Back to the Beginning

Story and photography by Anna Rader

Friday, October 8, 2010


The world of a geologist for Randi Martinsen encompasses much more than rocks. Walking into her office, which is surrounded with a numerous maps and pictures, you feel she has stories to tell. Many years of teaching have brought her credibility and a long list of accomplishments.

Scientific at a young Age

At 8 years old she knew she wanted to be a scientist, and her interest started out in biology. As a child she spent time in Norway and was fascinated by the tidal pools.

"At that time I loved seeing all of the aquatic life and wanted to be a marine biologist," Martinsen said. "I like to joke that I was a Jacques Cousteau groupie."

Things changed in college when she failed her chemistry class.

"It was fluke that I ended up in geology," she said. "It was not in my interest, and it worked out."

Martinsen went to Stony Brook University in New York, the state she was born in. The school needed the best students to attend, and according to Martinsen they were trying to establish themselves as a top school.

"When I got this D in chemistry, I wanted to outsmart the system; and work with the students who knew what they were doing in their lives," she said.

Her credit to her geology future is a student who was assigned to her dorm. Described as a strong mentor, he took her on geology field trips, and showed her the diverse profession.

"He made a strong impact on my life, and after he left I still was asking him for advice in the field," she said.

Way Out West

When she was looking for somewhere to go to school, he told her about Arizona and Wyoming. Martinsen then went west, and as she puts it she "fell in love." The student was the inspiration of her teaching, and for her you can't repay someone who has done that; you have to reciprocate it in your actions.

Oil and gas, which are Wyoming's big resources, are exactly what Martinsen studies and had experience with. Her research is based in petroleum, and there is pressure to teach it.

"That's how I got involved, and I have been here for 31 years," she said. "That's a lot of time considering when I arrived I said, 'Give it five years.' That was in the 70's."

Her start in Laramie came about when she was asked to be a consultant for a company that was based in Laramie. The focus and interest for Martinsen is petroleum. Petroleum geology is a highly diverse subject in which established geologic concepts are put to practical use in finding and exploiting petroleum deposits. The applied geologic concepts incorporate broad spectrum of subdisciplines, and are so varied that a freshman-level understanding of geology barley comprehends.

"I just got off sabbatical," said Martinsen. "I'm ready to retire from the University, but not from geology."

A Detective of Oil and Gas

Martinsen wants to be a detective of undisdovered geology again by going back to the beginning.

The main goal of her work that she has done, and still hopes to do, is find oil and gas. The research projects she does are concerned with the exploration for and production of hydrocarbons from stratigraphically trapped accumulations, and are also focused on the clastic depositional systems. Particularly, the types and characteristics of reservoir quality rocks within these systems, the controls on their distribution; and the development of models useful to hydrocarbon exploration are the topics of interest.

"I am particularly interested in the influences that syn-depositional tectonics, especially faulting, have on sedimentation and reservoir compartmentalization," Martinsen said. "The Rocky Mountain region provides a unique setting in which to study stratigraphy and petroleum accumulations because it contains numerous oil and gas fields, extensive subsurface databases, and unlike petroleum basins in many other parts of the world, well-exposed outcrops of productive formations."

This has taken her to Egypt, Africa; and Europe; Geology has sent her on a chase for the discovery of oil and gas.

Her last research project was with a company called Explortation and Production. During this time they were looking for oil and gas in a basin in the Rocky Mountains. The whole experience is based on luck, and it's a guessing game to find the oil and gas.

"You are always asking yourself, 'when the well hits a zone and it starts to screech and scream, am I right?'" she said.

The key to talking with Martinsen is nothing is off limits. One topic can lead to another which makes you understand her past and her future plans. In her words, "It's pretty damn exciting."

inspiration for her students

Jess Silvey, a junior geology major at the University of Wyoming has Martinsen as an inspiration to her degree.

"She was my physical geology teacher, and she made me fall in love with it. Her passion really helped my decision," Silvey said.

Currently Silvey is taking Advanced Stratigraphy from Martinsen, and even though it is a senior-level class, Martinsen makes it worth the work.

"She knows how to bring out your strengths. We get multiple class projects a day, and she helps me with each one. She knows where things go, and what is right," Silvey said.

The biggest influence from Martinsen is allowing her students to see how diverse geology is. Finding that niche in a student helps them stick with the major.

"I can relate to her. She is such a strong independent woman, and I can see myself in her," said Silvey.

The stories, dedication to work and passion that Martinsen speaks about have become the main reason why those who know her, remember her for life.