Geology professor travels the world

John Buchanan, Ph.D., talks about upcoming Antarctic trip


Photo by Karissa Berg

John Buchanan being interviewed in his office.

By Rosie Perry, Staff Writer

EWU students have the opportunity to be taught by a variety of professors, each with their own individual skills, knowledge and experiences. Geology professor John Buchanan is one who has had the chance to travel all over the world leading National Geographic-type expeditions.

Buchanan, originally from Pennsylvania, attended Southern Illinois University for his undergrad and graduated with a B.S. in geology. He then went on to study at Colorado State University where he completed a M.S. in geology and a Ph.D. in Earth resources.

Buchanan has always had a passion for geology; in fact, he mapped his first cave in the ninth grade as a part of a self-invented project. His map was submitted to the Pennsylvania Geological Survey by a previous teacher, and Buchanan received a letter thanking him for the files.

Upon graduating his Ph.D. program, Buchanan began searching through geological journals for employment options and applying for positions at several schools. He knew he wanted to be somewhere on the western side of the country due to the diversity of geographical surroundings. In the summer of 1984, he was invited to interview at EWU and has remained here ever since.

Buchanan said he has stayed at EWU for so long because he believes Spokane is a fantastic geographic hub. “If you draw a circle around Spokane of a day’s drive radius, it takes you up into the Canadian Rockies, it takes you out to the coast, it takes you down into the Great Basin, over to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and a lot of really great places in the Rocky Mountains,” said Buchanan.

In 2008, Buchanan was recruited by an adventure travel company called Zegrahm Expeditions to guide trips around the world. He has headed trips on all seven continents and in nearly 50 countries. Currently, Buchanan is preparing for an Antarctic expedition, which will take place in February 2016.  “This is going to be my first experience in Antarctica, and I am very excited,” said Buchanan.

This expedition will depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, by ship traveling out to the Falkland Islands, then South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, then down to the Antarctic Peninsula. The expedition’s passengers will be observing the local wildlife such as penguins and elephant seals, and Buchanan will be lecturing about the geology of the islands.

The ship will sail into a caldera, a large volcanic crater, at Deception Island. Passengers will be able to go ashore for hiking and will be walking in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps, an Antarctic explorer who shipwrecked there in the early 1900s and managed to survive with all of his crew for a couple of years on the ice. The passengers will have the opportunity to visit the camp where Shackleton and his crew wintered and his grave site where he was later laid to rest.

“This is just the nature of these trips, very natural history based,” Buchanan said. “It is basically like living in a National Geographic documentary for two to three weeks at a time.”

These expeditions are ship-based where participants are hiking with and observing wildlife during the day and sleeping on the ship at night. The ship is relatively small, sleeping 60 to 80 passengers.

During the expeditions, Buchanan drives a Zodiac, a small, inflatable boat powered by an outboard motor used to travel from the ship to shore, gives lectures, guides walks and shoots photography.

Each year, Buchanan participates in two or three of these trips. He said he is fortunate enough to be able to take winter quarter and his regular summer quarter off in order to lead these trips each year. He takes winter off because it is the Southern Hemisphere’s summer and that is when trips to Antarctica take place.

Buchanan said these experiences have truly shaped his teaching, as he uses the information he has gathered on his trips in class lectures.

Since beginning these expeditions, Buchanan has been recruited by two more companies called Silver Sea and Apex Expeditions. Buchanan will continue to teach geology at EWU during fall and spring quarters and lead expeditions all over the world during summer and winter quarters.

Buchanan said these experiences have made him truly live his life. He said he strongly recommends everyone get out there and do the same.