2022 GSA Florence Bascom Geologic Mapping Award

Presented to Daniel John Koning

Daniel John Koning

Daniel John Koning
New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources


Citation by Shari A. Kelley

I have worked with Dan Koning for 20 years. I have always been impressed by his attention to detail and by his ability to envision the bigger picture using those details. Dan specializes in mapping basin-fill sediments in the Rio Grande rift in New Mexico. His mapping efforts and his detailed analysis of well logs and cuttings have contributed to a much better understanding of aquifers in the Española, Palomas, Albuquerque, and San Marcial basins. One of his more significant contributions has been the development of a provenance-based stratigraphic framework for the Santa Fe Group in the Española basin. In addition, Dan’s mapping in several basins in the rift led him to recognize a widespread 8–3 Ma unconformity that has been used to constrain mantle processes beneath the rift. For his many contributions that have improved our understanding of the Rio Grande rift, Dan Koning certainly deserves this award.


Response by Daniel John Koning

One of the neat things about getting this award was learning more about its namesake. Dr. Florence Bascom was quite the pioneering geologist, being the second woman to get a Ph.D. in the United States, setting up the geology department at Bryn Mawr University, and tackling notable geologic problems in the northern Piedmont and Atlantic Coastal Plain region of the eastern U.S.A. For the latter, she utilized her training in igneous-metamorphic petrology and employed a long-term, methodical approach to unravel a complex suite of basement rocks. I am also impressed how her curiosity led her to branch away from igneous-metamorphic rocks. For example, after mapping the northern Piedmont she utilized sedimentology and geomorphology to infer 9 erosion cycles of the Piedmont since the Cretaceous.

Likewise, I would like to emphasize the importance of a long-term, methodical approach and curiosity in geologic mapping. A mapper can have a working hypothesis, but I feel the main thing in mapping is to wonder what is in that next canyon, to observe what is actually there, and accurately draw contacts, faults, and folds. And that takes a lot of legwork, especially in mountainous terrain. The discoveries you make in the field give you energy, sparks good campfire discussions among the team, and guide you where to go. But usually the robust scientific interpretations come during the compilation phase of mapping and often involves several 7.5-minute quads.

In my career, it has given me much satisfaction to see the results of “the legwork” translate into practical discoveries for the Santa Fe Group that fills the Rio Grande rift. A case in point is my mapping of the northwestern Albuquerque Basin and a 3D mapping project I am now completing for that area. Back in the late 1990s, my advisor, Frank Pazzaglia, gave me an area to map there while I was a graduate student. It was relatively easy in Southern California, where I came from, to at least differentiate Quaternary from Miocene strata (the latter usually being quite tilted or deformed). Driving to my first outcrop in the Albuquerque Basin, I was rather shocked by not knowing what I was looking at: both Quaternary and Miocene strata looked like a big pile of horizontally layered sand! It took a lot of methodical walking and detailed observations (and lots of field books) to figure out the geology there. Within a year, I was able to differentiate new units in the Santa Fe Group. Because mapping requires you to walk so much, one can observe how basin fill units change laterally and collect key data (paleoflow, gravel counts, changes in sedimentary architecture) to interpret the cryptic paleodepositional systems that laid down those units. The knowledge of the sedimentary units and these paleo-depostional interpretations, gained only after completing several 7.5-minute quads over several years, allowed me in the last few years to successfully interpret data from 25 wells and construct a 3D, subsurface geologic model for the nearby city of Rio Rancho – which I think will be critical for them to adequately manage their limited groundwater resources. The same can be said for how I came to understand the geology of the Española Basin in north-central New Mexico. Only after mapping several 7.5-minute quads there, which took over a decade, did I eventually write several publications and produce two 3D-stratigraphic + fault models (the first with the assistance of Greg Cole at Los Alamos National Laboratory) that were incorporated into groundwater flow models and could be used to interpret the depths and locations of productive hydrostratigraphic units.

When I was growing up, I loved to read about Western mining camps, and my career aspiration was to be something akin to a 19th Century prospector. Interestingly, the wandering, solitude, and discoveries that one gets from making a geologic map is not too much different from the life of the “jackass prospector. I am very grateful for all those who have helped me out in my career. I remember the satisfaction of drawing my first contact on a paper topographic map during Pete Sadler’s structural geology course at U.C. Riverside, and folks like Michael Woodburne and Jeff Knott for teaching useful geologic mapping classes in the Rainbow Basin in Southern California. I am grateful for the Southern Illinois University summer field camp for further developing my mapping skills in Red Lodge, Montana, and how that resulted in a NAGT-sponsored USGS internship the following summer with Marith Reheis. While in school, Stephen Wells and Frank Pazzalgia were incredible sources of research inspiration for me. Later, while employed by the NM Bureau of Geology, I greatly appreciated my stimulating interactions with Sean Connell, Tien Grauch, Shari Kelly, Peggy Johnson, David Love, John Hawley, Scott Minor, W. John Nelson, Scott Elrick, Andy Jochems, Richard Chamberlin, Steve Cather, Adam Read, and Kevin Hobbs. I would like to acknowledge my deceased High School English teacher, Winifred Klopp, for helping develop my writing skills. I thank God for giving me a healthy body, a good share of imagination, and a curious mind.

I also thank my Father, Fred Koning, for cultivating that curiosity with hiking trips and underground-mine explorations he did with me as a child in Southern California. When I was in high school, my Father allowed me the freedom “to go solo” and, in a John Muir like fashion, explore the impressively rugged eastern San Gabriel Mountains. All these early adventures in nature or underground were essential to first wondering “how did this come to be?” and “what do these rocks tell me?” This curiosity, sense of adventure, and indeed consolation that one gets from being alone in nature is an experience that is less and less common for young people in today’s society. I really encourage parents and educators to allow young people ample time and freedom to explore nature on their own terms – doing things like turning over stones, pick up bugs, poke sticks into holes – so that we can have a new generation of adept field scientists in the Earth Sciences.