Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Intersections of Sustainability and Geosciences at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting

Yesterday (September 24), I co-chaired along with my colleague Dr. Leslie North, a professor at Western Kentucky University, a session on the Intersections of Sustainability and Geosciences at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. There were twelve presentations overall in the session Here is a very brief summary of each of the talks in order of the presentation.

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I kicked off the session with a paper focused on the importance of historical considerations in sustainability and the earth sciences. I provided a theoretical framework for framing history and sustainability together and also reviewed three case studies demonstrating the importance of history in sustainability considerations, each focused on a pillar of sustainability:  Aztalan, Wisconsin (environmental justice), Fort Ross, California (environmental sustainability), and Michigan State University (economic aspects of sustainability).

Dr. Greg Wessel, the President of Geology in the Public Interest, presented a paper on results from the Geoscience and Society Summit. The public is increasingly confronted with a number of issues that intersect public policy and geology. Because of this, the earth science community needs to do a better job in enhancing its role in decision-making and communication. The Geoscience and Society Summit provided a roadmap for how to move forward in doing a better job in enhancing the role of earth scientists in society.

Franklin Schwartz and colleagues, presented a paper that reviewed a variety of challenges with groundwater sustainability in Southeast Asia. Dr. Schwartz noted that many aquifers in the region are not managed at all and that there are serious concerns over water quality and quantity in many parts of Asia. He noted that there are many unsustainable practices associated with water management that will soon come to a head that will be challenging for this part of the world in the decades to come.

Andrea Brookfield and Anthony Layzell presented an interesting case study from a major drainage basin in Kansas. Here, there are serious problems with long-term sustainability of surface water resources for agriculture. Over the years, several reservoirs have been constructed to help manage scant water supplies but these reservoirs have challenges with sedimentation and algal blooms. The paper reviewed efforts made to better manage the overall system.

Diana Di Leonardo and her colleagues presented work that is underway to assess how best to manage a major dredging operation that is underway at Port Fourchon in the Mississippi River delta plain to enhance the resiliency and sustainability of the region. As most know, this part of the world is subsiding and being impacted by sea level rise. Port Fourchon, which is the most significant service port for the Gulf of Mexico oil rigs, is at the front lines of all of this change. A major dredging project is underway to enhance the port operations and the paper reviews how the community is coming together to decide how best to use the dredge sediments to enhance the resiliency of the region.

Yi Lu presented an interesting paper on the Cedartown Municipal Landfill Site in Polk County Georgia. This Superfund site has been of concern for many years and Lu provided an historical review of documents and data while also summarizing current environmental conditions.

Alexander Stewart provided a paper that reviewed the effectiveness of the U.S. Army's agricultural development team's work in Afghanistan using a 10-year assessment. Stewart was part of a team of military experts that included geologists, agricultural experts, and others, who worked on development initiatives in the war-torn country. He used remote sensing to assess the effectiveness of the projects on which he worked. As it turned out some were highly successful, most were moderately successful, and some were failures.

Kent Murray reviewed a number of issues associated with lead pollution in southwest Detroit. The region has many problems that can be tied to lead pollution including educational outcomes and violence. Murray demonstrated that many areas of the community have lead levels in soils that far exceed state and national guidelines. In addition, lead is present in old abandoned homes that have been demolished and there is concern over the way that houses are being razed in the community.

Stephen Boss' paper started with a discussion of the famous essay, the Tragedy of the Commons which inspired him to question how many metals remain available for human use. As his paper demonstrated, we have been doubling our usage of metals every twenty years or so for over the last century. Given what we know about existing reserves, Boss asserts that we could run out of some metal sources (of known reserves) in the next decade or two, barring the development of new resources.

Josephine Hall and Stephen Boss also presented on a similar topic as the one above. However, this paper focused on non-metals. As in the previous case, we have been doubling our non-mineral consumption at a relatively steady state and we could run out of some of these materials (barring the development of new resources) in the next two decade or two.

Andrew Stumpf and his colleagues next presented a paper on the development of geothermal energy on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. Geothermal (the low temperature kind, not the high temperature kind known in places like Iceland) has the potential to help reduce energy consumption. The university has invested in geothermal as part of their climate action plan. Several experimental systems and working systems have been developed.

Finally, Diana Dalbotten and her colleagues reviewed a National Science Foundation funded project focused on research experiences for undergraduate students focused on sustainable land and water resources. The project focuses on providing opportunities for a diverse set of students, particularly Native American and non-traditional age students in Montana, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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