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Rosemary Knight receives SEG’s highest honor

The award from the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) is given to a researcher who has made distinguished contributions both to the advancement of the science and to the profession of exploration geophysics.

Stanford researchers led by Rosemary Knight used a helicopter carrying a geophysical imaging system to look beneath the ground for water pathways that could recharge aquifers. Image creditRebecca Quist

Geophysics professor Rosemary Knight has received the highest honor of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), the Maurice Ewing Medal, for her major contributions to the advancement of the science and profession of exploration geophysics.

Profile image for Rosemary Knight
Rosemary Knight

Knight, who was previously awarded SEG Life Membership in 2009 and the Outstanding Educator Award in 2017, has pushed the envelope on the use of near-surface geophysics to solve environmental problems. In the mid-1980s Knight gave inception to the field of hydrogeophysics adopting the term to describe the use of geophysical methods to image and quantify near-surface hydrogeologic properties and processes. Her research has covered the range from laboratory rock physics to the use of helicopter-borne time-domain electromagnetics to map the groundwater basins of California.

“We can deploy sensors on the ground surface, in helicopters, and satellites and use various forms of energy to image Earth to get information about the groundwater hundreds of meters below our feet,” Knight said in a TEDxStanford talk about her research.

Knight has been a pioneer in developing innovative applications of the nuclear magnetic resonance NMR method, with an approach to training students that emphasizes addressing the most fundamental aspects of the NMR response. In addition to the immediate impacts of her discoveries in NMR, her focus on fundamentals has built a robust foundation that has allowed the hydrogeophysical community to further advance this methodology, according to an announcement from SEG.

Our Freshwater Future

Rosemary Knight at TEDx talk

What if we could see through the crust of the earth to locate and measure precious groundwater? It’s no longer necessary to do “exploratory surgery” on the Earth, said Knight, whose team uses satellites to track fresh water. Relying on the most sophisticated new measurement tools, Knight predicts and explains our freshwater future.

Knight is passionate about “knowledge-into-action” – using geophysical techniques to better understand saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers, how over pumping groundwater may cause the ground to sink and unleash dangerous arsenic, how to improve management of aquifer recharge, and more.

As the George L. Harrington Professor of Geophysics at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), Knight teaches undergraduate and graduate courses, and leads the Environmental Geophysics research group. She and her team partnered with water agencies in California through the Stanford Groundwater Architecture Project (GAP) to lay the foundation for geophysical mapping of the state’s groundwater systems. 

“We're facing a serious challenge: How to meet the freshwater needs of the seven billion people on this planet while also addressing the needs of the natural ecosystems also dependent upon freshwater,” said Knight, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

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