The twin crises of COVID-19 and falling oil prices have left the world spinning and schools, companies and professional associations searching for ways to adapt.
For the AAPG Latin America and Caribbean Region leadership team, the new reality has led to innovation and creativity.
“I have always believed that challenging times offer us the perfect opportunity to recreate ourselves and redirect our efforts into the most relevant and meaningful things in life,” said Region President Elvira Pureza Gomez.
“When we started to see how the world has been changing during of the COVID-19 crisis, we realized that we wanted to be a part of that change. We have discovered that most of our educational programs can be sustained in the virtual world and can have a greater audience, reaching students and professionals that were unable to participate before with our in-person programming. In addition, after having reviewed all our upcoming events, we applied virtual strategies when possible to keep our events schedule active,” she said.
Xavier Moonan, LACR vice president, said the adjustment was a challenge at first.
“For many of us I’m sure, our first reaction to COVID-19 prevention measures was to complain. We crave simplicity, regular, daily routines and we tend to cringe at any deviation from the norm,” he said.
“But disruption is usually closely followed by innovation. Fueled by our passion for geology and the love for the promotion of geoscience, the AAPG LACR set about measures to not only serve in consolation for postponed events but to ramp up activity to keep geos worldwide engaged during these trying times,” Moonan added.
The rise of COVID-19 led members of the leadership team to develop regional virtual strategies for some of the AAPG’s most emblematic programs, the Visiting Geoscience Program, Earth Science Week and the Imperial Barrel Award competition.
In March, the region launched “Tuesday Talks,” a weekly webinar series featuring Visiting Geoscientists throughout the region and beyond.
In April, the Earth Science Week committee announced the “Geoscience4All” video contest in coordination with the Colombian Association of Petroleum Geologists and Geophysicists. Contest participants submit videos of themselves explaining geological concepts using items found at home.
In May, the leadership team will start broadcasts of “Thursday Thoughts,” a monthly interview series featuring regional officers, delegates, and committee chairs.
The Geoscience4All, some Tuesday Talks, and Thursday Thoughts videos are featured on the region’s channel in the AAPG Video Vault.
The region’s 11 young professionals chapters will hold the first ever virtual YP conference on May 18-22. The conference, “Crossing Borders in the 21st Century,” will feature presentations highlighting geology or technology from participating countries.
Not That New
Moonan noted that using virtual strategies is not a new concept for the region.
“Challenged as a region with many countries great distances apart, limited number of flight routes and hubs, a range of languages and widely scattered universities and hydrocarbon hotspots, we have had to be innovative to grow and be efficient as a region,” he said.
For example, LACR implemented a hybrid model for the Imperial Barrel Award competition in 2015. The first round held via WebEx includes all teams, and virtual round winners advance to the region semifinals held in-person in the home country of one of the semifinal participants.
“The hybrid model used over the past five years has allowed all LACR universities interested in participating to have the IBA experience while keeping costs within budget. We have had more than 30 teams participating in the virtual round, and the four strongest teams get the opportunity to present to judges in-person, preparing them to compete in the global final,” Moonan explained.
Because of COVID-19, the IBA Committee ruled that all region semifinals and the global finals will be held virtually in 2020, but Gómez hopes to bring back the in-person round in 2021.
Best Practices in Trinidad and Tobago
In addition to region-wide strategies, LACR has success stories in individual countries who are taking their initiatives virtual. Trinidad and Tobago has led the way.
Since 2016, the Trinidad and Tobago YP Chapter has partnered with Shell in hosting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) events at high schools located near Shell’s core assets and producing fields. STEM volunteers teach students about core components of geology and hydrocarbon exploration, including rocks and minerals, paleontology, sedimentology, structural geology, geophysics and petroleum engineering.
Moonan, who lives in Trinidad and Tobago, described how the STEM sessions continue to achieve their purpose in a digital format.
“The main aim of these sessions are to ensure students are more geo-aware on both fronts, the hydrocarbon exploration process and also understanding our natural resources and appreciation of our environment,” he said.
“With the closure of schools and country-wide isolation policies implemented the YPs are still able to run these sessions and keep students engaged through interactive online sessions and games,” he added.
The Trinidad and Tobago YP Chapter also started a virtual panel discussion series called “Let’s Dig Into It!” The first panel discussion, “The Energy Industry during a Pandemic,” held April 14, featured eight panelists from AAPG’s global community as well as energy experts in Trinidad. The session, conducted via Skype for business, drew 55 participants from six countries.
Shenille Samlal, YP T&T Chapter president, said the panel was a great success.
“The discussion brought multi-dimensionality to the issue of dealing with COVID-19 as an industry – a topic at the forefront of many of our members’ minds today,” she said. “The energy sector has already felt the impacts of this virus through plummeting oil prices and the slowdown of activity, but this time is an opportunity to learn and foster new skills, to focus on conservation. Given the industry’s cyclic nature, there is much hope for the future.”
Samlal described the chapter’s goal to stay positive during the current situation.
“Collaboration, ingenuity and creativity can be the brightest of lights in these dark times,” she said.
Virtual Field Trips
Moonan, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, uses technology to help geologists connect with their greatest passion: field trips.
“Geologist ... the title is synonymous with field trips, hiking, outdoor exploring, quarries and mines, rigs and platforms, field notebooks, clinometers and of course your handy dandy geological hammer,” he said.
“We love our field trips. Our inner passion of exploring, finding something new, unravelling a puzzle with clues hidden in rocks is what makes us geologists. COVID-19 has – to a great extent, if not totally eliminated the possibilities of holding group field trips. But like many other geos around the region, our passion for field work and teaching field analysis pushes us to find a means,” Moonan said.
In March, Moonan offered his first virtual field trips via Zoom. He uses high resolution geo-tagged drone imagery to generate 3-D models of the outcrops that he visits annually with his UWI students.
In the virtual sessions, Moonan takes students on walks along beaches, where they observe faults, fractures and formation contacts, acquire dip and strike measurements and draw lithologs. Though he’s been using drone imagery to review outcrops since 2017, this was the first time he ran the entire trip virtually.
“While geos will still require an actual field visit to appreciate grain sizes and texture firsthand, the drone models have been exceptional for gaining a large scale perception of the outcrops, viewing of inaccessible or difficult-to-access outcrops, and the ability for geos to peruse the outcrops as many times as they wish at their convenience,” he said.
Connecting with the Community
Moonan noted that reaching and growing the AAPG community during this new reality requires understanding of how geoscientists think.
“Our kind love to meet, network, attend conferences and workshops, share ideas, strike new deals, work together to push the limits of our understanding of Earth processes and, of course, socialize with some beer or wine at the end of the day,” he said.
While members cannot meet personally right now, LACR leadership hopes their virtual initiatives will help provide the connection that geoscientists crave and appreciate.
Gómez noted that students and young professionals are leading the way.
“Most of our chapters have been offering some talks to members via online streaming services over the past few years. During the past two months, they have multiplied their virtual activities, such as webinars, conferences, panels and short courses. It has been inspiring and gratifying to see how they are leading the way in their countries,” she said.
Student and young professional liaisons have WhatsApp groups for chapters in 12 countries, and the region’s LinkedIn and Twitter accounts have approximately 3,000 followers.
“Having a highly connected region helps us reach a lot of people in very efficient manner. That will be key to the success of the Latin America and Caribbean Region’s virtual transformation.
A Regional Young Professional Network
LACR young professionals hope to facilitate these connections through their inaugural Regional YP Conference on
A brainchild of Xavier Moonan and the Trinidad and Tobago YP Chapter, the conference will feature high-quality technical talks that appeal to multiple geoscience disciplines and showcase the countries located in the region.
Samlal said the conference offers an opportunity both for technical growth and closer YP chapter integration.
“Many of us are self-isolating at home and this provides a unique opportunity to explore the South American continent and the Caribbean with just a click! In doing so, we will enrich our YP memberships’ knowledge base while further developing our network,” she said. “These networks are key in establishing great working relationships that will foster future regional collaboration.”
Samlal noted that conducting conferences facilitates greater participation across the region.
“The LACR is quite vast, washed by the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Virtual events like this allow every single member the opportunity to participate with no restrictions in terms of flights and accommodation costs,” she said.
“We have the opportunity to educate, collaborate and connect on a far larger scale than usual.”
Gómez said she is optimistic about the future.
“I am confident that we will grow stronger and more resilient and that this will only improve our programs and our response to professionals’ needs and will push us forward into the next era. For certain, we will continue to incorporate the virtual aspects into the educational programs, which will allow us to stay relevant in the geoscientist’s professional lives,” she said.