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 Published by the American Geological Institute
Newsmagazine of the Earth Sciences

August 2000

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News about people and 
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AGI's 35 member societies
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Biogeoscience at AGU

The last two meetings of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) have highlighted studies in astrobiology, the biogeochemistry and biogeophysics of terrestrial and aquatic systems, land-atmosphere interactions, and planetary ecosystems. During its spring meeting in Washington, AGU’s governing council voted unanimously to add Biogeoscience as its 11th section — the first new section since Solar-Terrestrial Relationships, later renamed Space Physics and Aeronomy, was added more than 30 years ago.

“Many of the questions that are prominent in earth science now require a more holistic understanding of the earth system, or of given environments,” says Diane McKnight of the University of Colorado in Boulder and acting president of the biogeosciences section. “This requires a more rigorous integration of biological, geophysical and geochemical processes.” Such linkages are critical, she says, in anticipating how conditions of coastal circulation and river inflow lead to the development of hazardous algal blooms like Pfisteria in estuaries along the East Coast or for searching for signs of life in the solar system.

The new section should draw scientists involved in a range of biological studies in earth and planetary sciences and promote interactions. “This new section may increase the awareness of relevant work being published in journals that many AGU members do not usually read,” McKnight says. In addition, more biogeoscience researchers may submit their work to AGU journals, such as JGR Planets for astrobiology and Water Resources Research. “In general, as more scientists from biological sciences become involved in AGU meetings, there may be more exchange of ideas and new interdisciplinary proposals or programs developed.”

Biogeoscientists contributed more than 500 oral presentations and posters at AGU’s latest fall and spring meetings. The section begins with around 360 members, some transferring from other AGU sections. But because creations of new sections are rare, AGU statutes do not allow for special elections for new officers. The biogeosciences section will not have voting representatives on the council until the next regular election in 2002.

Fresh paint and a new face

The Society of Economic Geologists (SEG) opened the doors of its new international headquarters building in Littleton, Colo., June 10 during a dedication ceremony that drew about 200 people. The building is seen as the foundation for the society’s future and will be headed by the society’s new executive director, Brian Hoal.

Planning for the building began in 1996 when an anonymous donor provided an initial grant of five Berkshire Hathaway shares worth $169,000. Groundbreaking took place in December 1998 and construction was completed in March 2000. With the wet paint drying, John Thoms decided to retire from the volunteer but full-time position of executive director. In April the SEG executive committee chose to employ Hoal, a Namibian national, as Thoms’ successor.
The headquarters will be the springboard for future international coordination and expansion, as well as a focal point for SEG membership, Hoal says. With three of every four new members from outside the United States, the society must maintain communication between geographically dispersed members and must coordinate activities in cost-effective ways. The building’s location puts it close to international geoscience societies based in Denver and to several centers of geoscience education.

Hoal relocated to Colorado in 1996 and set up a consulting partnership with emphasis on southern Africa. While continuing an active consulting career involved with exploration for gold, diamonds and base metals, he completed an MBA degree at the University of Denver. Hoal also has experience with new buildings. As director of Namibia’s Geological Survey in 1992 he became closely involved with the design and construction of one to help expand the Namibian minerals industry. Similarly, the SEG headquarters “marks the pinnacle of the society’s success in promoting the study of mineral deposits,” Hoal says.

   Brian Hoal, SEG executive director (center), at the dedication 
   ceremony of the society's headquarters building. He talks with 
   Brian Skinner (left), president of Economic Publishing Co., and 
   A.J. Erickson Jr. (right), SEG foundation trustee.
The headquarters will operate with nine members of staff serving, together with more than 17 volunteer committees, a membership of about 3,300 in 71 countries. “SEG’s success is its cohesion through focus and sharing, excitement through discovery twice, first scientific and then mineral deposits,” said Sam Adams, a past president of SEG. “This glorious home can do nothing but solidify and enhance that success.”

High marks for Santa Fe summer camp
The month-long Summer of Applied Geophysical Experience (SAGE) at the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico redefines the meaning of summer camp. Students, often in their junior years in college or recent graduates earning their doctorates, learn the ropes of real-world exploration geophysics.

“Most of the students who go through SAGE end up working for oil and gas industries,” says Scott Baldridge, co-director of SAGE along with George Jiracek of the Department of Geological Sciences at San Diego State University. “More and more of them are working for environmental companies and geoengineering companies,” Baldridge says.

    Scott Baldridge (lower left) discussing rock exposure with 
    students. Courtesy of George Jiracek.

 George Jiracek deploys geophysical equipment
 in northern New Mexico. Courtesy of George 
In early August the two directors of the summer program received congratulations for their efforts. The Society of Exploration Geophysicists awarded Baldridge and Jiracek the society’s Special Commendation Award at its annual meeting in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “It makes us feel good for the tremendous amount of effort that SAGE takes,” says Baldridge, who has worked at Los Alamos since 1978 and has co-directed SAGE for 13 years. “It really is an endorsement to Los Alamos and the National Science Foundation, which also helps with money. It’s industry saying that this kind of activity is important and they value it.”

Since SAGE started at Los Alamos in 1983, nearly 450 students from around the world have completed the program. Students using such tools as Vibroseis trucks and ground penetrating radar conduct seismic, electromagnetic and gravity studies near the Santa Fe River Canyon and search for subsurface pipes and other utility infrastructure at a site west of Los Alamos Airport.

“I always start the session with a Hawaiian challenge: ‘’A’a i ka hula,’ which means dare to dance,” Jiracek says. “At SAGE that means if the student has already worked in gravity the challenge is to learn something like electromagnetics.” The students have four weeks of complete immersion into their topics and only two official days for rest and relaxation. Many students this summer indicated an interest in teaching, including high school, Jiracek said.

Associate Editor Christina Reed compiles Society Page.

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