What has especially struck you during the infancy of the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics?
We’re creating a new community of researchers and students who are already here but have never worked together. I’ve been here for 15 years and met other people who have been here for 15 years, and I didn’t even know them because they were in a different college or a different department. We all have our own comfort zones, and humans just tend to stay in their comfort zones. Part of the purpose of this grant is to get us to come out of our comfort zones and start talking to each other and working together, because true progress these days in science is usually at the boundaries between disciplines. It’s not squarely within someone’s comfort zone, squarely within a discipline. It’s at the boundaries and, in this center, we’re looking at the boundaries between geology, hydrology, biology, chemistry, physics.
Why should the average Wyomingite care about the center’s research?
Well, because the average Wyomingite sure has to care about water. A substantial percentage, something like 25 or 30 percent, of all the water used by the citizens of Wyoming comes from aquifers, groundwater. It’s not just the rivers and reservoirs, it’s groundwater. When the rivers are running low and the reservoirs are a little dry, then the towns tend to pump more water out of the aquifers. If you’re a municipal water manager, you really want to know where the water supply is coming from. You want to know the rates and the pathways by which that critical water supply is replenished so that you can properly manage it. Because, if you use it up too quickly, you could get into trouble.
How did a renowned marine geophysicist like you get involved in a land-based research center?
This is a new direction for me, certainly. The way that this happened was really through education, through teaching undergraduates about geophysics. A few years ago, Erin Campbell-Stone, who runs our summer field camp, asked the geophysicists in the department if we’d take one week of that field camp and do geophysics. We did and what I saw was light bulbs going off . The students loved it! They realized, “Oh my gosh, geophysics isn’t just nerds sitting in front of a computer!” … They really got charged up and I thought to myself, “I need a way to connect with these undergrads.”
That makes sense. But how did an oceanographer end up in a place without an ocean?
I came here because the university hired both me and my wife. We had the classic two-body problem. She had gotten her first tenure track job in South Carolina. I was still in Massachusetts [at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution]. Wyoming hired both of us, and we’ve been happy here ever since. … When I made that move, I definitely had a question in my mind: “Am I about to shoot myself in the foot, in terms of my career as a marine geophysicist?” But, in fact, it was the opposite. I think I’ve done my best and most significant marine geophysics research here in Wyoming. ... I continue to go out to sea. I’ve had more cruises with my Wyoming affiliation than I did at Woods Hole. So, I haven’t quit my day job.