I am a geologist and primarily study earthquakes and how tectonic deformation influences the landscape. These fields were poorly understood to Powell and other scientists at the time. Plate tectonic theory had not been proposed, so observations of mountain building, faults, earthquakes, and deformed surfaces existed largely without a broader context. However, the initial observations of scientists like Powell, and the push to establish the USGS, laid the groundwork for ideas to come.
Powell recognized the importance of field work, observation, and reconnaissance, which are important aspects to the science we do today. Powell also saw the importance of accurate maps and topographic data, and the need for and integrated topographic survey. Though modern geology uses many new techniques to evaluate the landscape, like high resolution imagery from lidar, satellites, and photography, the skeletons of these advances lie with early scientific pioneers like Powell.
Some of my recent and ongoing work in the New Madrid seismic zone has highlighted the importance of historical information in understanding past earthquakes and other important events. This new fascination with how science and history interconnect is one reason why I’m excited to be a part of this Powell 150 expedition. I also don’t often get to cross paths with so many other organizations and agencies with such a broad range of expertise, and I’m looking forward to engaging with the larger community. In the last few years working at the USGS, I’ve come to recognize the important of communicating science to all audiences and making research fully accessible. I hope that this trip can provide new ideas for how to reach a broader audience with USGS research and maintain public interest and involvement.
J. W. Powell also recognized the need and importance for centralized, government-funded science. He understood that individual institutions and societies played an important role, but they could not replace the vast resources and reach government research provided. These questions about the role of government in science continue today, but the last 100+ years has shown what central motivation and funding, such as through the NSF, can contribute. As a USGS scientist, I hope to see the positive results of science in the public interest for many decades to come.