Kristina Keating

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Harold Mooney Award [2023]

Kristina Keating
Kristina Keating headshot.png
Latest company Rutgers University

I am writing this letter to nominate Dr. Kristina Keating (Kristina) for the 2023 SEG Harold Mooney Award, which is “presented to an individual in recognition of long-term (greater than or equal to 10 years), tireless, and enthusiastic support of the near-surface geophysics community through education, outreach efforts, professional service, or development of opportunities with other professional disciplines that employ geophysics”. I find no person more deserving of this award than Kristina Keating who embodies the spirit of this award. I first met Kristina when she was a graduate student at Stanford University, and I have followed her career from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor at Rutgers-Newark. I meet Kristina frequently at the American Geophysical Union, Society of Exploration Geophysicists, and other near-surface geophysics meetings. I have followed her career and have been very impressed with her growth and accomplishments. I highlight below two reasons why she is deserving of the Harold Mooney Award.

Strong Technical Contributions to Near Surface Geophysics

Dr. Kristina Keating, receiving the Harold Mooney Award from SEG President-elect, Arthur Cheng at the SEG Near-Surface Geophysics Technical Section reception at IMAGE 2023.

Kristina is a Teacher-Scholar. Her most significant research contributions are in the application of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) technique to elucidating petrophysical relationships and in understanding biogeochemical processes in different environments including the cryosphere (very relevant for climate change!). Although NMR techniques have been around for some time (especially in the oil industry), Dr. Keating’s work has been at the forefront of expanding the application of NMR techniques to hydrogeological and environmental problems. In this regard, she has been instrumental in the development of the theoretical frameworks for the NMR response, supported and validated by laboratory experiments. She has developed and refined our fundamental understanding of the parameters that affect the NMR measurement. For example, she has developed a robust model to predict hydraulic conductivity by integrating NMR measurements with complex electrical conductivity measurements. For many decades now, there has been a need to predict groundwater flow parameters from geophysical measurements. This is a difficult task to accomplish due to the nonuniqueness of many geophysical measurements. Thus, her ability to accomplish this is a major milestone in the hydrological community. Using NMR techniques, Kristina has also been able to demonstrate that NMR relaxation time distributions can be used to quantify pore-size distributions as well as estimate mobile and immobile porosity. More interestingly, her work has demonstrated that for unconsolidated sediments, traditional models which link NMR relaxation time to pore size, deteriorate for materials with high iron content. She went a step further to develop new models for pore size estimation under high iron content conditions. The above contributions take us a step closer in our ability to use geophysical measurements to assess groundwater and contaminant transport in the subsurface.

Remarkable Commitments to Geophysics Education and Outreach to Enhance Diversity in the Geosciences

The mark of an excellent scientist/educator is one who gives back to the scientific community through service and most importantly to educating the next generation of geoscientists. Geosciences is critical or solving the 21st century societal needs and the future of geoscience workforce should be just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive. Yet our profession remains the least diverse of all STEM fields. To change this, we as geoscientists must take the excitement of our brand to underrepresented minority (URM) communities and show them that geosciences is relevant to solving societal problems of importance to them. It is here that Kristina really shines and is most deserving of this award. She has found a passion for developing a diverse talent pipeline for URMs into the geosciences. She has done so through providing unique field-based research and learning opportunities in geophysics for underrepresented minority (URM) students through several funded projects.

The first is her NSF-funded GEOPATHS project that provides hands-on field-based learning experience to introduce first- and second-year students, primarily from URM communities to near surface geophysics. Through this project, she engages students from 2- and 4-year colleges in the northeastern United States and the program is geared towards students who have not yet chosen a major to engage them and recruit them into geoscience degrees. This intensive field experience recently relabeled "Geophysics of the Near-Surface: an Outdoor Motivational Experience for Students (GNOMES)" provides opportunities for undergraduate students from minority serving institutions. As stated by Dr. Jorden Hayes of Dickinson College, “Under Kristina’s leadership, the GNOMES program has had countless positive impacts in the lives of participants, mentors, and leaders”.

In a second project, Kristina provides URM students with hands-on international field research experience in Peru. Students use geophysical techniques integrated with indigenous knowledge for improving understanding of water availability linked to community resilience in the Peruvian Andes. In a third project, Kristina is a Co-PI on a new transformative NSF grant “The Newark Geoscience Ecosystem (NewGeo)”. This project is aimed at developing a geoscience graduate workforce equipped to tackle urban environmental challenges (including climate stresses and injustices) through collaborations with local governments, industry and education sectors. Students teach and mentor K-16 students and collaborate with non-profits and community-based organizations.

Through these varied programs, Kristina has engaged many undergraduate students in research, introducing them to different geophysical methods through the acquisition and interpretation of field data. The program has benefitted a broad community of URM and first-generation students and is truly making some great strides towards diversifying the geoscience workforce. As stated by Dr. Gregory Mount, Assistant Chief Resilience Officer of Broward County, Florida “I have watched Dr. Keating have a direct positive impact on not only the academic trajectory but also the personal aspect of numerous GNOMES participants and students’ lives. Dr. Keating shares her experiences and expertise in a manner that builds confidence and determination in those around her, and that also encourages the students to do the same outreach, drawing from their experiences to encourage others.”

Finally, her service to the scientific community includes Guest Editor, Special section on Hydrogeophysics, GEOPHYSICS, Chair, Hydrogeophysics Technical Committee, Hydrology Section, American Geophysical Union (AGU), Associate Editor for Geophysics, Vice Chair of the Near Surface Technical Section of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Scientific Organizing Committee Member of the 6th International Workshop on Magnetic Resonance in the Subsurface, Hydrogeophysics Technical Committee Member (Hydrology Section) of the American Geophysical Union and convener of several sessions at AGU, Symposium on the Application of Geophysics to Environmental and Engineering Problems, Society for Exploration Geophysicists Annual Meeting and Goldschmidt. I should comment that Kristina has maintained a very active service record at the national and international arena and is currently regarded as a very important member and leader within the hydrogeophysics community. Kristina’s contributions to our community have not gone unnoticed. She was recognized as an Outstanding Reviewer Geophysical Journal International and received the 2018 Outstanding Educator Award from SEG.

In closing, one student commented, “the most valuable thing I’ve learned from this experience is that someone like me with my background could have a career in geophysics”. Kristina is deserving of the Harold Mooney Award because of her tireless and sustained engagement and service to the

geophysics community. Her commitment to education and outreach and in training the next generation of geoscientists, particularly enhancing diversity in the geosciences and developing a diverse talent pipeline in STEM is laudable.

SEG Outstanding Educator Award 2018 [1]

Kristina Keating of Rutgers University has developed novel teaching methods, created new courses, volunteers time to hold a weekly seminar to help foreign graduate students improve their writing skills, and promotes women in STEM fields. She has implemented group study and student interaction — techniques that require considerable effort beyond standard methods and are rarely applied in large classes like those she teaches (more than 200 students).

Biography Citation for the 2018 SEG Outstanding Educator Award

By Lee Slater

Kristina Keating's contributions to educating the next generation of geophysicists are remarkable given her relatively early-stage career. The road to tenure at research institutions is increasingly tough — the assistant professor must build an externally funded research program and publish numerous papers. Many professors necessarily relax their teaching efforts to the minimum needed to avoid raising eyebrows among peers. Creative teaching strategies have increasingly been concentrated in liberal arts colleges where teaching is rewarded. Kristina breaks boundaries by coupling an internationally recognized research program with a dedication to teaching that is equal to any efforts found in a liberal arts institution. This coupling of research and education at Rutgers University at Newark (RUN) has provided unique experiences for a diverse student population.

U.S. News and World Report has ranked RUN as the most diverse national university in the United States for the last 20 years in a row. RUN serves a high percentage of first-generation students — many lack critical skillsets and have low self expectations. Undergraduates commonly lack the strong quantitative skillsets that we desire of the young geophysicist. The majority have poor writing skills, in part because more than 60% of the students use English as a second language. Whereas some might complain about the “quality” of such students, Kristina seizes every opportunity to unleash their potential. She codeveloped a mandatory course in quantitative geosciences, teaching undergraduates important programming skills. She also developed a new graduate course providing formal training in inverse methods. Kristina was similarly undeterred by the poor writing skills of many students. She volunteered her time to run lunchtime writing seminars with small student groups. She also selflessly dedicated time to the professional development of graduate students. Kristina has coorganized an annual graduate student retreat in order to improve presentation skills and to help students navigate the peer-review process.

Kristina has also provided unique field-based research and learning opportunities for students. She has supervised many undergraduate students in research, introducing them to nuclear magnetic resonance, complex resistivity, and magnetic susceptibility. Her devoted mentorship has netted impressive results. For example, one failing minority undergraduate student with untapped potential benefitted in a life-changing way from Kristina's mentorship. This student is now pursuing a doctorate in geophysics at an internationally recognized research university. Kristina took one of her female undergraduate students on a field campaign to investigate permafrost dynamics in the Norwegian Arctic. This not only benefitted the individual student, it also inspired other RUN undergraduates to engage in geophysics research.

Kristina has been an outstanding mentor of doctoral students in near-surface geophysics. She values informal student-faculty relationships that promote student success. She has provided every opportunity for her doctoral students to develop professional skills by attending conferences and workshops. She has enthusiastically participated in a yearly student-led hydrogeophysics workshop. Kristina has used this opportunity to train her students in geophysics, even turning up with her one-year-old (at the time) son in tow.

Kristina's impact on improving geophysics education is now expanding well beyond the confines of RUN. This year, she is leading a new National Science Foundation-funded GEOPATHS project that aims to improve geoscience education via novel, field/research-based learning activities. This project provides opportunities for undergraduate students in geophysics to serve as student mentors to a broad spectrum of minority students from diverse backgrounds who have not yet decided on their course of study. She is leading this project with both passion and vision. Kristina undoubtedly deserves the Outstanding Educator Award for her enthusiastic commitment to coupling a rigorous geophysics education with promoting diversity and women in the geosciences at a minority-serving institution.


  1. The Leading Edge Volume 37, Issue 11