Geosciences Congressional Visits Day 2017

by Lindsay Davis, GSA Science Policy Fellow

Washington D.C. – My heels echoed on the stunning white marble floor as I walked into the Senate office building to meet my group for Geosciences Congressional Visits Day (Geo-CVD). I knew the other four members of my team, as all 39 Geo-CVD participants attended a workshop the day before the official event in preparation for our meetings on Capitol Hill. Our team consisted of: Fransiska Dannemann, Sylvia Nicovich and Nikki Seymour, Ph.D. students; Jack Hess, President of the Geological Society of America Foundation; and me. Both the workshop and the actual event were organized as a joint effort by several organizations, including the Geological Society of America, the American Geosciences Institute, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the National Ground Water Association, the Soil Science Society of America and the Seismological Society of America. We were Team Colorado-New Mexico-Montana, comprised of constituents from each of the three states, each with unique experiences to share and an overarching message for Congress: to support geoscience research and funding.

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Geo-CVD participants pose in front of the Capitol building. From left to right: Fransiska Dannemann, Lindsay Davis, Sylvia Nicovich, Nikki Seymour – Photo credit: Jack Hess, courtesy of Nikki Seymour

Our first stop was a coffee with the delegation from Montana, where Sylvia is a constituent. Sylvia is a Ph.D. student at Montana State University and studies sedimentary transport processes and post-depositional surface development of Quaternary alluvial fans in southern Colorado. Upon arriving, she informed us that she had recently exchanged her Chaco’s sandals for a pair of new red heels to complement her professional attire, a detail I love as a Boulder native. As we took photographs with the delegation and had the opportunity to mingle, she made a concerted effort to identify the different personalities in the room. Her determination to convince the delegation about the importance of science was contagious. As our team enjoyed a cup of coffee and worked on our plan of attack for the day, Sylvia slipped away, casually informing me that she was going to go talk to one of the members about the importance of the geosciences. She would later reiterate our message while leading a meeting with a staffer from the office of Senator Steve Daines of Montana. Her respectful, easygoing approach and her positive attitude about our ability to inspire change was an ideal way to begin the day.

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Team MT/NM/CO with Montana delegates (far left: Senator Jon Tester; far right: Representative Greg Gianforte) – Courtesy of Sylvia Nicovich

Fransiska was up next. She is a seismologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a Ph.D. student studying geophysics at Southern Methodist University. As she puts it, she “does a lot of math.” Working on defense projects that serve as analogies for missile detonations, and assisting with research aimed at protecting New Mexican residents from hexavalent chromium groundwater contamination in her spare time, she eloquently explained her research and was able to appeal to the staff of the three members from New Mexico on various legislative issues such as national defense and public health. Their fascination with her work combined with the pertinence of water issues for the constituents of New Mexico led to some of the most productive and engaged dialogue of the day.

As we headed for the office of Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, Nikki geared up to deliver her pitch. She led the meeting with a staffer from Senator Gardner’s office, explaining how her Ph.D. work in structural geology at Colorado State University studying ancient Chilean faults can help us to better understand modern fault systems. In practice, that meant going from “My dissertation focuses on the rheology of the Atacama Fault System of northern Chile, which will help further our understanding of crustal-scale strike-slip faults and slip partitioning during oblique subduction” to “I study the ancient Atacama Fault system in Chile, which allows me to look at the deeper levels of faults and how they behave. Understanding ancient fault behavior can help us more accurately determine the seismic hazard of modern faults and potential impacts on coastal communities such as those in Oregon and Washington.” Nikki’s expertise complemented the Senator’s demonstrated interests; he was a co-sponsor of the Natural Hazards Earthquake Reduction Program Act and sponsor of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, for which we all expressed our appreciation. Geologic hazards are my passion as well, and I enjoyed weighing in to talk about how rural areas are impacted by different types of hazards, from rapid-onset hazards such as landslides to long-lasting, slow-onset hazards such as drought. Increased funding to learn more about hazards such as drought and flooding would directly benefit the constituents of areas such as Senator’s small hometown of Yuma, Colorado, where the economy is largely dependent on agriculture. Senator Gardner stopped by our meeting for a brief moment to say an enthusiastic “hello,” and to thank us for being there.

The meeting with Colorado Representative Jared Polis, who is an avid geosciences supporter and the Chair of the Earth and Space Science Caucus, was directed by Jack. Jack describes himself as a “hydrogeologist in another life,” and is a seasoned geology and Geo-CVD veteran. Jack’s professionalism and experience as long-time leader in the geosciences added substance and clout to every meeting we attended throughout the day, including the meeting with Representative Polis. We were fortunate to have him with us.

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GSA Science Policy Fellow Lindsay Davis and GSA Foundation President Jack Hess – Courtesy of Lindsay Davis

As we walked across the grassy area in front of the Capitol building between the House and the Senate sides of the Hill, we paused for a few photos and I had time to reflect on the day. The meetings were all positive and encouraging. I will be the first to admit that I was concerned about what the political and emotional climate would be like in Washington, DC at this particular moment. Geo-CVD took place during my first full week as GSA’s Science Policy Fellow, and I am both relieved and inspired by the reception we received on the Hill during the event. Difficult decisions are being made regarding the funding of different programs and agencies, but I felt a distinct sense that the members of Congress and their staff genuinely want what is best for our country. We may disagree on the pertinent issues, or how to solve the problems facing our nation, but the underlying goal is the same. So with that in mind, I hope that we as a geoscience community continue to come together both now and in future years to encourage Congress to prioritize the geosciences, both in legislation and funding.

Thank you to all of the participants of Geo-CVD. Spending the day advocating for science with all of you was a privilege. For those of you who were not able to participate this year, I hope you take advantage of this amazing opportunity in the future; it is an enlightening and empowering experience.

 

 

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