James A. Clark

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James A. Clark
James A. Clark 2020 headshot.png


The SEG Craig J. Beasley Award for Social Contribution [1] [2]

by Andrei Swidinsky, Jeffrey Shragge, and Richard Krahenbuhl

James Clark is recognized for his sustained humanitarian geophysics work over more than 10 years. He has made significant contribution in at least two ways. First, he developed the plans for a low-cost electrical resistivity instrument that can be built easily and deployed in developing countries, and he makes low-cost software for processing and interpreting the data freely available. He published this work in 2011, and it has now been downloaded more than 12,000 times. Second, he has worked on the ground in Africa for many years training teams of locals on how to use the instruments and interpret the data to help find groundwater resources. He worked with Water Access Rwanda and Water4 as they established and trained Resistivity teams in seven countries (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Togo). He has shown that these local teams significantly increase the well-siting success rate over wells that are sited without geophysical information. He has also done humanitarian work in other African countries, Central America, and central Asia.

Biography Citation for the 2020 SEG Craig J. Beasley Award for Social Contribution

We are delighted to learn that James (Jim) Clark, professor emeritus at Wheaton College, has received the 2020 SEG Craig J. Beasley Award for Social Contribution. Jim is a humble individual who has made an enormous impact on the humanitarian geophysics community by promoting the idea of low-cost geophysical instruments for groundwater exploration in developing nations. His seminal paper (Clark and Page, 2011) describing the design and application of such geophysical tools is not published in a standard geophysical journal but rather in a little-known open-access water journal because Jim did not think it was “good enough” for a regular geophysics contribution. However, this paper is now incredibly well known and well read around the world (having been downloaded more than 12,000 times) and has inspired many other geoscientists (including our own group at the Colorado School of Mines) to pursue similar endeavors. Indeed, by following the ideas laid out in Jim’s work, one can design, construct, and carry out a groundwater geophysical survey for a tiny fraction of the cost of commercial work.

Jim has brought low-cost geophysics around the globe, with particular focus on Africa, where he has done groundwater work in several countries such as Chad, Tanzania, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. He has also been involved in projects in Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Kosovo, and Russia. The impact of his contribution in these countries is clear: when the local inhabitants are taught to build instruments and carry out low-cost geophysical surveys, the success rate for drilling potable water wells skyrockets. Without such easy access to geophysical technology, it would be difficult (if not impossible) for people to decide where new wells should be located.

Jim started his early scientific career with Sandia National Laboratories where he focused on early aspects of hydraulic fracturing techniques. As a postdoc at Cornell University and faculty member at Calvin College and Wheaton College, Jim worked on various aspects of glacial isostasy, Quaternary geology, sea level change, and Great Lakes history. It is particularly impressive that only later in his career, through the initial prompting of his wife and support from Wheaton College, did Jim discover what he truly loved: to help those in need find reliable sources of clean drinking water. To accomplish this goal, Jim had to completely redesign his research program, review the fundamentals of applied geophysics, team up with his friend Rick Page to learn instrument design and electronics, and make contact with a range of water groups in various developing nations.

We have known Jim and his work since 2015 when colleagues at the USGS brought his paper to our attention. (As further proof of his wide reach but humble attitude, Jim did not even know that they were aware of his work!) Our own newly created Humanitarian Geophysics program at Mines is inspired in part by ideas and lessons we have learned from Jim’s experiences. Indeed, during a recent visit to Golden, Colorado, he remarked to us that his goal had always been to spark the flame in others to follow his lead and that nothing would be more meaningful after his retirement than to see his groundwater work carried on — a sign of a truly deserving recipient of this award.


  1. Honors and Awards Ceremony Program, 2020 SEG Annual Meeting, 13 Oct 2020, Houston
  2. Clark, J. A., and R. Page, 2011, Inexpensive geophysical instruments supporting groundwater exploration in developing nations: Journal of Water Resource and Protection, 3, no. 10, 768–780, https://doi.org/10.4236/jwarp.2011.310087.