Today, on the day of the 150th anniversary of John Wesley Powell’s Colorado River Exploring Expedition, I think back on his main motives for such an incredible and daring pursuit. Powell was determined to further our knowledge and understanding of the then uncharted Green and Colorado rivers. He had limited funding from the government, formed a group completely untrained in navigating river rapids, and had only one arm. The odds were stacked against him, but he held a strong passion and belief in the importance of science and did his best to collect valuable information and data, no matter what challenges the rivers threw at him. Later in life, he brought these same ideals to the U.S. Geological Survey, as the second director.
I have a lot of admiration for Powell. I grew up with the sound of rushing water in my ears and the feeling of grass between my toes. I have always wanted to understand more about the world around me, and as I got older, that desire translated into a strong love and appreciation for science. I knew that I wanted those feelings to be reflected in my career, and I have been able to do that with the USGS. My work as a hydrologic technician often involves collecting data in a variety of different situations, whether it is the day-to-day routine of monitoring water conditions or having to collect information about the powerful effects of natural disasters such as hurricanes. No matter the circumstances, I am often faced with challenges and unforeseen problems that I must do my best to work through to get the best data that I can. After all, the information that I and other scientists collect can potentially go a long way toward helping inform the decisions that shape our future. The stakes that Powell faced were much higher than my own, especially since he did not have the benefits of modern technology and safety. But Powell was dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and determined to conduct the best work possible, no matter the trial. It is something that is reflected in the high standards that I, and the people I work with, hold ourselves to. It is a quality that is a core part of the USGS, and will no doubt remain so in the years to come.