Tom Clark - Master's: Hydrogeology, 1972
I entered what is now the Jackson School of Geosciences after just getting married in the fall of 1969. Cindy and I spent almost four wonderful years in Austin and I received my MA in Geology (Hydrogeology specialty) in 1972. I came to UT with a BA in Geology from Oberlin College in Ohio (where I met Cindy) with thoughts of becoming a paleontologist. But in an introductory course in environmental geology, a relatively new subfield of geology back then, a field trip to an old leaking solid waste landfill on the northeast edge of Austin introduced me to what was to become my thesis area. I guess in a way, I did end up studying the “social” paleontology of what we humans throw away and how waste affects our environment. The thesis project allowed me to study hydrogeology, geochemistry, and public health engineering.
In the early 1970’s, the northeast intersection of US Highways 183 and 290 (site of the landfill) was still largely rural, but the fast-growing city was rapidly expanding from the southwest. To make a long story short, a townhouse complex was later built on top of the old landfill and, as might have been predicted had a more thorough investigation been done, the decomposing landfill eventually caused methane gas to leak into a number of the units, forcing their evacuation. This was front page news in Austin at the time. A gas recovery and venting system was eventually installed so the units could be reoccupied. On one of several return trips to Austin we’ve made, it was interesting for me to visit the site to see some of this work in progress.
After receiving my degree, I moved on to jobs as a hydrogeologist with state environmental agencies in Illinois and Minnesota, where I’ve worked a combined 38 years. Cindy and I raised two daughters and currently have three granddaughters.
This photo is of this graybeard hydrogeologist taken in the fall of 2006, descending a staircase 109 feet to the bottom of what’s billed as the “World’s Largest Hand Dug Well” in Greensburg, Kansas. As an aside, the spring after this picture was taken, an EF-5 tornado leveled 90% of the town, flattened the well house and adjacent museum, and filled the big well with debris. The well has since been rehabilitated and is once again open as an attraction, a “can’t miss” for hydrogeologists and anyone else interested in seeing groundwater, up close and personal.