Geotimes
Web Feature 
Earth Scientists and National Security
Geotimes Staff

Welcome to the second annual collection of career profiles in Geotimes. Last February, we offered short biographies of earth scientists working off the beaten track: pursuing careers in such varied fields as journalism, business, publishing, the space program, policy and consulting. And each person showed how knowledge of our planet is a powerful tool that can be applied to any career. This year, we offer glimpses into the lives of seven earth scientists whose careers have led them into the field of national security. These men and women are using their geologic knowledge to support U.S. military campaigns, monitor weapons testing, help navigate a Navy sub, and conduct research in a defense-oriented national lab. The roster varies: Some of our profilees have Ph.D.s, others have master’s degrees, and one is just starting out. Some knew they loved earth science when they were young, others discovered it later on. One thing they all have in common is that a certain element of serendipity put them where they are now. And that is good to keep in mind no matter what career you pursue.

Seismologist Seismic Officer Topographic Engineer Naval Academy Professor
Oceanography Major
Meteorologist Structural Geologist
Last Year's Profiles



Holly Given

Seismologist
Science Applications International Corp, (SAIC)


When she was working as a seismologist with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) a few years ago, Holly Given remembers attending an American Geophysical Union meeting and listening to one earthquake researcher’s talk. Then she realized that his data had come from a seismic station she installed.

“It was one I built. I stood on the ground and said, build it here. To me that’s more rewarding than doing the research itself,” Given recalls .
 
Installing a seismic station is no easy task. Just finding the right spot requires geological acumen. “If you’re in bad geology, it would be like the difference between a glass and a crystal,” Given says. Even more challenging is identifying the perfect spot for monitoring the low-frequency signals generated by clandestine underground nuclear explosions.
 
As a postdoc with the University of California, San Diego, Given, who earned her Ph.D. in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology, was one of the scientists involved in a project on detecting nuclear tests during the  Reagan-Gorbachev era. The work brought this Illinois native to Kazakhstan in 1987, her first trip overseas. There, she installed seismic monitoring stations near the Soviet nuclear testing ground at Semipalatinsk. These stations would enable Soviet and American scientists to determine if such monitors could detect the relatively small blasts of test TNT explosions. Given’s postdoc work eventually led her to the IRIS Global Seismographic Network.
 
In 1996, more than 130 countries signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), to be carried out by the CTBT Organization in Vienna, Austria. Given recalls, “I knew the organization was starting up. I had some connections.  I thought I could contribute. I was looking for adventure.”  In 1997, she joined the staff of seismologists at the CTBT Organization, and has since traveled to Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Egypt, Oman, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, Spain, New Zealand and Canada to install seismic monitoring stations.
 
“It was very exciting because everything was new,” Given says. “We had to take this vision and turn it into reality.” Doing so often required more than scientific knowledge. “We’d have to go into a country and sell the idea of building a seismic station. … You need to be politically savvy. You need to be sensitive to cultural differences. Simply doing technical work in a diplomatic setting requires a special type of personality; or skills and talents.”
 
Given recently left Vienna and started a job with SAIC in Melbourne, Fla. Her work at SAIC will have her installing nuclear monitoring seismic stations for the U.S. government.
 
Given says she finds her work meaningful because she believes nuclear test monitoring and test limitation agreements can slow the development of nuclear arms. Even when she was finishing her Ph.D., she realized that research was too solitary an endeavor for her. In her new job, she is always working on teams. “When you’re working within the brotherhood of scientists, even if you’re working in a country where the culture may be very different … there’s an inherent communication, camaraderie, brotherhood, really, that’s always nice to find.”

Kristina Bartlett
back to index



Michael Hasting
Seismic officer
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization


Michael Hasting is a seismologist who also knows about radio frequency communications. This skill combination has landed him at the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), headquartered in Vienna, Austria. Since he started there last January, he’s traveled to China, Russia, Australia, Spain, England and Canada upgrading many of the stations around the world CTBTO uses to monitor treaty compliance.
 
Seismology is a major tool used in detecting whether countries set off clandestine underground nuclear explosions. But measuring Earth’s motion is just the first step. Next, those data must be sent to CTBTO headquarters within five minutes, from any part of the world, as stipulated by the treaty.
 
“My responsibility would be to get the signal to the seismometer and then to wherever the communication system is going back to Vienna,” he says. In fact, many seismometers get the data to Vienna within 30 seconds, Hasting says, mainly by satellite communication.
 
Born in Ridgecrest, Calif., Hasting did not plan on a career in geophysics. After leaving the U.S. Marine Corps in 1985, he earned an undergraduate degree in the physical sciences, then took a job at the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, Calif., not far from where he grew up. There, he oversaw the 16 boreholes the Navy used to monitor microseismic activity around the geothermal power station it operated for the area. Hasting found that geophysics suited him: “I kind of, as we used to say, took a hankerin’ to it.” Soon he was on his way to the University of Nevada at Reno, where the Navy sent him to fine-tune his seismic knowledge with a master’s degree in geophysics.
 
When Hasting heard about the opportunity at CTBTO, he couldn’t pass up the chance for something new. Several people recommended he apply for it. “I like the people. The travel. There’s a great group of people here in Vienna I work with. It’s my first time working in an international regime.”

Kristina Bartlett
back to index



John Jens
Geologist
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center’s Topographic Center


On a day in October 1973, while stationed with the U.S. Army in Nordlingen, Germany, John Jens was looking at a terrain map of the area where his armor unit was conducting exercises. He could see that the town sat atop a rise, and that a flat stretch below the rise surrounded it in an almost perfect circle. He remembers saying, “That’s an impact crater.”
 
His fellow officers looked at him as if he were crazy. But two years later, no longer ignoring his affinity for maps, Jens was transferred from learning about tanks to learning about maps and terrain analysis at the Army’s topographic mapping unit, where he would work for 18 years analyzing terrain for military uses. “I found my career,” he says. “Geology gave me my niche in the Army.”
 
He would also find out that he was right about the crater, eventually identified as the Nordlingen Reis.
 
Mapping is not the career Jens originally planned. He originally intended to become a mineralogist. When he was eight, he caught the geology bug when his mother gave him a rock collection that had belonged to her cousin, a geologist. In high school, he created a crystal-growing machine that he displayed at the Iowa State Fair. Attending the University of Iowa,
Jens had no doubt he would study geology, eventually joining the Army ROTC program during the Vietnam draft. ROTC carried him through to earning his master’s degree in geology from the University of Montana, funding his thesis on a little-studied ultramafic intrusion at the Montana/Idaho border. He couldn’t convince the Army to fund his Ph.D., though, and instead he was stationed at Fort Knox to learn about tanks.
 
“Knowing rocks, knowing terrain, it was easy to take what I knew and apply it to what they taught me about using tanks in war,” Jens says. Jens’  talent with maps proved useful in directing tanks across terrain. If there was a map that needed reading, the senior officers handed it to him.
 
Topographic mapping not only became Jens’ career, but also introduced him to something that changed his outlook on his lifelong love, geology. In 1982, he took a class formidably titled “Interdisciplinary Imagery Analysis Interpretation for Military and Civilian Applications.” The teacher was Robert Frost, a pioneer in aerial photography interpretation. Frost taught Jens how to deconstruct stereo photos of an area by various characteristics — drainage, vegetation, manmade structures, rock types, even sinkholes — and then put all these pieces together again.
 
“The method is so simple,” Jens says. “It allows you to truly analyze things. Analyze means you take it apart. You look at the different parts and then you put it back together … you can use it to guide actual fieldwork. You have already done the fieldwork, because the surface of the earth is an expression of geology. … It gave me a very simplified tool in which to fit everything else.”
 
Retired from the Army, Jens is still mapping. Working as a civilian at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center’s Topographic Center, he uses stereo images, remote sensing images and GIS to analyze terrain for everything from environmental assessment to lawsuits. Jens now teaches the same class Frost had taught.

Kristina Bartlett
back to index



Peter Guth
Oceanography Professor
United States Naval Academy


“Geologists can do anything,” Peter Guth tells his 18 students and two guests during their first day of geological oceanography at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. “I was hired as a coastal oceanographer,” he says. The students dressed in their winter working blues or whites contrast with Guth’s bright red sweater embroidered with a silver trilobite across the chest.
 
“I don’t have a clue about geology,” Shevonne Wells, a senior, tells me after class. “I hope this course will help open my eyes.” She is in luck. One of Guth’s specialties is in creating computerized,   3-D topographic visualizations of viewpoints from any given location.
 

Peter Guth demonstrates 3-D terrain analysis in his Annapolis office. Photo by Christina Reed, Geotimes.


Back in his office, Guth demonstrates this technology with a map of Hanging Rock Canyon, Calif. The contours of the canyon’s terrain are highlighted as slopes in gray and black. “It starts with digital elevation data,” he explains. “This data set has 170,000 elevation points with one latitude and one longitude. From that one latitude and longitude point you can calculate all the others.” Guth’s software converts the 3-D map into a model good for operating line-of-sight systems, planning ambush routes, and other military as well as geological applications.
 
“The thing the military likes is the line-of-sight capability,” he says. Pick any point on the map, hit a key and a fan of green and red color spreads over the monochrome terrain. Everything in green can be seen from that spot. Everything in red cannot. “The military has a lot of line-of-sight systems,” he says. “A lot of the weapons systems, you have to see it to hit it. Lots of the radios are line-of-sight, so they put a radio tower on top of a mountain up there and see where it can cover. Radar works the same way.” The location he has chosen results in a mostly red swath. “If you put your observation post or your radar antenna or your radio up there, this is what it would cover, and it is not a very good spot. So you adjust it before you send somebody up there to climb that hill or drive to the top of the mountain.”
 
Guth first began working on computer terrain analysis in 1983 while teaching geography and computer science at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., where he still returns in summers as a reservist. In 1996, the Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., sought out Guth’s updated software and collaborated with him to continue its development.
 
Today, Guth’s free software, called MicroDEM, is one of the most popular downloads from the Naval Academy’s Web site. “It’s right up there with the academic schedule and our leave request form,” says spokeswoman Shayne Sewell. But while U.S. elevation data are freely available from the U.S. Geological Survey, international data is harder to access. Guth’s bookshelves are stacked with CDs full of confidential National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) data from regions around the world.
 
The Army  recently used MicroDEM during operations in the Middle East and Bosnia. “MicroDEM is primarily for training, but does get used in real-world situations as a gap filler,” says physical scientist Mark Adams of the Army Engineer School. “GIS is very expensive, and we are free.”
 
Geology and terrain analysis followed naturally, from his fascination with the ancient ruins of Turkey, where he spent part of his childhood. As an undergrad, he decided to pursue geology at Deep Springs College in California after being told that regardless of his career path, geology was the neatest course at the college. From 1969 to 1971, he roamed the desert hills of California collecting trilobites. He spent the next four years as an undergraduate at West Point, before he was stationed in Korea. After returning to the United States, Guth  earned his Ph.D. in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
 
In 1983, he returned to West Point to teach.  He moved to Las Vegas three years later to teach at the University of Nevada and work for the USGS. In 1988, he arrived at the Naval Academy, where he broadened his expertise to include oceanography.
 
“This is the second time in my 13 years at the Naval Academy that I have taught geological oceanography,” he tells the class. One of his students, Amy Jones, had hydrography and several other courses taught by Guth. “He has so much experience in a variety of fields that he is an invaluable resource for all of the undergraduate students here at the Naval Academy,” she says.

Christina Reed
back to index
 

Amy Jones
Fall 2001 Brigade Commander
United States Naval Academy


Although geology ultimately led Peter Guth to a career in oceanography, most of his students are relying on oceanography as a base for careers in other fields. Guth says, “We have about 60 or 70 oceanography majors a year and of those probably a half dozen or so go into the Navy’s oceanography community.”
 
During the fall semester, Amy Jones served as the U.S. Naval Academy’s Brigade Commander, the highest-ranking position for a midshipman. Jones was the fourth woman to hold the job since 1980. Photo by Shannon Bosserman, USNA.

For senior Amy Jones, her background in oceanography will help her when she goes to sea. “Many of the things I learned in oceanography will be applicable to shipboard life — such as predicting weather, waves, tides, understanding currents and knowing where they are, and understanding atmospheric processes. I will definitely use these skills each day.” But she is not joining the Navy’s team of meteorologists and oceanographers.
 
“I am going to become a Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer,” she says. That means attending nuclear power school in Charleston, S.C., and later serving as a nuclear engineer on an aircraft carrier. In the meantime, however, after Jones graduates this spring with a bachelor’s of science degree in oceanography from the Naval Academy, she will attend Cambridge University in the fall for a master’s of philosophy in environment and development.
 
“I hope to study the application of renewable energy in developing and Third-World nations. I am specifically interested in solar power, wind power and hydrogen fuel cells,” she says. “Since I was a young girl, I have always been very interested in environmental studies.” She also enjoys the outdoors and began oceanography as “another excuse to get outside and understand what I was seeing.” She advises other students to think about broad undergraduate degrees, such as oceanography. “I thought oceanography was a great undergraduate degree because I really gained a lot of experience in every science field. With a degree in oceanography I could study virtually any science and go in any direction I chose.”

Christina Reed
back to index



Mike Cavanaugh
International Weather Producer
Cable News Network (CNN)


Weather and seas have affected military decisions and operations throughout world history. Light rain led to a muddy Waterloo and washed away Napoleon’s chances of winning the battle. Rain helped George Washington escape from the British after the Battle of Trenton. And the Spanish Armada suffered a devastating loss in rough seas in its attempt to invade England. All of these, Mike Cavanaugh says, are famous examples of how quickly the environment can change the course of war.
 
At his desk in the CNN International weather studio in Atlanta, Cavanaugh thinks back to his days in the U.S. Navy: “I enlisted in the Navy right after my 17th birthday. My father swore me in. He was in the Navy at the time.”
 
After serving in the Navy reserve during his last year in high school, he became a Quartermaster Striker, one of whose duties is taking weather observations. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree at Penn State through the NROTC, he became a Surface Warfare Officer. He then went on to the Navy’s post-graduate school in Monterey, Calif., earning a master’s degree in meteorology.
 
Throughout his 23 years of commissioned service in the Navy, Cavanaugh served in a variety of positions and went through a number of title changes. Early on, the Navy grouped all oceanographers and meteorologists together as naval geophysicists, later called naval oceanographers. “We were expected to answer questions about the bottom of the sea to the top of the sky.” But whatever the title, he says, “if you checked my blood type you’d find I was a meteorologist.”
 
Many different locations also defined Cavanaugh’s career. In Rota, Spain, he forecasted weather for the Mediterranean.
In Newport, R.I., he taught war fighting and the environment at the Naval War College. In Guam, he managed officers at the Oceanography Command Center and Joint Typhoon Warning Center. And in Annapolis, Md., he chaired the oceanography department at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he developed a tropical meteorology course. In each place, he continued to learn about everything from satellites and acoustics, to tropical storms and specialized local weather effects.
 
Ten years ago, Cavanaugh decided to take a job at CNN to help create a team of international weather forecasters.  “The prospect of having a chance to make a forecast for the whole world and have it go out to the entire world, I found extremely exciting. And that’s what I’m doing.”
 
Cavanaugh has enjoyed the transition, although he admits the military and newsroom environments, while both exciting, are different in tone. “It’s no longer a life and death situation, it’s only TV, “ he says. “In the civilian world, you know they say there’s a 40 percent chance of showers this afternoon.” A Navy commanding officer “doesn’t want to hear about a 40 percent chance. He wants to know if it’s going to rain, and if it is, when.
 
“There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush standing in front of the commanding officer and having him ask you a question,” Cavanaugh remembers, chuckling. “Especially if you know he is going to take what you say and do something about it.”
 
Lisa M. Pinsker
back to index



Claudia Lewis

Technical Staff Member
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Claudia Lewis had always loved the natural world, but thought that understanding it scientifically was out of her reach. Now a technical staff member in the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Lewis reflects on her circuitous route to becoming a geologist. “I have kind of a checkered history,” Lewis says.
 
As a sophomore at Brown University in Providence, R.I., Lewis considered majoring in geology, “but I chickened out because I had a really weak science and math background and I was scared of the calculus and the physics. So, I ended up majoring in American civilization,” she recalls.

Claudia Lewis in a trench site for a new Los Alamos National Laboratory Emergency Operations Center.
 
In her senior year, though, Lewis took an ecology class and loved it. And after college, she moved to New Mexico to work as a lab technician at an independent wood energy research lab. “It was there I discovered — hey, I can do science. And so I started taking courses one at a time at some of the local colleges … I took chemistry and college algebra and calculus and geology. And then I thought: Well this is fun. Why don’t I go and get a geology degree.”

And she did. Lewis went on to get a master’s degree at California State, Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. at Harvard University, and then carried out her postdoctoral work at Los Alamos — all in geology. “In the end it took me nine years. I ended up going through 26th grade, but it was worth it.”
 
Lewis learned early on that she could gain experience and develop skills in a variety of fields, and ultimately transfer those acquired skills to a career she loves. “As a Ph.D. student, you learn not just specific techniques, but also particular work habits and ways of doing things. And those skills transfer directly to this environment that I’m in, as well as many other non-traditional career paths — skills, like thinking independently, directing your own research, supervising other people and planning field work, foreign travel or an experiment.”
 
Likewise, Lewis says that the results of what she does professionally are often transferable. “Part of what I really like about my job is that there is a lot of basic science, and that’s part of what keeps it really exciting.” An example is her current work at Los Alamos, where she studies earthquake hazards to the Los Alamos site and fault fabrics related to fluid flow. This work applies directly not only to Los Alamos, but also to the Yucca Mountain proposed nuclear waste repository site.
 
Lewis also has a Fulbright grant to study tectonic processes in Spain, identifying mechanisms that control river incisions in an area that experiences little tectonic activity. While her work is not classified, she explains, other people in her division work on a broad range of projects tackling complex national security problems, such as energy security, seismic monitoring of nuclear tests and environmental issues.
 
Lewis says working in a national laboratory is both similar to and different from working in an academic setting. Just as at a university, the lab addresses both basic and applied research, and hosts a lively student environment. But, she says, the mood is different because of the focus on national and energy security. “Maybe our research isn’t as curiosity-driven as research in universities. We tend to be more focused on a mission, and that mission really ties together all individual efforts.”

Lisa M. Pinsker
back to index


Geotimes Home | AGI Home | Information Services | Geoscience Education | Public Policy | Programs | Publications | Careers

© 2014 American Geological Institute. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the express written consent of the American Geological Institute is expressly prohibited. For all electronic copyright requests, visit: http://www.copyright.com/ccc/do/showConfigurator?WT.mc_id=PubLink