Career Profile

Asbjorn Frisvoll

Engineering Physics
MSciTech in Photonics and Optoelectronics

Geophysical surveying


The idea of living in Australia for a few years had always appealed to Asbjorn Frisvoll, so when he found exactly the course he wanted to study at UNSW, there was no stopping him.

“I wanted to study science, especially physics, but I also wanted to study engineering. This was a problem, until I discovered, on the Internet, the Engineering Physics course at UNSW,” Asbjorn said via e-mail from Trondheim, on Norway’s west coast.

“Of course I was in Norway and the course was in Australia but that only made the idea more attractive. I had always wanted to go to Australia so I enrolled as an international student and headed south.

“I soon realised I had made a very good decision. The course was just what I wanted and I managed to pack in more travelling while I was there – from Tasmania to the Barrier Reef and a lot of other places in between. Of course I had to take advantage of UNSW's Study Abroad program as well. That meant a year at the University of Nottingham, which was not hard to take, except for the beer.

“Back at UNSW I finished my course at the end of 2001, then spent another year doing a MSciTech in Photonics and Optoelectronics.

“Then it was back to Norway and looking for a job in a tough employment market, but my years of study in Australia helped me get a job working with a new cutting-edge ocean bottom geophysical surveying technique.

“I am based in Trondheim, ironically half an hour from where I grew up, and have a great job as a field geophysicist – even though it is on the ocean – working on a survey ship, the Geo Angler for a Norwegian oil survey company called ElectroMagnetic GeoServices. You can read about it at

“We are using a new technique for oil and gas exploration, and I don’t mean binoculars. With traditional seismic logging of the ocean floor, one can distinguish between geological layers, and see where there are potential oil or gas reservoirs.

“However, upon drilling, which is a very expensive affair, these reservoirs might not contain anything. With our technique we can distinguish between layers of different electrical resistivity. Oil and gas have high resistivities and, with the information from seismic surveying the presence of hydrocarbons can be established with more certainty before deciding on expensive test drilling.

“In practice we are towing a 200-metre antenna outputting an electromagnetic pulse up to 1000 amps in the sea behind the ship, and the data are collected by independent data loggers that we deploy. The equipment has been used down to a depth of 2000m.

“I am responsible for the quality of the data collection and various tasks like maintaining the onboard collection equipment. We spend five weeks at sea and five weeks processing the data onshore. Then we have five weeks’ holiday.

“At the moment we are mapping the North Sea for Norwegian oil companies but the company is preparing to do surveys all over the world. Angola, Brazil and India have been mentioned and I might even turn up again in Australia.

“I was very lucky to get this job, as the papers are full of articles about rising unemployment here [in Norway] and with the offshore additional bonus they pay a pretty penny too. As you can imagine, this great job gives me more reasons for having the best memories of my time in Australia,” Asbjorn said.

Rory McGuire

(This article appeared in Chaos Magazine, Issue 24, September 2003)

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