EurGeol of the month: James Codd

“European Geologist of the month” is a section of EFG’s monthly newsletter GeoNews. Each month we ask one of the European Geologist title holders to tell us about his professional experiences and which role the title has played for his career. This month we have talked to James Codd, member of the Geological Society of London (GSL).

James Codd serves as a Technical Advisor in Geotechnics to the UK Department for Transport’s highways authority and represents the company on the British Standards Institution committee for Ground Investigation & Testing and the UK Site Investigation Steering Group. He served on the Port Hills Geotechnical Group in the aftermath of the 2011/2012 Christchurch (New Zealand) earthquakes, providing advice to national government via the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and to the regional council via the Slope Stability Engineering Panel. He was formerly an Engineering Geologist and a Land Surveyor for Owen Williams Consultants and Weeks Consulting and has lectured to postgraduate students at the University of Brighton. James has an active interest in travel and photography and has just returned from the Savoie Region of the French Alps. He has had articles and images published by Wanderlust Magazine, Geoscientist, Telegraph Travel and is a Getty Images contributor. He lives with his partner and their two daughters in the family home in Mid-Sussex, England.

James Codd

EurGeol title number: 1119
Country: United Kingdom
In which country do you currently work? – United Kingdom
In which field of geology do you work? – Engineering and environmental geology specialising in ground investigation, geohazards and geotechnical risk management.

How would you explain to the average person what geology is and why it is important? – In simple terms, geology is a diverse earth science that involves the study of earth processes, structure and properties. It’s important because geology, together with the other earth sciences, has formed and continues to form the dynamic planet we live on. Geology has created the natural habitats and landscapes that surround us, the engineering foundations for the built environment we live in and it provides us with the energy and resources we use and rely on every day.

Additionally, geology has a significant role in the future success or failure of our species. The geological record represents the 4.5 billion year history of the planet and, although the present is the key to the past, the past is also the key to the future. That history lesson could provide solutions to some of the challenges that we face today, such as global warming, climate change, sustainability and natural disasters. If our society is to survive for a significant length of time, we need to understand and overcome those challenges. If we don’t, our species will disappear in an extinction event of own creation, whereas the planet will continue to evolve without us and other forms of life will emerge.

What inspired you to become a geologist? – My inspiration was a childhood interest in what I now refer to as the big three; dinosaurs, earthquakes and volcanoes. I recall many family holidays on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast in search of ammonites and ichthyosaurs and searching for sauropods on the UK’s own “Dinosaur Island”, the Isle of Wight. I remember seeing the aftermath of the Loma Prieta Earthquake in the news in the late 1980s and the 1995 eruption of Ruapehu influenced my decision to pursue geology at University. Other influential factors include a passion for exploring the outdoors and an interest in maps, both of which have a significant part to play in geological fieldwork.

Have you been a geologist all your life? If not, what other job(s) have you done? – I graduated from university at a time when there weren’t many geological opportunities in industry but my enthusiasm for fieldwork, technical drawing and cartography led me to a role as a topographic land surveyor. This gave me some essential mapping, terrain modelling, CAD and GIS skills, which I still use in my role today, and later presented opportunities that allowed me to transfer into engineering and environmental geology.

In which sector(s) did/do you work? – Prior to my current role in the transport infrastructure sector, I worked for several multi-disciplinary engineering consultancies and a specialist geotechnical and ground investigation company. I have worked on highways and rail schemes and also projects in the residential, commercial, water and electricity infrastructure sectors.

What do you currently do in your job? Could you describe an average day? – I am responsible for the technical governance of earthwork assets on England’s strategic road network of motorways and trunk roads. My role involves input into effective policy and geotechnical research projects, provision of accurate and practical technical advice and certification services relating to the management of geotechnical risks and best practice in ground engineering design, construction, management and maintenance. This requires close liaison with Highways England’s supply chain designers and contractors to ensure that national improvement and maintenance programmes can be achieved.

A typical day might begin with the review of a geotechnical submission, such as a Preliminary Sources Study or Ground Investigation Report, providing input into the development of a ground model or geotechnical risk register. I could then be required to contribute to one of our research tasks relating to geohazards affecting the highway network, the resilience of geotechnical infrastructure or the use of remote sensing technologies in monitoring geotechnical assets. I could have a site inspection scheduled into my day, which could relate to an ongoing ground investigation for a major scheme or potential instability on an earthwork adjacent to a highway. Finally I might be needed to provide advice on monitoring or emergency procedures relating to a horizontal directional drill beneath a motorway.

What’s your favourite part of your job? – Although I don’t get to undertake as much fieldwork as I used to, and perhaps not as much as I’d like, it’s hard to beat getting outside and up, close to a well-developed landslide that could have come out of a textbook. I still like getting back to basic principles and enjoy logging discontinuities and material properties to develop an understanding of the mass characteristics or potential mechanisms of failure on a cliff section.

What is your proudest accomplishment as a geologist? – I am fortunate in that I have had a varied career and it would be hard to choose a single moment or accomplishment. Some highlights include geological monitoring of construction works in the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, talking to BBC News about Iguanodon footprints on the Sussex coast, working with rope access techniques and non-explosives to mitigate rockfall hazards, assisting Civil Defence with emergency landslide response, experiencing a magnitude 6.1 earthquake and witnessing first-hand the associated liquefaction and other hazards. Some of these tasks have brought me into contact with some really knowledgeable technical experts that I am proud to have met and to have had the opportunity to learn from.

Could you explain when and why you applied for the European Geologist title? – I applied for EurGeol at the same time as Chartership with the Geological Society of London (CGeol), in 2012, and although I wasn’t in Europe at the time, I was working overseas and wanted to ensure that I had a title that was applicable on an international level.

Did you already work abroad? If yes, could you tell us about your experiences abroad? – I contributed to several large highways projects in India, when I was based out of offices in Delhi and Hyderabad. These involved some eye-opening fieldwork in obscure parts of the country such as the ancient and holy city of Haridwar, Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas and some remote areas in the region of Orissa (now Odisha). I’ve also worked in Australia and New Zealand, where I was involved with the mapping, modelling, risk assessment and remediation of landslide and rockfall hazards and the rezoning of Christchurch following the earthquakes of 2011 and 2012. I should probably also mention my undergraduate six week mapping project in the Catalan Pyrenees, to which I owe many geological, mapping and fieldwork skills.

What are your professional projects/aspirations in the future? – I am currently involved with some really exciting research tasks relating to infrastructure resilience, climate change, coal mining hazards and sinkholes, and remote sensing and unmanned aerial vehicles and these tasks will develop and inform other related research tasks in the future. Highways England also has some ambitious complex infrastructure projects in the pipeline, some of which I am already progressing, such as the Lower Thames Crossing, and others that I look forward to becoming more involved with, such as the A303 Stonehenge tunnel.

There are fewer women working in geology than men. What would you say to girls who might be interested in a career in geology? – There are a growing number of women working in geology compared to men and women have historically played a major role in the development of the science, certainly in the UK. Mary Anning, famous for her ichthyosaur and other fossil discoveries on the Jurassic Coast, was recently named as one of ten British women to have most influenced science. Additionally, the works of some of the big names in geology, such as Gideon Mantell, William Buckland and Charles Lyell, might not have happened if it wasn’t for the contributions of their wives. It was Mary Mantell that picked up the first Iguanodon “tooth” in Sussex in 1822, Mary Morland was an illustrator who worked with Georges Cuvier before she met and contributed to Buckland’s works and, similarly, much of Mary Lyell’s work was subsumed by her husband’s “Principles of Geology” in the 1830s.
Many organisations in geology (and engineering) have active schemes to encourage young women to join those professions and young women seem to do especially well where those companies are keen to promote themselves as equal opportunity employers.

Why should young people consider a career in geosciences? – Anyone that has read this far will hopefully have picked up that I consider myself extremely fortunate to have a profession in which I can apply my personal interests, learn and develop skills from some fascinating individuals, travel and see or experience some amazing geological features and events. It’s not down to luck or being in the right place at the right time, it’s about being prepared and seizing opportunities when they present themselves. Don’t accept the 9 to 5, get out there and make a career out of a dynamic, engaging subject.

What kind of personal qualities do you need as a geoscientist? – First and foremost, geoscientists need to be motivated and must have a genuine interest in their chosen field(s) of earth science. They often need to act independently, dealing with risk and uncertainty, so need to be practical, resilient, good at problem solving and responsible for their actions. At the end of a task geoscientists should able to reflect on their own work, so need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

As with most scientific professions, geoscientists must be conscientious, open and honest. They need to be effective communicators and should be prepared to share knowledge and skills with other geoscientists and should be able to explain complex issues to non-technical team members and colleagues with respect.

What does the European Federation of Geologists represent for you and what do you expect from our association? – The European Federation of Geologists has a significant role in the way society copes with several global concerns. It creates a forum where scientific knowledge can be shared and supports research that could lead to solutions to many international geo-environmental issues. The EFG promotes the responsible use of natural resources and sustainable development and growth, so has an important role in influencing politicians and legislation. It is especially relevant in the light of recent political events and trends in Europe and further afield where science, evidence and facts seem to be challenged or even distorted for short-term political or financial gain.

Why does it matter to have a European, cross-border community of geologists? – As a global society we need to share knowledge and experience in all fields of science to develop sophisticated technologies that will allow us to overcome the challenges that we face and to survive as a species. Political borders and many geographic boundaries are very recent, often short-lived, human inventions that can inhibit scientific progress and constrain development and we need to work beyond those boundaries through collaboration and integration to succeed. The only boundaries that have been around long enough for the Earth and geology to conform to are tectonic!

To know you a little better: What do you like to do in your spare time? – When I am not entertaining or being jumped on by the two most important people in my life (my daughters), I enjoy expanding my horizons, getting out into the countryside and taking a breath of fresh air. I am happiest with a rucksack on my back and a camera in my hand, exploring somewhere new and unfamiliar.

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