September 27, 2016

2016 GSA Presidential Address: Mission-Driven Geoscience

Posted by Laura Guertin

Geological Society of America is holding its 2016 Fall Meeting in Denver, Colorado, September 25-28. Dr. Claudia I. Mora of the Los Alamos National Laboratory is the current GSA President and kicked off the meeting on Sunday with her Presidential Address titled “Mission-Driven Geoscience.” Below is the description provided on the GSA website announcing her talk.

Geoscientists work across the spectrum, from the fundamental research that dominates academic departments to the applied science driving oil and gas exploration, mining and environmental protection. Within a number of federal agencies, especially the Department of Energy, geoscientists mesh fundamental and applied science to focus on mission-driven geoscience. Here the goal is to develop the basic understanding necessary to solve complex problems in support of the Nation’s energy and national security, and its environmental health. This address will explore some of the complex challenges being addressed by geoscientists within our national laboratories, from the detection and characterization of clandestine nuclear weapons testing to resolving the longstanding question of what to do with radioactive waste, both legacy and recent. The challenges also encompass the efficient and environmentally-sustainable development of our many energy resources, and improving our ability to predict the impacts of climate change at global and regional scales. Harnessing scientific understanding to resolve large, complex problems is fundamentally important to a healthy, safe and prosperous nation and will remain a challenge to future geo-generations.

Dr. Mora set out to share the applied, mission-driven research at national laboratories. She provided several examples of how geoscience supports energy and national security, from nuclear weapons testing to geothermal energy, and from fossil energy to CO2 storage. She emphasized that geoscientists at the national laboratories work on big, complex problems as a team with a multidisciplinary approach, and there is close integration of modeling and experiment.

One example of research Dr. Mora discussed is greenhouse gas identity and monitoring. She shared information on methane remote sensing technologies, which had me curious to learn more. I found a 2013 article from Los Alamos National Laboratory on methane-sensing technologies, the PBS NewsHour video she had a screenshot of that summarizes some of the situation and a press release from earlier this month that discusses future research funded by DOE. This would be an interesting example to share with my students and a great way to introduce them to understanding the “who” and “what” of the national laboratories.

In addition, I hope the students in the audience picked up on the career options available at national laboratories. Dr. Mora stated that scientists enter the national laboratories as a petrologist, structural geologist, etc. – the list goes on. Students should explore the jobs, internships, and fellowships at the Department of Energy’s website:

Thank you, Dr. Mora, for your informative lecture and for giving the audience a chance to reflect upon the role of geosciences and geoscientists at the national laboratories working on mission-driven science.