Published: Sept. 11, 2016 By

Dale Grant, who has ‘always been a Buff,’ has moved to establish a major scholarship for geological sciences students

Dale Grant’s career and travel have spanned the world—and included jobs in eastern China and Saudi Arabia—and now his geology training helps quickly alert the world where, how big and how damaging severe earthquakes are.

At the University of Colorado Boulder in the 1970s, Grant became energized by the great outdoors, and his career “seemingly fell in front of me.” Now, the man who says he’s “always been a Buff” has moved to establish a significant scholarship for geological sciences students with his estate.

Dale Grant

Dale Grant at the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden. Photos courtesy of Dale Grant.

Grant’s career, both in college and beyond, has been far-flung and meaningful. He hopes his scholarship fund helps enable future students to find similarly rewarding careers.

Like many students, Grant did not arrive at CU Boulder planning to become a geologist. He began as an engineering student, but later changed course. A dorm buddy got Grant interested in both rugby and geology.

Grant was working up to 30 hours a week as a dishwasher and food-server in the dorms, and he found that he was “struggling” with his classes. Meanwhile, he discovered the joy of skiing, which “began to dominate my winter life.” In summers, he’d work as a whitewater-raft guide.

Academically, a presentation by geology Professor Emeritus Theodore Walker seized Grant’s attention. “It so interested me that I changed majors.”

But he took a break from college in 1974, in his junior year, to move to Crested Butte, work as a lift operator and join skiing’s “freestyle craze,” along with some high-school friends. He spent a couple years skiing, rafting and rough-necking on oil rigs.

In July 1976, Grant was guiding whitewater-rafting trips in Idaho just before the devastating Big Thompson Flood, which killed 144 people and remains Colorado’s deadliest flood. The state highway department needed people with math and science backgrounds to work on a survey crew to find the center-line of the decimated highway.

“I learned how to be a surveyor, which I didn’t think anything of at the time.”

He returned to CU-Boulder in 1978 and got his geology degree with a geophysics option in 1979. Within two weeks of graduation, he saw an ad for geothermal exploration that required a background in surveying. He got the job, which took him around the western United States.

Dale Grant heliskiing in New Zealand 

Dale Grant, at right, heliskiing in New Zealand.

He then took a job with Geophysical Services Inc., which deployed him to western Oman. Grant spent two years there, working seven weeks on, three weeks off. In his off time, he went to Greece, Austria and Nepal, where he did the Annapurna base-camp trek.

Later, GSI sent Grant and others to western China, where the team used seismic sensors to search for oil and gas. He saw the Great Wall of China before it was rebuilt and saw the terra cotta soldiers in Xian just as their excavation was beginning.

Grant worked in Saudi Arabia, where he did computer processing and interpretation of data. The work was stimulating, but the working conditions were constrained. Grant recalls disembarking from a jetliner to walk past a phalanx of automatic weapons and then being required to surrender his passport. He and his colleagues were driven to a luxurious compound that was surrounded by barbed wire. He describes it as a “gilded cage.”

A bus ferried them to and from the work site. In his off time, he went on safari in Kenya, completed two treks in Nepal, traversed 14 countries in Europe, heli-skied in New Zealand and explored much of Asia.

He’d seen pretty much everything he wanted to see in the world, and after a few years, he chose to return to Colorado, where he earned a teaching certificate at Western State College in Gunnison, a locale convenient for skiing at Crested Butte.

After teaching awhile, he took a job at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Yucca Mountain Program. Then he moved to the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, where he’s served as a geophysicist for a decade and a half.

Grant is on a team that determines where, when and how big significant quakes are. The USGS NEIC has monitors that flag potential earthquakes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Our job is to take a look at (the data) and determine, ‘Is it real? Is it an earthquake, or is it noise: an explosion or some other event?’”

Having made that determination, the team will issue an initial report on the location and magnitude of the quake. This generally happens in 10 to 12 minutes for events in the United States and within 20 minutes for quakes elsewhere in the world. The NEIC issues refined reports as more data are verified.

Surveyors in China

Dale Grant snapped this photo in western China, where his team used seismic sensors to search for oil and gas.

The work is important. “It’s critical when an earthquake happens to know exactly where it was and how big it was in order to determine the possibilities of damage and casualties,” Grant says. The NEIC makes this information available to the first responders.

On average worldwide, there are about 1,000 quakes of magnitude 4 or greater per month.

His degree from CU Boulder became the “means to my career,” Grant notes, adding that there was never any question about where he would study. CU has always been “my school,” he adds. “That’s where I always wanted to go. There was never anywhere else.”

Born in Casper, Wyo., Grant grew up in Denver. Attending CU Boulder seemed a foregone conclusion. “On Saturdays, we’d get around the radio and listen to the Buffs games back in the ‘50s and ‘60s.”

That deep connection is one reason he plans to endow a scholarship fund in geological sciences. “That’s where I’d like to see people study, because it’s something in my heart, something I always enjoyed. And also think it’s the future, because the environment is so trashed right now that if we don’t have people who are knowledgeable and concerned about it, I don’t see any way out of it.”