2016 Public Service Award

Presented to Rex C. Buchanan

Citation by Lisa A. Rossbacher

In his career, Rex Buchanan has communicated widely about geology and science. His career began, nearly 40 years ago, explaining landscapes and history to the general public. His co-authored book Roadside Kansas is a classic for any traveller who wants to understand what they are seeing in that state. Over time, Rex has expanded his influence to have a major impact on public policy by advising governors, state and federal legislators, civic organizations, and the public about topics that include water quality and induced seismicity. He consistently looks for long-term solutions, rather than short-term fixes.

Rex served on the publications advisory board for the American Geological Institute’s magazine Geotimes (now EARTH) in the mid-1980s. In that role, he emphasized the importance of communicating science to both specialists and the general public, and his commitment has only increased over time.

As interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey, Rex has communicated with both elected officials and the general public about complex and politically charged issues. Recently, these have focused on the topic of induced seismicity. He has also contributed to a broader understanding of history, landscapes, and geological processes through multiple media—books, articles, speeches, panel discussions, interviews, book reviews, and public radio commentary. He does this with clarity, accuracy, timeliness, and humor. He weaves ideas together in creative and compelling ways—connecting baseball and earthquakes, people and place, and beer with just about everything. He speaks truth to power, with integrity, in the service of both science and society.

Rex has had an extraordinary impact on public understanding of geology. He has taught many people about induced seismicity, the geology of the Midwest, the power of connecting disparate ideas, and what great writing can be. He is the most deserving person I know to receive GSA’s Public Service Award.

2016 Public Service Award — Response by Rex C. Buchanan

I am honored to receive GSA’s public service award. I want to thank Greg Ludvigson and all the others who contributed to my nomination. My thanks especially to Lisa Rossbacher for her graceful and thoughtful citation.

I owe much to the geosciences. I started life as a farm kid in the middle of Kansas. The geosciences provided me with a welcoming scientific home, one that gave me the chance to spend lots of time outdoors. I’ve always said that the worst day in the field is better than the best day in the office. In my career, I’ve done everything from planting geophones to rafting down the Grand Canyon to measuring irrigation wells on the High Plains of western Kansas. I’ve been on countless field trips, collected fossils from the Kansas chalk beds, gone deep into underground mines, and encountered a grizzly on a hiking trail in Glacier National Park. Early one morning I was exchanging e-mail with my brother, who teaches high school. “I’m headed to the field this morning,” I wrote him. He wrote back, “When you say you’re going to the field, what exactly does that mean?” It was a gorgeous day in April and I was going to the Kansas Flint Hills to take water samples from springs. I responded, “I’d tell you, but it’d just make you mad.” For me, the prospect of that trip to the field was about as good as it gets.

The geosciences have also let me work with gifted and talented people. I owe much to all of the people who took me into the field, selflessly sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge. They gave me the greatest possible gift: their time. I learned from all of them, especially those who I’ve worked with on books, articles, and projects. They taught me much about the care that goes into collecting data, into careful publication, into the pleasures of collaboration. I want to thank the staff at the Kansas Geological Survey, both past and present. It’s been my honor to call you my colleagues. And I want to acknowledge my friends and colleagues in various professional organizations, including the American Geosciences Institute, the Association of American State Geologists, the Association of Earth Science Editors, and, of course, the Geological Society of America.

Finally, the geosciences gave me a seat at the table of public policy, allowing me to engage in issues from induced seismicity to groundwater depletion. I have a deep and abiding affection for the landscape and people of Kansas. At the same time, I know that some of the state’s most important challenges, from lessening streamflow to rural depopulation, are connected to natural-resource availability. The geosciences gave me the opportunity to talk about, and to contribute to, conversations about those issues at the highest levels of state government. From responding to natural gas explosions in central Kansas to giving legislative testimony about man-made earthquakes, it hasn’t always been fun. But providing information of direct relevance to the people of the state is its own reward.

Providing credible, reliable information, whether it’s to legislators or the local Kiwanis club, is central to our role in society. It is service that deserves our encouragement and our recognition. That’s why this award is so important and why I appreciate it so much. This award celebrates the role that we play in taking the geosciences into the public arena. I thank you for it.