Earthquake Seismologist: John Cassidy


Ph.D. University of British Columbia (Geophysics)

M.Sc. University of British Columbia (Geophysics)

B.Sc. (Hons) University of Victoria (Physics)

Current Position:

Research Scientist, Natural Resources Canada

Head, Earthquake Seismology Section

Project Leader, Assessing Earthquake Geohazards

Adjunct Professor, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria

I am a senior research scientist with Natural Resources Canada, specialising in earthquake hazard studies. I am also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria where I teach courses and supervise graduate students. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with scientists and engineers from across Canada and around the world on a variety of topics ranging from subduction zone earthquake hazards, mapping earth structure, studying earthquake sources, and evaluating the effects of local geological structure on earthquake shaking. I lead the Geological Survey of Canada’s National “Assessing Earthquake Geohazards Project” and work closely with emergency managers and decision-makers in the application of our earthquake research. Scientific outreach is a critical element for myself and my team.

Why did you choose a career in earth science?

I have always loved science (from dinosaurs, to astronomy, to following the Apollo missions as I was growing up) and I have always loved asking questions! Why is this? I don’t know, but science is a perfect fit! As an undergraduate Physics student, I became aware of the importance of “waves”, and it seemed to me that earthquake seismology was an excellent way to put physics to work to benefit society (helping to save lives and protect our communities).

How is some of the work you've done relevant to Canadians?

The earthquake hazard research that we undertake is used in many national codes and standards, including the National Building Code of Canada, bridge codes, dam codes, and many more. This information is used on a daily basis by engineers (e.g., for designing critical infrastructure such as dams, bridges, port facilities), decision-makers (e.g., the National Energy Board), and emergency managers (requiring realistic earthquake scenarios to better prepare for future events) all across Canada. It is extremely rewarding to see the results of our latest science being put to work by so many groups to benefit Canadians – protecting us from future earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis.

What do you wish the public knew about earth science?

I wish that everyone recognised how important earth science is to our everyday lives. Everything that we do – from our environment, to the energy that we use, our goods and products, our economy, and our public safety. Earth science is a critical element in all of these things. Earthquake science is a very young science, and evolving rapidly. New technologies are changing the way we do our science, and helping us to be better prepared for future earthquakes and tsunamis that are inevitable.

What is something early-career geoscientists can do to make themselves more likely to get a job?

Develop and nurture a broad skill-set. Follow the latest technology that can benefit research in your field (programming, communications, technological advances), look “beyond what you see” and search for “other areas of research” that may benefit your field of interest. Interact frequently with those who will benefit from your scientific research, and seek their input and advice. Share the results of your research with everyone who will listen! Always publish your research!

Is there anything you wish you knew before you gotten started?

I wish I knew how important the “communications” aspect of science was – from writing research proposals to presenting scientific results to a wide variety of audiences. Had I known, I would have taken more writing courses and some acting or public speaking courses in high school! In retrospect, writing and acting courses would benefit almost any career.

What is your favourite place that your work has taken you?

I have had the good fortune to travel many places around the world with my work. One of the most memorable, and beautiful, was a walk along the Great Wall of China - so much history, so much beauty. One of the most haunting places I visited was Chile, immediately after the 2010 M8.8 subduction earthquake. I spend 10 days travelling through some of the hardest-hit areas from this earthquake and tsunami. Witnessing the impacts of that event (and especially the tsunami) was very difficult, realising that just a few minutes of shaking (that struck without warning) caused some people to lose everything. As an earth scientist it was encouraging to see that very positive impact of earthquake science and engineering – structures that were designed to withstand shaking performed extremely well. It was also encouraging to see people working together to rebuild their communities in the days after the earthquake. This trip clearly demonstrated the importance of our science, and sharing the results of our science.

However, my favourite place that my work has taken me is here in Canada – the unbelievable breathtaking beauty of Haida Gwaii – the ocean, the forest, the history, the most amazing rainbows, and so much more that words cannot describe…

Views expressed in blog posts reflect those of the author, and not necessarily those of the CFES.

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