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BYU Alumnus Uses Geology to Detect Hazards


Photo courtesy of the Utah Geological Survey

Being paid to hike is one of the many benefits Adam McKean enjoys from his career as a geologist.

“At first, I didn’t see geology as a career,” McKean said. “I just saw it as one of my hobbies.”

However, great BYU professors and captivating geology courses finally convinced him: McKean received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from BYU in 2008 and 2011, respectively, then he turned his love for the science into a career.

McKean currently works as a mapping geologist in the Geologic Hazards Program at the Utah Geological Survey. His work focuses on the greater Wasatch area. He aims to produce geologic maps and identify geological hazards such as faults, landslides, areas of potential flooding, and other hazards.

“Counties and cities use our geologic and geologic hazards maps,” McKean said. “When a developer comes in and wants to develop on a certain plot of land, the city or county has the basic scientific information from our maps. The developer [is then required] to study the hazard and take the appropriate mitigation measures.”

While his job focuses on mapping geological hazards, McKean doesn’t see himself as a specialist in only surface- and hazard-related geology. He also studies and maps bedrock geology, uses geographic information systems software, and much more.

“Every project I have worked on has had a complex geologic problem that I wasn’t a specialist in,” McKean said. “That required me to reach out and learn more to be able to first understand and then solve the problem.”

McKean enjoys the work he does and the constant opportunity to expand his skillset.

“As a mapping geologist I need to be good in a lot of different fields,” McKean said. “I have to be a jack-of-all-trades because every project is different. They are all complex in their own different ways.”

Overall, McKean loves being able to work outside and make a living doing it.

“But the most rewarding part of my job is figuring out what the geologic story is for the area I’m studying,” McKean said. “It’s really satisfying.”

Tanner Call, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences