The Science of Subsurface Solutions
Hager GeoScience, Inc. tackles geophysical challenges with technology
When construction companies need subsurface help, they are often unsure of what to ask for. The folks at Hager GeoScience, Inc. (HGI) know exactly what to do. The company provides innovative solutions for challenging subsurface problems, with geologists and geophysicists using state-of-the-art equipment in the field and performing sophisticated data analysis using proprietary software.
President Jutta Hager, Ph.D., a Certified Professional Geologist in multiple states, founded the company in 1993. Headquarters are in Woburn, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston. HGI is certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and/or Woman-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) in all six of the New England states, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Clients include construction companies, geotechnical firms and engineering and environmental consulting companies. HGI also works as a sub-consultant on projects for EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Projects span from Boston and New England to across and outside the United States.
“Construction companies contact us because they know they have a subsurface issue or problem related to their project. However, they don’t necessarily know what service to ask for or how geophysics may apply to their project,” Jutta says. While environmental consulting clients usually know what they need—a survey to confirm the depth of bedrock at a construction project site, for example—they rely on HGI to provide the “how” of tackling a project and obtaining the data.
“Because we are scientists, we think creatively and look broadly at geotechnical problems,” Jutta says. “This is helpful when trying to find the best approach to work with a problem. The way we look at challenges drives solutions.”
HGI frequently uses radar technology to locate existing utilities and underground storage tanks.
“The older the city, the more stuff there is under the ground, often forgotten and abandoned long ago,” says Senior Geophysicist Katie Decker, Ph.D.
That’s certainly true for the Boston area. “There are a lot of surprises: Old sewers that have been repurposed, tanks with no known history, which are sometimes leaking! We call this urban geophysics,” Katie says.
HGI also does archaeological work, typically to locate graves when new infrastructure is planned near a graveyard. They’ve also conducted searches for human remains for police departments and the FBI.
Rocks: A Love Story
Jutta was pursuing a career in publishing when she fell in love with geology and rocks.
After graduating from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in German Literature, she went to work for a publishing company. Her first and fateful assignment was editing a high school geology textbook. Smitten, she signed up for an evening geology course at Boston University.
Then she took a leap of faith, applying for graduate studies in geology at Harvard. “I loved it,” Jutta says. “It was the best move I ever made.” She earned both master’s and doctoral degrees in geological sciences from Harvard. Prior to founding HGI, she worked for a consulting firm and also co-founded a geophysical consulting company with another geologist.
The entire team is passionate about the field. Mario Carnevale, Vice President of Operations, joined the firm in 1996. He received a master’s degree in geology from Boston College and has worked all over the world in geophysics, engineering geology, resource evaluation and computer modeling. “His diverse experience helped make the company what it is today,” Jutta adds.
Katie joined in 2013 after earning a doctorate from Boise State University. “I mix ground-penetrating radar and two other methods, seismic and electromagnetics,” Katie says.
Recommending the Right Technology
Clients sometimes request a particular technology—a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey, for example. However, that may not be the right choice. “We work with them to determine what they truly need. A popular new technology may or may not apply. We take the time to explain the best way to approach their project and obtain their buy-in,” Jutta says.
Clients need to know the type of foundation already in place for an existing building and whether they plan to expand it or demolish it. “Pile integrity testing is forensic work. We determine if the existing foundation is compromised and the level of effort required to remove it,” Katie explains.
HGI characterizes footings and support walls for bridge and dam projects. “There are many privately owned dams in New England. Increasingly, they’re being removed to allow for natural water flow,” Jutta says.
Characterizing soils and bedrock has both construction and geotechnical applications. “The conventional method is drilling a borehole, but that requires site access for a drilling rig and only provides a one-dimensional perspective for a specific point,” Katie says. “We use two- and three-dimensional profiling techniques that provide an overview of the site. The equipment is also smaller and more mobile than a drilling rig.”
Clients sometimes also need to map bedrock and locate bedrock fractures. HGI can collect data inside boreholes using tools lowered down the hole from the surface. “The client drills the boreholes; we put our tools down them, map the fractures and send the data to the engineers,” Jutta explains. The firm also conducts borehole logging at contaminated and Superfund sites to determine the location and movement of fluids.
Breadth of Projects
HGI provided mapping and blast/vibration monitoring for the MetroWest Water Supply Tunnel, a 17.6-mile, deep-rock pressure tunnel passing through complex, eastern Massachusetts geology. “Mario created specialized maps of the interior. We also developed software to analyze vibrations produced by the tunnel boring machine, providing data for the client to share with homeowners concerned about potential damage,” Jutta says.
The firm provided large-scale utility surveys for construction of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center and the Everett Marine Terminal, both in Massachusetts. “We conducted precision utility locating and GPR surveys over large areas and then created plates using AutoCAD maps, which requires a high level of skill,” Jutta says.
“In-field interpretation isn’t possible or appropriate for areas of these sizes because of the numerous old, abandoned utility lines,” Katie says. “We collected three-dimensional data in the field and processed the raw data in the office using proprietary software.” HGI’s work has continued during additional phases of these projects.
Since 2014, the firm has conducted borehole logging, and more recently, GPR, seismic and electrical resistivity tomography testing at a Superfund site in Londonderry, New Hampshire, for a client trying to mitigate the contaminants affecting residential bedrock wells. They needed to determine if drinking-water quality was improving. “Our approach to the problem was mapping bedrock and bedrock fractures to track the water flow,” Jutta says.
Wardenclyffe Tower on Long Island, New York was an early experimental wireless transmission designed and built by Nikola Tesla more than a century ago. HGI was approached by Prometheus Entertainment to survey the base of the former tower to map the shaft below it, which extended several hundred feet below ground, as well as any connecting power lines. The project resulted in HGI’s work being featured in the History Channel’s 2018 series “The Tesla Files.”
A Culture of Innovation, Trust and Learning
The seven-person HGI team works collaboratively to brainstorm project approaches and techniques for clients. “Our people don’t think in terms of rank. We share information. Everyone has a different area of expertise and experience,” Jutta says.
“When we discuss a new project, our focus is not ‘Can we do this?’ but ‘How can we do this?’ ” Katie says.
“We have to trust each other on job sites, where hours can be long and conditions challenging. We never want to let a client down, but we also never want to let a co-worker down,” she adds.
Staff members research and write technical papers for industry journals and participate in geological and geophysical conferences including the Symposium on the Application of Geophysics to Engineering and Environmental Problems (SAGEEP).
The team also has fun, including the annual HGI holiday party, where current and former staff connect and share stories. “It’s fun and also great for strengthening professional networks,” Jutta says.
Giving Back to the Greatest Generation and the Next Generation
The HGI team gives back in a variety of ways. Because radar works well on glaciers, Mario traveled to Greenland—twice—using GPR during a search for missing WWII-era aircraft. The team’s findings detected probable remains of a plane 300 feet below the ice.
Other pro bono geophysical investigations include locating long-buried sand traps of the original 1923 golf course built by Donald Ross at Manchester Country Club in Bedford, New Hampshire. Jutta, Mario and Katie have all invested time in the next generation of geophysicists, lecturing and conducting labs for introductory geophysics classes at UMass Lowell. “It’s great to connect with students and learn what they’re interested in,” says Jutta, who has hired some of the school’s graduates. The staff also provides firsthand experience for hydrology students at Tufts University.
A Hands-On Approach
Everyone at HGI works on projects and interacts with clients and vendors. “We use the most advanced techniques in the industry and own the latest equipment and software,” Jutta says.
“We’re very hands-on,” says Jutta. “We’re comprehensively focused on doing a superior job for our clients, even if that means developing new approaches and/or software to provide the best product. We’re always ready to try out new methods and willing to take on projects known to be difficult. We like to say ‘yes’ to clients.”