Monday, November 30, 2015

Geosciences Congressional Visits Day (Geo-CVD): Citizen scientists on Capitol Hill

The last week in September this year (2015), I attended the 8th annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Day (Geo-CVD;; in Washington, DC. The purpose of Geo-CVD is to bring scientists to Capitol Hill to emphasize to members of the US Congress, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, the importance of federal science funding, specifically in the earth and space sciences. The US federal budget supports basic geoscience programs and research directly in the work of various federal departments and agencies (including but not limited to USGS, NASA, NOAA, NIST, DOE) and in research grant programs to academia (the National Science Foundation: NSF).

The participating geoscience societies include several member societies of the American Geoscience Institute (AGI) plus the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Societies will post announcements for Geo-CVD on their website or sometimes by e-mail. Geo-CVD is two days every September. An afternoon workshop is on Day One, and Day Two are the constituent scientist visits to offices of Representatives, Senators and staff of various committees. The workshop includes an overview of the legislative process including budget and appropriations, overview of science funding and specific legislation of interest to the geoscience community, the Message and “Ask” for the visits, and the opportunity to meet one’s constituent scientist team for the visits. Workshop speakers include professional society policy staff, and current and past Congressional Science Fellows who give their advice, from the legislative staff perspective, on a successful and productive constituent visit.

Some societies also offer a pre-CVD webinar for participants (AGU’s 2015 webinar currently at Besides background on legislative processes and what to expect of the event, the webinar offers tips on what to bring for the visit. Business attire is strongly recommended, which means, obviously, jacket and tie for men, even though DC in September can still be steamy and warm. I smiled in agreement as I read Ryan Haupt's Geo-CVD blog post description of the sweaty humidity on our visits day this year: it was spot on. My Pennsylvania (PA) delegation was also sweated through, but suit jackets nicely hide the evidence. Women's business attire can be a suit with skirt or dress slacks, a dress, or blouse with skirt or trousers: channel the style of newswomen or commentators on Sunday morning news shows, debate wear of female presidential candidates, or, to echo Ryan's West Wing reference, fictional press secretary CJ Craig. The perennial recommendation to wear comfortable shoes is no joke: "Did you know that the city planners, when they sat down to design Washington, D.C., their intention was to build a city that would intimidate and humble foreign heads of state?" said fictional President Andrew Shepherd in The American President. The size and spacing of the Capitol and flanking Senate and House office buildings is formidable, and, while meeting schedulers try avoid multiple crossings of Capitol Hill in their appointment flow, it sometimes can't be avoided. (This year, some women wore really comfortable footwear between buildings and changed into stiffer stylish business shoes before entering.)

One “must-bring” is business cards. They are the currency of meetings, many times the first thing exchanged just after formal greetings. I noticed this year that a few Congressional staff members would line the cards up in front of him/her on the conference table to keep our names front and center during our conversation. I have attended five previous Congressional Visits Days (2001, 2011-14) and have kept all the cards of staff members met. While there is a lot of turnover among Hill staff (the average age is 26), sometimes one will see the same staff members year-to-year. For example, this year, the legislative aide we met in a western Pennsylvania representative's office, was, as I knew from my card collection, a former aide for PA Senator Patrick Toomey that spoke with our PA Geo-CVD delegation the last two years. Pointing out our previous meetings was an icebreaker, and his familiarity with Geo-CVD was appreciated. In both 2013 and 2014, we met with Senator Casey's Legislative Chief of Staff: in 2014, he said something like "good to see you again, MaryAnn" without taking my card first. Whether he actually remembered me (probably not), or just checked his last year's notes and business cards right before the meeting, I was flattered and impressed.

Another recommended "leave-behind" is a one-page summary of one's own research or work, how it is impacted by federal science programs, how it may be important to one's Congressional district/state, and what kind of expertise one may offer to the office. For several years, I used the Pennsylvania state geologic map postcards, gluing to the back a very brief typed synopsis of my contact information, area of specialization, and past research. (One year, a staff member said my previous year’s map card was on a bulletin board: even if my information was hidden, geology of Pennsylvania was front and center.)  This year, I printed out the one page Pennsylvania Coal Distribution Map since most offices visited were in traditional PA coal mining areas and then printed my information on the backside; I had more space to list what agencies had funded or supported my graduate school, postdoc, and other research. Our Pennsylvania group also visited the office of a West Virginia Senator (one of our group was a West Virginia University alumnus and had done consulting work in WV) so for that office I put my information on the back of a WV coal distribution map.

As mentioned above, the afternoon workshop importantly outlines the unifying Message of the visits (quoted from our workshop material):
“Strong and sustained federal investments in geoscience will:
   -Support resilient communities
   -Strengthen our global and economic competitiveness
   -Enhance national security
   -Sustain a highly skilled workforce
and from that "The Ask":
“Support strong federal investments in geoscience research and education”.

Specific legislation of concern is also outlined in the workshop which this year was, and is, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R.1806) and the House Commerce-Justice-Science Committee appropriations bill (H.R.2578) that both include NSF funding levels. America COMPETES recommends levels of funding for several federal science research agencies, while the appropriations bill sets the actual agency levels for the coming fiscal year. In both, while overall NSF funding increases, the funding level for the Geoscience Directorate decreases from previous years. The bills also set a precedent by specifying funding levels for science directorates, rather than the traditional practice of allowing the agency (NSF) to make decisions on internal directorate allocations. The House version of America COMPETES passed in May 2015, before our visit, but the Senate version had not. Therefore, in our Senate visits, we urged reconsideration of NSF directorate level funding limits in their proposed legislation, while in the House visits, we emphasized the same in the case that the bill goes to conference: a conference committee made of House and Senate members works out any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The resulting bill returns to the House and Senate for final approval.” *

Part of the reason for the decrease in geoscience funding is, as John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), said during a special lecture at the recent GSA annual meeting in Baltimore, is “Appropriation bills to date reflect the apparent view of some in Congress that support for Earth observations and geosciences equates to support for the President’s climate change policies.” Therefore, one of our objectives on Geo-CVD was to emphasize the range of fields and job opportunities under the umbrella of geoscience. The variety within our Pennsylvania team was an excellent example: industry (two petroleum consulting geologists), academia (me and a Penn State meteorology graduate student), and government (my 2006-08 postdoctoral fellowship with the US Geological Survey: Chesapeake Bay impact crater post-impact thermal study and relationship to current groundwater quality). A letter from a consortium of academic institutions and professional societies, The Federal Investment in Geosciences Contributes to the Nation’s Economic Competitiveness, to members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, also focuses on the range of impacts, including jobs, STEM education, hazards, energy, from geoscience research.
For the visits, scientists are organized in teams representing one or two states, depending on how many from each state attend. For the five Geo-CVD I have attended, the number of other PA attendees has varied from zero to three, and the participants, besides me, have been different every year. The afternoon workshop allows team members to meet each other and their policy staff chaperone, get to know each other’s specialties, plan who will be the lead speaker in each office, and practice or discuss what each person might say or focus on. The teams are also given “leave-behind” folders with information on the importance of geoscience, the highlight this year being the AGI booklet, Geoscience for America’s Critical Needs. Besides our own research summaries, team members also added USGS fact sheets and bookmarks and AAPG information.

The role of the chaperones, which are policy staff of the participating professional geoscience societies, is both subtle and critical to success of the visits. Our contact this year (2015) was the Policy Communications Adviser of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)** who had also booked our Pennsylvania team’s Congressional appointments; I have previously been with staff members of AGU (American Geophysical Union), AGI, and AMS. Frequently, the chaperone will accompany the teams on their appointments, although this year, with more state teams than policy staff and with two experienced CVD participants on our PA team, we were unescorted. Chaperones help with directions to offices, schedule maintenance, and sometimes gentle guidance of the conversation to make sure nothing gets left out. In my first CVD in April 2001 (SET-CVD), I erroneously structured my delivery to lead up to the “Ask”, pointing out first how geosciences research is important to Pennsylvania. In these meetings, which may be no longer than 15 minutes, there are no time-signal lights, as in a conference presentation, and time can fly. I was the only scientist in this meeting with a staff member of then-Senator Santorum and my AGI policy staff chaperone. As I was feeling myself even getting a little bored with my own delivery and anxious on time, my chaperone stepped in and masterfully guided the discussion to the “Ask” and point of our visit. The structure of the visit, as emphasized each year in the Geo-CVD workshop, should put the purpose (Message and Ask) first and up front, like the opening of a newspaper article (who, what, when, where, why) and not like an introductory paragraph of an essay or many science articles where one sets the scene first, leading up to the thesis statement or “punch line”. And with a group of scientists visiting an office, the team lead must get the visit’s purpose/message/ask out first, efficiently mention their research (impact on state/district and how the relevant federal funding is important), and quickly pass the conversation on to other team members so everyone gets to speak. The first meeting of the day may be less polished just because the team is developing a rhythm and feel for time and content.

The Congressional office visits are usually with legislative staff members, rather than the elected official, although in a few of my past House office visits, the Representative has been present. The Legislative Correspondents or Aides may or may not be the staff member covering science or energy, but they are the information gatherers who are conduits and synthesizers of data on issues for the Representative/Senator. Some may just say thank you at the end of the meeting, but others may have specific questions on exactly how much funding or what specific action the team is requesting. In our West Virginia Senate office visit this year, we were asked our opinion on ideal interval (in years) for America COMPETES reauthorizations. We each had a different suggestion, but did refer the office to specific policy staff members of AGU and AAPG who could provide a consistent community response on that question.

An important purpose of any CVD is to offer oneself as an information resource to the Congressional office. Over the last 35 years, the number of scientists serving as Congressional office or committee staff has grown, with increasing numbers of Congressional Science Fellows, former Fellows who continue in legislative positions, and the occasional engineer/scientist who has segued into a legislative staff career. However, the number is still small, and having a state or district scientist as a direct resource, or who can refer the office to another scientist with the necessary expertise, is a valuable asset.

These face-to-face Capitol Hill visits should be the start of an ongoing dialogue on the importance of federal science support. Congressional staff is very busy, have many topics or issues to cover, and have visits with many other constituents and groups, so it is essential not to let the topic of the importance of science to the National interest fade. Any CVD visit should be followed up with a letter (e-mail is preferred over snail mail with its physical security screening) thanking the office for the visit, iterating "the Ask", the offer to be a resource, and other points discussed. While it is recommended that one continue contact with their Congressional offices, one does not have to do it each year in person during Geo-CVD or other science CVDs. Continued dialogue (or any outreach to members of Congress) can include written correspondence or in-state district visits. Such communication can mention appreciation for relevant sponsored legislation or voting positions, or a request for particular consideration of new science legislation or issues of concern. I have not been as frequent with that as I should, but a great resource for keeping up with science-related legislation, funding levels, and talking points are professional society public policy webpages (see the list at the bottom) or policy news alert services (such as Sometimes a society may also have letter templates for a specific issue that one can use as a base and then amend to make it more personal.

There are other non-medical/non-health-science Congressional Visits Days through out the year. A general and large Science-Engineering-Technology CVD (SET-CVD) occurs every spring. Geoscience member organizations for that event include AGI, AGU, and GSA, and one would contact one of those organizations if interested in participating. A few earth science societies, such as AGU, also sponsor their own CVDs that focus on issues of specific interest to their members, in addition to federal support for science agencies and STEM education.

For other stories on Congressional Visits Day experiences: (My summary of 2001 SET-CVD on pages 187-189 of this 320-page pdf of the 1999-2002 newsletters of The Society for Organic Petrology (TSOP- an AGI member society, AAPG affiliated society))

Earth Science Policy websites:
American Geophysical Union-

Congressional websites: (where one can look up the text and action on any House or Senate bill) (Senate homepage) (House of Representatives homepage)

* UPDATE, January 1, 2016: On the December 18, 2015, the House and Senate passed, and the President signed, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (HR 2029); NSF received $7.5 billion dollars with no legislative restrictions on individual directorate funding levels; summary at The success of keeping directorate funding decisions within NSF reflects the tireless work of numerous professional science and geoscience societies and institutions; Geo-CVD was one part of this effort.

** UPDATE 2017: AAPG's DC policy office was closed at end of 2016 due to society budget constraints

[Besides participation in various science CVDs, Maryann’s science policy or government experience includes GSA Geology and Public Policy Committee (1986-88), USGS postdoctoral fellowship (2006-08), and Foreign Service Officer, US Department of State (1973-76).]

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Rare earth elements in coal fly ash- a possible resource? Presentation at 2015 GSA annual meeting

At the end of my June 19, 2015, blog post on some geologic highlights of a trip to Los Angeles/Las Vegas (focusing on the LaBrea Tar Pits), I mentioned driving by the Molycorp Mountain Pass REE (rare earth element) mine on Interstate 15, in Mountain Pass, California. The Mountain Pass mine had originally operated from 1950-2002; during part of this time, it was the world's major REE source. Operations resumed in 2012. The mine is one of two domestic deposits of rare earth elements ( Bear Lodge in Wyoming is under development, but Mountain Pass has, since our drive-by in June, shut down due to a fall in REE prices.

I heard about the shutdown during a presentation by Allan Kolker on November 2, at the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Baltimore. Allan, a USGS scientist specializing in the inorganic chemistry of coal, was lead author on “Rare earth bearing trace phases in coal ash: Where are they?” ( Kolker summarized ongoing research, part of a larger National EnergyTechnology Laboratory (NETL; Department of Energy) program, looking at coal ash as a possible domestic source of REE, a commodity used in, among other things, fluorescent lights, glass, high-tech ceramic applications, hybrid engines, high-performance permanent magnets in defense systems and wind turbines ( (Slides 4-6)).

Periodic table showing location of the rare earth elements
What is coal ash? Ash is the uncombusted particulate residue of coal. That left in the bottom of the furnace or boiler is called bottom ash; what flies up the chimney or smoke stack is fly ash. Ideally, ash should be only non-combustible inorganic components, either original minerals, mineral reaction products, or melt glass. However, although modern power plants use pulverized coal to decrease particle volume and increase surface area to encourage complete fuel combustion, ash can also include uncombusted or partially-combusted coal and carbons. The Fly Ash ( and Combustion Char ( sections of Crelling’s Petrographic Atlas of Coals and Carbons have photomicrographs of both carbon and mineral matter combustion particles.

“Coal ash is the largest type of waste generated in the United States and in many other countries, with over 100 million tons produced in the USA every year.” ( Fly ash particulates are captured, to prevent release to the atmosphere, and usually stored in holding ponds at the power plant site. It can be used as a cement replacement in making bricks or possibly as a soil enhancement in agriculture. However, besides REE, and various elements useful for crop performance including K, Na, Ca, Mg, coal ash contains toxic elements, such as lead, arsenic, mercury and uranium, which are a serious concern in any application or disposal plan.

Kolker, with co-authors, wrote in their abstract that “During coal combustion, REE are strongly retained in the residual ash fraction so that it is typical for REE in fly ash to be enriched by a factor of ten over those in the respective coal.” They compared REE concentrations in Appalachian coal to the NIST 1633c fly ash standard and the North American Shale Composite (Gromet et al., 1984); fly ash REE concentrations were 2-3 times that in the shale. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette PowerSource article (August 18, 2015) describes the NETL REE research program and the recent increase in interest for the REE-in-coal-and-fly-ash database of Jim Hower, University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research, second author on the GSA abstract.            

Common REE-bearing trace minerals in coal, Kolker and others explained, include apatite, zircon, allanite, xenotime, and monazite. The melting points of xenotime and monazite much exceed the 1300-1700˚C range of various fluidized-bed or pulverized coal boilers, and these minerals are expected to be found intact (unmelted) in ash. However, REE in ash may occur in other forms, possibly including glasses or perhaps even nanoparticles in the ash.  Continuing research will be to further document location and concentration of REE-bearing ash constituents.

Why is it critical that we look for domestic alternatives to mined sources of REE? The blog post at (September 11, 2015) states that China controls 90% of the world REE market. It has "REE dominance through a combination of overproduction and price manipulation to drive out competitors", and used an export ban to Japan as a political tool in a 2010 territorial dispute between the two countries. While we are very used to the politics of the global petroleum market, any commodity that is controlled by a single nation or consortium of nations can be used to manipulate international prices and leverage power.

REE supply concerns did not just appear in the last few months since the Mountain Pass closing, but ramped up in 2010, after the lifting of the Chinese export ban to Japan, when price increases on some elements went up ~650%. Major US REE manufacturing needs are not just in consumer products, but also various defense systems. During Geosciences Congressional Visits Day 2011 (September 21), GSA's DC Geoscience Policy office included in my Capitol Hill schedule a hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, on "China's monopoly on rare earths: Implications for U. S. foreign and security policy". Four witnesses providing testimony were the CEO of Molycorp, a manufacturer of REE permanent magnets, a manufacturer of pumps and valves that use such magnets, and an analyst specializing in natural resources in relation to national security. The most memorable points for me were 1) Molycorp was having a hard time filling mining and geologic engineering jobs, not because of the remote location, but the dearth of qualified applicants: they emphasized the need for federal support of STEM education; 2) the crisis in REE supply could have been foreseen and acted upon earlier since signs were present. The transcript of the hearing is available at

So while re-opening Mountain Pass mine in 2012 seemed to be a solution for a domestic supply of REE, the United States is now again without an actively producing source of these elements. It's rather like the car/tree scene in Jurassic Park, "Well... we're back... in the car again." Further research on options, such as coal ash, may provide alternatives.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

GSA Energy Geology Division (division formerly known as Coal Geology)

The 2015 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Baltimore (November 1-4) saw the debut of the GSA Energy Geology Division (EGD), a continuation but topical expansion of the Society’s second oldest division, the Coal Geology Division. 

   The Coal Geology Division was founded in 1954. But, as well explained by the division’s chair and secretary at, as energy resources have evolved, so have energy research interests and career opportunities. The portion of coal as part of the energy budget in many regions is declining, and other options, including nuclear and other non-fossil fuel sources, provide increasing portions of our power needs. The number of earth science departments that include coal geology has also dwindled in the last 20 years so there are also fewer coal geologists trained at the university level.

The discussion on amending the focus of the division, both within the division and between the division and the Society, has gone on for almost two decades. One option was to just add petroleum science formally to the mission: those educated or trained in coal petrographic techniques, for example, frequently work on petroleum source rocks. The final name change, approved in March 2015 by 80% of members voting, reflects the inclusion of geologists and geology topics related to all aspects of renewable and non-renewable energy exploration, extraction, and use. The official purpose of the expanded division “is to provide a suitable forum for presentation of scientific papers and discussion of problems of mutual interest in the geologic study of energy resources, to stimulate research and interchange of scientific information about energy resources and related issues within the wide range of their geologic significance, and to act as an organized group in promoting these objectives within the framework of the Geological Society of America.” ( )

At the 2015 GSA meeting, the Energy Geology Division was primary sponsor of two Geologic Energy Research topical oral sessions ( ( and one poster session ( A sampling of topics in these sessions include inorganic chemistry of coal, fly ash and gas shale; uranium deposits; CO2 storage reservoirs; geothermal systems; oil sands; oil/gas produced waters, hydrocarbon geochemistry; thermal maturity and organic petrology; basin tectonics, heat flow, and petroleum systems analysis; nuclear power plant siting; and borehole geophysics. 

The Division was also the lead sponsor of “From Peat to Coke: Honoring the Legacy of William Spackman”. Dr. Spackman (1919-2014; had a comprehensive knowledge of and research career in coal from deposition to utilization including paleobotany, palynology, peat-forming environments, coal petrography, and industrial coal usage. He began the internationally-recognized coal geology research program at Penn State that produced probably the majority of US coal scientists from the 1950’s through the 1980’s and continues today as the Coal Science and Technology section of Penn State’s Earth and Minerals Sciences Energy Institute. Several of the presenters were Spackman students or students of his students (I am one of the latter but did not give a talk).

Other sessions where EGD was a co-sponsor include “Shale gas basins: Their stratigraphy, sedimentary environments, tectonics, and structural evolution” (oral and poster sessions); “Water and Fluid Migration During Energy Development: Implications for Hydraulic Fracturing, CO2 Storage, Enhanced Oil Recovery, In Situ Uranium Recovery, and Waste Water Injection”. The Division also sponsored a field trip, “Geologic investigation of the impact of a subsurface coal fire: Centralia, Pennsylvania”.

The Spackman theme session preceded the annual Division business meeting and awards ceremony and reception. The Coal Geology Division had two major awards  ( the Gilbert H. Cady award for “outstanding contributions to the field of coal geology”, and the Antoinette Lierman Medlin coal science student research scholarships (two) for completion of field work and completion of lab/analytical work. Dr. Claus F. K. Diessel of the University of Newcastle, Australia, best known for his research in the sedimentology and sequence stratigraphy of coal-bearing successions, was this year’s Cady award recipient. The Cady award and Medlin grants will continue as Energy Geology Division awards in coal geology. However, the Division hopes to add two new categories that will mirror the Cady and Medlin awards but span energy topics in earth science.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

William Smith’s seminal geologic map of Britain

During the Geological Society of America (GSA) 2015 annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, special sessions celebrated the 200th anniversary of William Smith’s geologic map of England, Wales, and southern Scotland. A synopsis on the map exhibition, sessions, and short biography of Smith, is on the GSA website.

In the Exhibit Hall, next to the GSA main booth, set up for viewing a few hours each on three days of the meeting, was a “1st edition facsimile print of the Smith map. Scaled at five miles to the inch, it encompasses nearly 50 sq. ft. (6 ft. × 8 ft.). The hand-colored hues are brilliant, in part because the linen original of this facsimile was only recently discovered 'hidden' in darkness in its folio box in the Burlington House, London, home of the Geological Society. The map is art and science combined.” (

The map laid out for viewing on November 2, with “William Smith” (lacy cuffs) answering questions.

I was interested to see what kind of detail was related to the Carboniferous coal beds, especially after I had been looking up maps and information on Welsh coalfields for my blog post last April on Titanic coal. (White Star Line used Welsh coal for ships sailing from the British Isles.) Coal played an important part in Smith’s work: mapping these fossil fuel resources was a driver for the compilation of the map (

This is a close-up of the legend. Carboniferous coal measures are gray-brown; the darker outlines enclosing this unit are clearly visible on large view of map above.  The “coalmeasures” unit here includes “Millstone”, a plant-fossil-bearing layer, and “Penant” (also spelled Pennant) Stone, a marine fossil unit. The contact between the two units is now known to be the Permo-Carboniferous boundary ( The Permian Pennant Stone is also an exterior/interior building stone.

Detail, above, of southeastern Wales, including city of Cardiff (lower left) and Monmouthshire/Breconshire coalfields, and adjacent England, with the Forest of Dean coalfield (north of Severn River) and Bristol coalfield (lower right corner near city of Bristol). The crosses are “the coals”, according to the legend, possibly identifying colliery locations.

Short summaries of Smith’s work and life on the web, besides Wikipedia, include NASA Earth Observatory (; cited above) and the United Kingdom Onshore Geophysical Library ( The book, The Map That Changed the World (2001), by Simon Winchester, is the story of William Smith, the making of his map, and the social and historical setting of this achievement.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bearded Lady Project film trailer premier at GSA annual meeting in Baltimore... plus a shout-out to AWG

I got to the 2015 Geological Society of America annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday morning, November 1, just in time to see the talk that premiered the Bearded Lady Project trailer, accompanied by a short background talk by the director and photographer (

The Bearded Lady Project “Challenging the Face of Science” is “a documentary film and photographic project celebrating the work of female paleontologists and highlighting the challenges and obstacles they face” ( The central collaborators on the Bearded Lady Project are Lexi Jamieson Marsh (director), Kelsey Vance (photographer), and Dr. Ellen Currano (paleontologist and lead subject). I first became aware of the project as a Twitter follower of Dr. Claire Belcher, who tweeted about the project during filming of the segment featuring her research (; post of November 2, 2015).

One audience question was “Why “bearded lady” for the project name?” The answer was that some women geoscientists felt that they would be more acceptable to audiences or students in the world of science if they could hide behind a male disguise. I understand that perception. When I first started publishing in the geosciences in the early 1980’s, I had thought I would only use my first and middle name initials for authorship to disguise my gender (don't anymore). And, although Dartmouth College, where I got my Master’s degree in 1982, was very welcoming to women students (it truly was like a very close family), I got the feeling, in a department where many graduates at that time went into careers in hard rock or hazards mapping and ore deposits, that to be accepted as “one of the boys” one had to be able to share stories of bushwhacking through the woods in the rain, backing a field vehicle into a ditch (twice), and/or encounters with bears (luckily only saw fresh prints going the other way). I, therefore, chose a mapping thesis, although another strong reason was a love of metamorphic petrology and regional geologic synthesis.

However, I was hoping the answer to “why bearded lady?” would include the “bearded circus lady” metaphor explained on the Project’s webpage bearded ladies in the circus were seen as deviations from the traditional accepted standard of a woman, just as science was not seen as an acceptable career for women. The documentary aims to show women geoscientists (or rather geoscientists who are women) in all research venues, both out in the field and in the lab, documenting the adventure, similar to goals of Lego STEM women sets (

Another questioner asked why just paleontologists in the documentary? The reply was paleontologists are a starting point, and the hope is to expand to other geoscience disciplines. (The featured scientists are not chosen but volunteer.) Actually, one of the featured geoscientists is not a paleontologist: Dr. Claire Belcher, mentioned above, specializes “in the study of natural fires in the Earth system” ( She and her students study fossil charcoal and paleo-wildfire combustion products in combination with modern fire science research techniques; coal petrography is also part of her research toolkit. Last year at the 2014 GSA annual meeting in Vancouver, I had posts on two talks by Claire and her students:

A very early promotional visual to encourage women in geoscience was the Career Planning Program slide presentation by the Women’s Geoscientists Committee (1977-87) of the American Geological Institute (AGI; now the American Geosciences Institute). I remember borrowing a copy to show at Dartmouth in ~1981. One of the featured geologists was Jo Laird, since then professor at the University of New Hampshire. Jo was also this year’s Outstanding Educator Award winner of the Association of Women Geoscientists. Jo received her award at the AWG breakfast, November 2, at GSA. I might point out that coal petrologist, Sue Rimmer, who has been a co-author with Belcher, was AWG Outstanding Educator in 2007. AWG also offers various student grant awards; I was fortunate in ~2000 to get a small Chrysalis scholarship, aimed at women returning to grad school after an interruption in education.

The Bearded Lady Project also includes large-format still photography of women geoscientists at work, likewise highlighted in the GSA talk on Sunday. They announced exciting plans to possibly display those photos in a gallery-style exhibition at the 2016 GSA annual meeting in Denver!