord away from the States,” he says.
The work involves getting drill cores in order to help map out the mineral structure of the area, particularly the bedrock. The project’s goal is to create 1:50,000 geologic scale maps of the province, which can provide background for industries that want to explore for mineral deposits.
At work, he’d use a rock hammer to chip away for samples, or a rock saw to get a good cross-section from the samples. Some of the material gets crushed to be tested in labs.
One team used a drone to scan the landscape, while others walked around the mountains to gather samples of rocks.
The job can be heavy, as it results in a backpack full of rock samples that grows increasingly heavy as one makes the trek uphill. Still working from low to high ground has advantages for the job, as it makes it easier to find the rock outcrops.
“They’re easy to see when you go uphill,” Coats says. “By the end of the day, it’s, like, theatrical how fatigued you are. You’re walking uphill and slowly getting a heavier backpack.”
Coats has an archiving job as well, working for a private company that has a contract with the government. This involves sorting and organizing lots of old geologic maps and reports.
He is managing to balance this indoor work during the colder months with the geological survey work in the summer. These employment opportunities, he says, come through contracts.
“It’s sort of a nice outdoor summer job and an indoor winter job,” he said.
When he was interviewed, he was getting ready to head back out for the fieldwork. The latest contract should run six to seven months in all.
“If I go in the field, it’ll be on the same project as last time,” he said.
He’s still early in his career, so he expects the work in the field to involve some heavy lifting, but it provides him with a good opportunity to get outside and apply his scientific background in some amazing natural settings.
“There must just be some geologist that needs me to carry something for them,” Coats said.