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Catherine Hickson


Dr. Catherine Hickson completed her BSc in geology at UBC and then went on to complete her Ph.D. in 1987, specializing in volcanology. Her choice of specialization came after a firsthand encounter with the immense power of volcanoes as she witnessed the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens from only 14 km away. She very quickly decided to make this her career path and has been studying volcanoes around the world ever since. In 1981 she joined the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) as a summer assistant and spent her first geological field work in Wells Gray Provincial Park. The following years were spent continuing this research and the writing her doctoral dissertation on the volcanism of Wells Gay. In 1988 she became a Research Scientist with the GSC. In addition to extensive work on the young volcanic regions of western North America, she has been to many remote volcanic areas around the world. Volcanoes such as Surtsey off the coast of Iceland and the numerous volcanoes that make up the high Andes of South America have been the focus of her attention. In fact, between 1996 and 2008 much of her time was spent managing two successive, highly successful, technology transfer development projects in South America. Funded by the Andean nations, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the GSC, the Multinational Andean Projects focused on hazard mitigation and providing key geoscience information for sustainable development.

During her tenure with the Geological Survey of Canada she headed the Department’s Vancouver office for seven years and led many regional and national programs, in addition to her international work. She is author of over 100 scientific papers as well as articles for the public, including two books. One book, Nature Wells Gray, with co-author Trevor Goward, illuminates the natural history of one of British Columbia’s greatest provincial parks and the other, Surviving the Stone Wind, vividly portrays the events of May 18, 1980, but also educates the reader on the inner workings of the volcano. She was one of the department’s most sought after public speakers and during her career she has spoken to literally 1000s of school children and had 100s of media interviews. Winning several departmental awards, she was recently honoured with the C.J. Westerman Award by the Association of Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia.

Catherine had continued her public outreach efforts, but in 2008 she was pursued to leave government and put her volcanological expertise to the test developing environmentally friendly geothermal power. She is now Vice President Exploration and Chief Geologist for Alterra Power Corp. Alterra is an international company headquartered in Vancouver, Canada. Travelling the world, she leads Alterra’s global exploration efforts in countries such as Peru, Italy, and even right here in Canada.