Meet R&M: Senior Geologist Chris Fell, CPG
October 17, 2018
Chris is a Senior Geologist in R&M’s Earth Sciences Department and has been with the firm for the past four years. His experience includes 13 years of engineering and environmental geology, environmental investigation and remediation, and GIS modeling. Chris has extensive field experience conducting geotechnical and environmental investigations, performing geotechnical special inspections, developing groundwater flow models, environmental site characterization and remediation, developing GIS models, tracking and managing disposal of contaminated material, and interpreting chemical data for environmental projects.
Chris has a B.S. in General Geology from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, is a Certified Professional Geologist and an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) Qualified Environmental Professional. He currently supports the Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) Groundwater Characterization project, Kalsin Bay Class V Injection Well investigation, various U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) environmental and geotechnical investigations, Interior Alaska Veterans Cemetery environmental investigation and Port of Alaska environmental tasks.
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What attracted you to geology? It just kind of happened. I started out as a political science major, which didn’t pan out so well. So I went the science route and ended up as a geologist. I was looking through the course catalog at possible majors, saw geology and thought “let’s try that one.” It ended up being a pretty good fit because it applies physics, chemistry and math into one discipline.
What’s your favorite part of your job? Figuring out how to solve the unique problems that each project raises. You don’t usually have all the resources you’d like to do the job, so you have find a solution with what you have available.
Favorite Project? Currently, the work R&M is doing for FAI characterizing PFAS contaminants. FAI is dealing with issues from using firefighting foam (PFAS), which they’ve been required to use for decades to remain an operational airport. These substances are now becoming regulated as an environmental contaminant; not just in Fairbanks, but all over the country. It’s a unique contaminant in that the science for how PFAS act in the environment are poorly understood (compared to fuels). We are just starting to learn how PFAS move through the environment.
Before, it’s mostly been fuel-related chemicals that are the issue on contaminated sites. How fuels interact with the environment is well understood. We are using the same tools for PFAS, but we’re finding they don’t act the same way and the tried and true methods are evolving around the new challenges. With this project, we are one of many groups determining how best to investigate PFAS.
What kind of problems have you solved on recent project(s)? I really enjoy dealing with large data sets, converting them into maps, and trying to develop a model to explain the results. You can have a big spreadsheet of data but few can keep all that in their head let alone make sense of it. Converting that data into a map or model allows you to actually use the information, adjust it and make predictions. A lot of what I do is spatial and ties loosely back to geology, but is also closely related to geography.
These maps really help on bigger projects with lots of data, or when the data is spread over a large area. A map can really clarify the information. I’ve done this on some of the USACE projects we’ve worked on and also the FAI PFAS one I’m currently working on. That’s why I have maps all over my office. I’m trying to understand the data from our Phase I investigation so we can figure out what to do for Phase II.
What qualities does a good geologist have? Curiosity, spatial reasoning and dauntlessness. Also, willingness to put up with terrible conditions because you often end up in the field despite the weather conditions.
From Alaska? If not, what brought you here? I’m from Wisconsin. Moving to Alaska was another one of those things that just happened. What actually drove it was my wife wanted to move back home. She’s from Anchorage, so I started looking for a job, found one and we moved. I’d always joked that I only ever wanted to move north and west and that’s pretty much how things turned out.
Community Involvement: My wife and I support Unbound. The organization helps children in third world countries. You get to pick a specific child and follow along as they grow up through letters they write back-and-forth. The child we sponsor is from Guatemala. Last year the family saved up all the money they got through Unbound to buy cinderblocks so they could build a kitchen. This year they’re saving up so they can roof it. The money also goes to education and to support other needs of the family.
Hobbies: Right now all my free time is spent building a house. My wife and I are actually doing a lot of the work ourselves. This summer I learned how to frame and right now we are roofing. We are hoping to move in around the holidays.
Fun Facts: I almost decided to become a rock climber or outdoor guide rather than have a traditional job.
Family Life: I have two kids, ages six and four, both boys. Right now they are feral forest children as we’ve pretty much turned them loose in the woods around the house while we are working on it. They are building forts in the woods and trying to steal my building supplies faster than I can use them. Pretty much as soon as the boards get short enough to be hauled off, they disappear. Every once in a while I have to go sweep the woods to find what I need.
Three words to describe you: Sarcastic, driven and irreverent.
Favorite Vacation Spot: The Wind River Range in Wyoming. I’ve gone backpacking there several times. It’s a wilderness area so you go in on foot or horseback. When travelling off trail you often don’t come across other people for days.
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