DOINews: USGS Scientists Receive Presidential Awards for Research on Earthquakes, Ecosystems and Permafrost

Last edited 09/05/2019

USGS News Release

April 15, 2014

RESTON, Va. —The U.S. Geological Survey is celebrating the success of three distinguished researchers who are recipients today of the 2012 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. This award is the highest recognition granted by the United States government to scientists and engineers in the early stages of their research careers.

The 2012 PECASE recipients from USGS are ecologist Anna D. Chalfoun for her brilliant contributions toward an understanding of habitat and her tireless efforts in training students in conservation-based science; geophysicist Gavin P. Hayes for his critical contributions toward transforming the understanding of earthquake processes and incorporating these advances into real-time earthquake response activities, and for his educational and outreach efforts; and geophysicist Burke J. Minsley for his fundamental research on advancing airborne electromagnetic survey methodology and its use in studying permafrost, as well as his mentoring of students.

President Obama talking to the award winners at the White House

President Barack Obama talks with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

"The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead," President Obama said in a White House press release announcing the awardees. "We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America's global leadership for many years to come."

Each year, 10 federal departments and agencies join together to nominate outstanding scientists and engineers whose discoveries and advancements expand the horizons of science and technology, contribute to their agencies' missions, and benefit America's economy and the health and safety of the nation's people.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.

"The work of these creative and innovative young researchers is not only a huge asset to USGS – we couldn't be prouder of them – but also to society because their work greatly benefits people and our country's wild places," said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS.

Meet the Awardees

Dr. Anna D. Chalfoun

Presidential Citation: "For her brilliant contributions toward an understanding of habitat, the most critical element of species, landscape, and ecosystem management and for her tireless efforts to train students while imparting her enthusiasm for conservation-based science."


Dr. Anna Chalfoun. Photo by USGS.

Anna D. Chalfoun, assistant unit leader with the USGS' Wyoming Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit and assistant professor at the University of Wyoming, is known for her work addressing wildlife habitat issues and imparting that knowledge and enthusiasm to train students. Chalfoun integrates multi-scale research approaches, from small patches to the landscape, across taxa within ecosystems to understand the impacts of land change, and across broad scientific disciplinary areas.

"Anna is quickly becoming one of the experts on the ecology of the sage brush steppe and the various wildlife species that depend on this important habitat," said Matthew Kauffman, leader of the USGS Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and associate professor at the University of Wyoming. "She has also geared her research program to provide clear information to managers that seek to reduce the impact to wildlife species caused by human-caused changes to the landscape."

A unique mixture and synthesis of experiments and observational studies have made Chalfoun's contributions to science and conservation beneficial at the local, national and international levels. For example, a recent paper of hers in the prominent Journal of Animal Ecology was one of the most downloaded papers of that year.

Chalfoun's research with her graduate students has received significant local, national and international media attention. Her efforts to train graduate students in conservation-based science have been successful, with many of her students earning best student paper awards. Despite this very active research and he training of students, Chalfoun still finds time to serve and contribute to scientific societies.

Current research in her laboratory spans the disciplines of ecology, evolution, behavior and conservation biology, including research on climate change, energy development, and the mountain pine beetle epidemic. Chalfoun has a Ph.D. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana, Missoula.

Dr. Gavin P. Hayes

Presidential Citation: "For his critical contributions toward transforming our understanding of earthquake processes and incorporating these advances into the real-time earthquake response activities when major global earthquakes occur plus related education and outreach efforts in the U.S. and abroad."


Dr. Gavin P. Hayes. Photo by USGS.

USGS scientist Gavin P. Hayes is receiving a PECASE in recognition of his contributions to improving our knowledge of earthquake processes and integrating these developments into USGS operations for major earthquakes worldwide. After the massive Sumatra earthquake and resulting Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, it became clear that the existing geophysical models of major earthquakes at plate boundaries and seismologic analysis tools were inadequate to quickly and accurately define such events and estimate their impacts.

In his short tenure at the USGS, Hayes has developed new methodology to determine the seismologic context of major subduction earthquakes. He has also combined new and existing analysis tools into integrated real-time determinations of earthquake magnitudes, fault slip distributions, and potential for collateral effects such as tsunami and land failure.

Hayes also went a step further by implementing these tools into the real-time earthquake response activities of the USGS National Earthquake Information Center. Hayes developed new models of the earth structure in regions with major earthquakes, effectively combining those models with new methodologies to remotely and rapidly image the earthquake rupture. These advances provide key capabilities to the NEIC in fulfilling their mission of rapid and reliable analyses of global earthquakes, while also providing critical framework results for use by the earthquake science community in advancing the understanding of earthquake physics and earthquake vulnerability.

"Gavin is an outstanding scientist and dedicated public servant," said Jill McCarthy, director of the Geologic Hazards Science Center in Golden, Colo. "He has advanced our understanding of earthquake processes and applied that knowledge into the real-time response activities of the USGS. Gavin's new methodologies and insights enable us to better understand, prepare and respond to large, potentially damaging earthquakes."

Although still in the early stages of his career, Hayes has already had significant impact on very important problems in earthquake science. Hayes is unique in that he is both one of the leading, high-impact young research scientists in the global seismology community, while also developing and implementing critical mission-oriented capabilities for the NEIC and the global earthquake response community.

Hayes has a Ph.D. in Geosciences from the Pennsylvania State University.

Dr. Burke Minsley

Presidential Citation: "For his fundamental research on advancing airborne electromagnetic survey methodology and its application to describe the extent and dynamic state of permafrost during a time of changing climate and his mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students."


Dr. Burke Minsley. Photo by USGS.

As part of an interdisciplinary team of scientists developing applications of airborne electromagnetic methods for a variety of mission-oriented studies, Burke Minsley's work has significantly placed the USGS as a leader in scientific studies of permafrost terrains. Minsley uses remotely sensed airborne geophysical data to provide detailed new information about the earth's subsurface, where few details are available, but which is host to critical geological and environmental variables related to groundwater, mineral resources, infrastructure, and permafrost.

His work has involved the development of new computational tools for uncertainty quantification that redefine how geophysical information is communicated to geologists, hydrologists, and other stakeholders. For example, his research has resulted in significant advances in calibration of airborne electromagnetic surveys and application of earth imaging algorithms. These advances have resulted in significant contributions to USGS groundwater studies that use both geophysical and hydrologic modeling. His work exemplifies the team approach to integrated science studies, particularly in the challenging area of mapping permafrost. In addition to permafrost studies, Minsley's new processing and inversion algorithms have hydrological applications for investigations at the watershed scale to address emerging water resource management issues.

"Burke has made significant contributions in the challenging realm of geophysical and hydrologic modeling," said Trude Ridley, center director for the USGS Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center in Denver. "His integrated science approach, particularly in the application of airborne electromagnetic methods, has resulted in a better understanding of the shallow subsurface environment."

One of his 2012 permafrost publications was an Editor's Choice article in Science Magazine, with the editor noting that the research not only provides a baseline for future studies on permafrost, but also reveals "important details about potential connections between surface and groundwaters and the evolution of the permafrost over the past 1,000 years."

Minsley began his studies with a B.S. in Applied Physics at Purdue University, followed by a five-year stint on seismic exploration vessels that solidified his interests in geophysics before completing a Ph.D. in Geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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