Dana S. Ulmer-Scholle, co-instructor along with husband, Peter, of the first-ever short course to be offered through AAPG’s new office in Bahrain, remembers the first time she knew she wanted to be a geologist.
Actually, her mother remembers.
“My mother always claimed my first word was rock,” she said. “The second was pretty rock.”
The Scholles, award-winning co-authors of AAPG’s popular Memoir 77, A Color Guide to the Petrography of Carbonate Rocks, will be talking a lot about rocks in Bahrain; in fact, their short course, “Integrated Petrography and Geochemistry of Carbonate Rocks and its Application to Reservoir Studies,” will be based on the book itself.
“Having Memoir 77 available is a huge help in teaching the course,” said Peter Scholle, who is the director and state geologist with the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.
“It took years to put the book together,” he explained, “and getting the information packed into a single volume gave us a chance to make the value judgments of what is most important to the majority of end users. So the class is mainly about getting students to do the needed observations, teaching them the little tricks that will guide them into efficiently using the resources available in the book and in other reference works.
“The fact that AAPG is providing a setting with microscopes will give the students a chance to practice and learn to fly on their own,” he added, which is “a great help in a course like this.”
Dana, associate research professor of geology in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at University of New Mexico, says the secret of the book’s success, which is subtitled “Grains, Textures, Porosity, Diagenesis,” is clear and obvious.
“Lots of photographs and figures!” she said. “If you show nothing but text I think people get lost – especially if English is not their first language.”
The Tie That Binds
Like many couples involved in the same profession, the Scholles’ marriage is as much defined by their work as their work is by their marriage.
“Dana does especially well the things that I do not have the patience for,” Peter said, “especially fluid inclusion studies.”
Dana amplifies her husband’s take on the dynamic.
“We respect each other’s opinions, but we do argue about interpretations since we don’t always agree,” she said. “I think most people are bemused or amused by our squabbling over things like what fossil is in a rock, or ‘What fabric is that?’”
Fluid inclusion studies … squabbles over rocks, fossils and fabrics! That’s it?
All marriages should have such problems.
Peter says having a spouse in the classroom with you is both natural and competitive.
“Geology is such a huge component of our life and has provided us with the ability to work together, travel together (and) share insights together that I think it inseparable from a ‘personal’ image of each other,” Peter said.
“Dana is wife, colleague, accomplished scientist and friend all rolled together,” he added. “Perhaps ‘codependent’ is the clinical word, but it works for us.”
Dana, too, sees the dynamic as collaboration.
“We both have careers we really love.”
Peter believes it was this kind of cooperation and interest that made the course possible.
“What got this started was a comment by AAPG folks about the high sales of Memoir 77 at a meeting in the Middle East,” Peter said, adding that he and Dana suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea to follow up with a hands-on course.
“Having worked on-and-off over the years in the U.A.E. and Qatar (and having filmed a movie with AAPG in those countries in 1985) made it seem even more right,“ he added.
Masters of Space and Time
Even though they are based in New Mexico, the Scholles have done research or consulting projects in many countries around the world, which is reflected in the diversity of those pictures featured in Memoir 77.
When Peter is in New Mexico, though, his work isn’t just geologic; it’s also political.
“I find teaching and the detective work of research very rewarding, although I get to do it far less today than in the past,” he said. “But I also enjoy what I am doing in my current job, which largely is trying to translate what geologists do into words understandable by the general public and legislators.
“As geologists, I think we all feel that what we do is important, whether it is finding energy, mineral or water resources, working to predict or mitigate geologic hazards, or fundamentally understanding how our planet works, now and in the past and future,” he said.
“Explaining any of those things to legislators and getting funding for geosciences that is proportionate to its societal importance, however, remains a considerable challenge.”
Dana suggests the ability to communicate about such things comes first from the love of the material.
“In sedimentology we so often use the phrase the present is the key to the past,” she said. “In clastics this may be mostly true, but in carbonates the variables of evolving faunas, extinction events, environmental conditions and diagenesis make this much more difficult to directly apply.”
She says getting students to understand how space and time relate to each other in carbonates is extremely important to understanding possible reservoir conditions/potential.
“I like to tell them that carbonates can be a lot like a detective story where you are trying to figure out who did what and where as well as why and how the diagenetic changes affect the rock as a whole.
“I guess it is the detective story lover in me,” she added. “I really enjoy unraveling the history of a sample and trying out new analytical techniques to see if we can get a more complete picture of what a sample went through during deposition and diagenesis.”
That … and all those pretty rocks.