May 2008 President's Letter

May 2008 President's Letter
2008 International Year of Planet Earth:
Expanding Public Awareness of Geology and Geophysics

by Linda Sternbach
This year is anything but ordinary! For one, it’s the Year of Planet Earth! For another, we’ve got a big event coming right here in Houston: HGS and GCAGS volunteers are busy with program planning for a joint meeting between Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies (GCAGS), Geological Society of America (GSA) and the Tri-Societies (Agronomy, Crop Science and Soil Science). This historic mega-convention will take place October 5-9 in downtown Houston. Attendance could top 10,000 geoscientists! HGS is the host society for the GCAGS segment of the meeting. Former HGS President Dave Rensink is General Chairman of the convention, and HGS past Treasurer Ken Nemeth is the current President of GCAGS. Registration information is on the website
I thought the convention was big, but the scope of the International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE) is worldwide, involving the efforts of geoscientists around the globe. The IYPE (website: is actually a multiyear program, 2007-2009, founded by the earth science division of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) with support from many familiar geosocieties: AAPG, SEG, GSA, SEPM, AIPG and AGI. The Houston Geological Society is participating in this public outreach through the efforts of HGS member Ralph Baird, president and CEO of Baird Petrophysical (Figure 1). As a long-time supporter of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) projects, he has volunteered to chair the Development Committee for the IYPE. Ralph explains, "This is the 50th anniversary of the highly successful, Earth science-focused, IGY programs. When IGY started, Sputnik was launched; NASA was started the following year; it was the beginning of DARPA, the predecessor of today’s Internet; the Van Allen radiation belts were discovered. International Geophysical Year was inspirational as an international collaboration by peaceful, dedicated geoscientists." The mission of "Year of Planet Earth" is to move forward on the original vision.

Figure 1. Ralph Baird, geophysicist and president of Baird Petrophysical, is chair-man of the International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE) Development Committee. Baird, an HGS member, is leading an effort to involve local Houston G&G leaders in IYPE public education programs.

In March, Ralph organized a meeting of local geoscience leaders, at which we got to hear about plans for the IYPE from Dr. Ed de Mulder, its executive director who resides in Trondheim, Norway (Figure 2). The IYPE aims to promote and expand the knowledge accumulated by the world’s 400,000 Earth scientists. Many current programs are focused on studying groundwater, geohazards, health, climate and energy resources. One interesting program is called OneGeology, in which scientists are trying to create a world map at a 1:1 million scale. See their effort at

Figure 2. Dr. Ed de Mulder, Executive Director of IYPE, Norway, was a featured speaker at the IYPE planning session. Linda Sternbach, HGS President, attended this March meeting along with other G&G leaders, including GSA/GCAGS 2008 General Chairman Dave Rensink.

The meeting was attended by several well-known AAPG leaders, including Larry Woodfork and Marlan Downey. Woodfork (Figure 3), a retired geologist from West Virginia, is chairman of the IYPE non-profit corporation. GSH, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and other societies also sent representatives. Linda Wuest, executive director of World Affairs Council of Houston (WACH), explained this is also the year of its "Global Energy Initiative," an outreach program designed to increase energy awareness among Houston’s college, business, law and high school students. HGS member Steve Tobias recommended WACH programs and website at for geoscientists who want to be informed about energy issues and policy.

Figure 3. Larry Woodfork is chairman of the IYPE nonprofit corporation. AAPG Past-President Marlon Downey also attended the Houston IYPE meeting in March.

Want to know what is good about this? Why is this important to HGS members? Dave Rensink summarized it by saying, "Due to both ‘Year of Planet Earth’ initiatives and hosting the combined GSA/GCAGS convention in Houston, this is the first time so many earth scientists are getting a chance to meet together to plan programs. This is a tremendous opportunity to communicate both with the public and with diverse geoscientists when they meet in Houston in October 5-9."
Ralph Baird was on the right track when he said, "It is important to involve video in outreach to the public." He is working with Dan Molina (ex-NBC anchor, now a consultant) on video and voice commentary clips that will describe IYPE programs to students, academic scientists and politicians. One of my concerns is that energy and environmental geoscientists don’t often communicate outside of the limited reach of geosocieties. The public, especially young people, get their news from video, Internet clips and YouTube. To better educate the public on energy resources, the petroleum business, climate change and environmental geology issues, geoscientists need to be more aggressive in putting facts and discussion into appealing, readily accessible visual media. I think the IYPE organizers will make great progress in communicating with and educating the public.
As the year progresses, IYPE programs will become active. I am proud that HGS, AAPG and GCAGS are part of IYPE, and I invite our members to get involved. Contact Ralph Baird ( to see how you can support the many IYPE initiatives reaching out to the public.

Linda Sternbach
Thursday, May 1, 2008
From the President