2021 O.E. Meinzer Award

Presented to Mark Person


Citation by Fred M. Phillips

For a very long time the O.E. Meinzer Award has been the highest research honor granted by the Hydrogeology Division. This year’s Meinzer recipient is Professor Mark Austin Person from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. It was 53 years ago that Mahdi Hantush, also from New Mexico Tech, was the fourth recipient of the award. The Meinzer award recognizes the author or authors of a publication or body of publications that have significantly advanced the science of hydrogeology or a closely related field. Particular weight is given to contributions that can be shown to have strongly influenced subsequent hydrogeologic research.

Many of the more recent Meinzer awardees have been cited for very important research within a relatively narrow scope. Mark, however, harkens back to some of the much earlier awardees, like Lenny Konikow for instance, who used subsurface modeling as a tool to investigate a very wide range of hydrogeological phenomena. In Mark’s case, these range from the role of groundwater in the formation of petroleum reservoirs to isotope exchange in metamorphic core complexes to the role of faults in groundwater flow to responses of groundwater systems to climate change.

Today, however, I’d like to focus on a few topics that especially illustrate how Mark’s contributions have influenced, and will continue to influence, future research. The first of these is submarine fresh water. Although the existence of offshore fresh water has been known for quite a while, it was Mark who first systematically explored the conditions under which it was emplaced, the depth of its possible penetration beneath the seabed, and its response to fluctuating boundary conditions such as sea level. The path that he blazed has now been followed my many other investigators. Given that the estimated freshwater reserve under the ocean is about 100,000 km3 (in comparison to current US pumping of ~100 km3/year), I suspect that there will be many, many more papers following up on his work in the next 100 years. The choice of topic is particularly prescient given that many currently subaerial aquifers are in the process of becoming submarine ones.

Another of his highly influential research areas is the role of ice sheets in reorganizing groundwater flow systems. The advance and retreat of continental ice sheets during the Pleistocene may constitute the most dramatic fluctuation in the boundary conditions of groundwater systems in the history of the Earth. Mark has been a pioneer in understanding how changes in head and loading during these cycles interacted with the mechanical properties of the Earth beneath to radically alter groundwater flow paths. We are today living in a hydrogeological world that is explainable only if we correctly account for these events. They strongly affect everyday things, such as where we can find fresh water and where it is safe to store nuclear waste.

These are only a few of the research areas within which Mark has made a path for those who follow. It is a pleasure to be able to honor a researcher so creative and so prolific. Please join me in welcoming Mark Austin Person, the 2021 O.E. Meinzer Awardee.


Response by Mark Person

Thank you Fred for your kind remarks. It is with great humility that I accept the 2021 O.E. Meinzer Award. To even approach matching the list of accomplishments of prior Meinzer Award recipients is a very high bar indeed.

I wish to thank my former advisor Grant Garven for setting high standards for his students insisting that we needed to “figure things out on our own” if we were going to succeed as scientists. I feel fortunate that as I entered the doctoral program at Johns Hopkins in 1985, the field of paleohydrogeology was just becoming a hot topic. I was mesmerized by the idea that ancient mountain building events could drive regional groundwater flow systems across continents forming world class metal deposits. Grant taught all of his students how these paleo groundwater flow systems could be reconstructed using mathematical modeling.

During the past ten years of my career, I have primarily focused on reconstructing the hydrogeology of the Pleistocene when the Laurentide ice sheet waxed and waned across North America and sea level fluctuated by as much at 120 meters. My work and that of dozens of others has led to the realization that vast quantities of offshore freshwater were emplaced in continental shelf environments during periods of sea-level low stands. With recent advancements in marine magentotellurics, we are now able to image these offshore freshwater deposits and calculate their volumes. It is my hope that before my career ends, these freshwater deposits will be drilled by the International Ocean Discovery Program. This fossil groundwater may represent a water resource for future generations.

I would like to close by thanking my wife Deborah Bankson for her constant support and encouragement. I would also like to acknowledge my late father, professor Stan Person who co-founded the Biophysics Department at Penn State University. His boundless enthusiasm for research and devotion to his students was an inspiration to me. I also would like to recognize a number of amazing colleagues and mentors who I have made a real difference in my life including Lenny Konikow and Fred Phillips who set me up to succeed during my masters degree at New Mexico Tech; Chris Neuzil for his friendship and amazing insights into rock mechanics and osmotic theory; Denis Cohen, Vaughan Voller, and Jesus Gomez-Velez three truly remarkable hydro-mechanicans that I have collaborated with; Aaron Micallef, Brandon Dugan, Jennifer McIntosh, Steve Grasby and Ben Rostron who have shared my love of paleohydrogeology. My life has also been enriched by many former graduate students who came up with their own ideas and discoveries.