2023 Geology and Health Division Meritorious Service Award

Presented to Jean Morrison

Jean Morrison

Jean Morrison
United States Geological Survey


Citation by Andre Wakefield

It is a pleasure to award the 2023 Meritorious Service Award of the Geology and Health Division to Jean Morrison, PhD. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the mission of the Geology and Health Scientific Division. Our Division seeks to advance the understanding of the origins and fates of naturally occurring materials and the geologic processes that affect health. Jean has contributed to our mission both by directly supporting the administrative activities of the Division and through her research as an environmental geochemist.

The Secretary/Treasurer of a GSA Division is responsible for maintaining communications with its members and tracking the financial health of the Division. Both of these tasks are time sinks and neither can be said to advance one’s career; this is why it’s always hard to find a volunteer for this position. Over the past few years, Jean has stepped up to serve multiple terms in this position. She has done an admirable job revitalizing the Division’s Newsletter and kept the Executive Board informed on important issues at a time when we have struggled to maintain a viable organization. For these efforts alone, she might deserve this award.

However, this award also recognizes the contributions her research has made to the field of Medical Geology. Jean is a Research Geologist in the Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center of the US Geological Survey. Her research focuses on low-temperature geochemistry at microscopic (mineral surfaces), watershed, and regional scales with the central theme of understanding metal mobility in the environment. Specific applications include natural weathering, fate, and transport from legacy mine sites, and as a possible geochemical exploration tool to identify mineral resources. All of these topics occur at the interface between geochemistry and human health.

Prior to getting her PhD, her early USGS project work included studying the composition and adsorptive properties of colloidal precipitates of aluminum and iron hydroxides that form in acid mine draining mixing zones in streams impacted by historic coal mining in Alabama. Jean received her PhD from the Colorado School of Mines, in 2010 and focused on understanding the weathering and transport of Chromium (Cr) and nickel (Ni) from ultramafic rocks in California and their mobility in alluvial valley soil and groundwater. Her research made significant contributions by showing that the distribution of elements in Sacramento Valley soils is geologically controlled by inputs from the adjacent mountain ranges, with some anthropogenic modifications and impacts.

Jean’s later research shifted to critical zone process research investigating geochemistry at the surface/water interface in the context of controls on groundwater salinity. She led a task to collect and characterize the mineralogy and chemistry of deep cores in glacial till in the Prairie Potholes region of North Dakota, an important wetland habitat area containing millions of glacially derived pothole lakes. The studies of the glacial till documented the weathering and subsequent oxidation of sulfide minerals, which was the source of high sulfate/salinity in the groundwater.

For the last few years, Jean’s research has primarily focused on the geochemical and trace element signatures of mineral deposits and persistent challenges in Legacy Mine Lands (LMLs). Collaborative research in Handcart Gulch Colorado was a proof-of-concept study using geochemical methods to locate

concealed mineral deposits. This research has expanded to more LML sites showing that spatially dense geochemical sampling can be a useful tool in constraining the location of concealed deposits and identifying where targeted remediation could improve water quality and ecosystem health.

Dr. Morrison’s work has had a high level of impact. The results of the Pariette Draw salinity, Se, and B study guided land management decisions and her work in Cr geochemistry has drawn considerable interest from stakeholders, colleagues, and other researchers as it advanced scientific understanding of the weathering of ultramafic rocks on the grain-scale and helped explain regionally-high Cr(VI) concentrations in groundwater. Dr. Morrison has been invited to give numerous talks to environmental project stakeholders, at academic institutions, GSA conferences and served as science advisor to Center and Program planning. These reflect her reputation as a geochemist and as a valuable team member in using geochemical research to answer important scientific questions that have societal relevance in Medical Geology.


Response by Jean Morrison

I am honored to receive the 2023 GSA Geology and Health Division’s Meritorious Service Award. My research, primarily focused on low temperature trace element geochemistry, intersects geochemistry, the environment, and human health. Studying microscale geochemical reactions at the surface-water interface in natural and perturbed systems fills scientific gaps that can be scaled to understand soil, water, and air quality trends reflected at regional-scales. Study results are essential to inform public policy decisions related to resource development and land reclamation in an era of increasing environmental and human health stressors.

In 2005, GSA members across academia, government, and the private sector initiated the formation the Geology and Health Division, recognizing the importance of building connections between earth science and human and public health disciplines. I joined the Geology and Health Division in 2009 and began my service by answering Division Chair Bob Finkelman’s impassioned plea for help with member communication. I served as Newsletter Editor from 2011-2021 and Secretary-Treasurer from 2017- 2021. I remain active in the Geology and Health Division as a member, technical session organizer, student poster judge, and serve on committees and as a resource during officer/board transitions. I have found my service to GSA a valuable part of my research career and I encourage early career geoscientists to engage in scientific divisions. I am optimistic that the Geology and Health Division will continue to grow among current and future generations of geoscientists, building essential collaborations with the human and public health communities to solve societal challenges.