2022 O.E. Meinzer Award

Presented to Beth Louise Parker

Beth Louise Parker

Beth Louise Parker
Department of Engineering, University of Guelph


Citation by John Cherry

I have been privileged to work with Dr. Beth Parker for a very long time, and I can think of nobody more deserving of recognition for her body of publications and outstanding contributions to the field of contaminant hydrogeology.

Beth learned about hard work and perseverance growing up on a dairy farm in upstate New York. From her mother, she learned about sewing and knitting that involved the most careful and beautiful stitching. Her field studies mimic this in their careful stitching of diverse data sets into scientific works of art.

Beth’s contribution to contaminant hydrogeology began during her PhD research, based on new ideas about the influences of molecular diffusion on contaminant transport and fate. She hypothesized that chlorinated solvents in the form of dense, non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) infiltrating fractured porous media should rapidly disappear due to dissolution and mass transfer of the dissolved phase from fractures into the low-permeability matrix blocks between fractures. This hypothesis, and supporting analytic modeling, formed her first peer-reviewed paper (Parker et al., 1994), which is still one of her most cited publications (270 citations as of Aug. 2022). Since then, Beth’s hard work and perseverance have led to over three decades of innovative, field-based groundwater research.

Beth’s research contributes to practical problem solving in contaminant hydrogeology through its focus on comprehensive studies at old industrial sites contaminated with chlorinated solvents. These studies have led to recognition of the importance of back diffusion (Chapman and Parker, 2005, 293 citations) that explains why conventional DNAPL remediation methods have been unsuccessful. Her field of research is dependent on innovative high-resolution data collection with adapted versions of conventional methods. Among these methods is a discrete fracture network-matrix (DFN-M) approach, as described in Parker et al. 2012, for the design and collection of field data. This approach improves bedrock conceptual models and enhances discrete fracture-matrix (DFM) numerical simulations for plume evolution over several decades. Beth’s work has resulted in a shift in our perception of the long-term evolution of contaminated sites and changed the approach to remediation in fractured and non-fractured geologic media.

Please join me in congratulating my esteemed colleague, Dr. Beth Parker, the 2022 O.E Meinzer Award winner.


Response by Beth Louise Parker

Thank you, John, for your kind remarks and decades of collaboration and discussions on nearly all things hydrogeology, and its relevance to society. It is a great honor and privilege to receive the O.E. Meinzer Award. As I look at the growing list of recipients since 1965, I am humbled by the work of those who came before me, and grateful for their insights which have made hydrogeology an exciting field of study. I have benefitted from working directly with some of these esteemed colleagues over the past many years, including Al Freeze (1974), John Cherry (1985), Ed Sudicky (1999), Shaun Frape (2007) and Bill Woessner (2020).

I started my career in hydrogeology by happen-stance when I attended a seminar for undeclared majors during my first semester at Allegheny College. It was at this seminar where I was introduced to Environmental Science or Geology as a possible major. Here, Dr. Sam Harrison, a hydrogeologist and founder of the program, introduced the importance of studying all facets of water (i.e. aquatic environments) as an interdisciplinary, science-based major, built on environmental geology and biology courses. Many of these courses had field labs where we pounded in piezometers and measured hydraulic head, surface water flows, and precipitation events; and sampled groundwater, surface water, and benthic organisms. It highlighted the value of field observations and measurement methods across varying disciplines, and required development of hydrologic knowledge using a systems approach in a manner advocated by Meinzer.

Upon reflection, my research career was strongly influenced by my earlier years working as an MSc environmental engineer for a large, chemical-based manufacturing company throughout the 1980’s. At that time, groundwater monitoring, site investigations and remediation were required by newly implemented environmental regulations (e.g. RCRA and Superfund). We were discovering soil and groundwater contamination nearly everywhere, given past decades of operation. This required me to hire the best and most capable hydrogeologists to help address these concerns. Here, Robert Mutch as a consultant, and Stavros Papadopolus, Al Freeze, Dave McWhorter and John Cherry as advisors, introduced me to the concepts of diffusion affecting plume migration and how to improve monitoring and pumping well designs in fractured rock.

The absence of solutions and poor explanations for these mobile and persistent organic solvent contaminants in rock motivated me to get a PhD at the University of Waterloo, where field observations provided fodder for my research. Working with John Cherry, Bob Gillham and Dave McWhorter as my supervisors, I became interested in quantifying diffusive fluxes into and out of low permeability zones in natural clays and sedimentary rocks. This led to a new ability to identify hydraulically active fractures, and many reasons to understand aquitards in our dynamic 3D groundwater flow systems.

As an engineer and scientist, I was mentored by many knowledgeable individuals, but none with experience with the pressing problem of mitigating and remediating persistent organic contaminants in bedrock aquifers. This gap forced innovation and collaboration within multi-disciplinary teams, across the professional practice and research sectors. Using chlorinated solvents as subsurface tracers at contaminated sites, I have benefitted from this industry- research collaboration throughout my research career. I have been motivated to find fundamental insights that are readily transferable to practice, much like the work of Meinzer. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the many graduate students and post-doctoral research fellows I have supervised over the past decades. It is their hard work and new ideas that keep things fresh and at the leading edge; and Sarah, who frequently reminds me that I enjoy what I do and to focus on what matters most. Thank you all.