Jean M. Bahr

University of Wisconsin – Madison

2017 Ambassador Award Winner

Jean M. Bahr, Robert A. Duce, and Richard C. J. Somerville were awarded the 2017 Ambassador Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. The award is in recognition for “outstanding contributions to one or more of the following areas: societal impact, service to the Earth and space community, scientific leadership, and promotion of talent/career pool.”


Professor Jean M. Bahr is a recognized leader in the hydrogeological community for her research, dedicated service to the nation, inspirational leadership in -high-​-profile advisory roles, and mentorship of many young students and especially women. As chair of the first National Research Council Everglades committee in -2001–​-2004, she led an effort that evaluated the scientific activities of the existing restoration plan and made recommendations for a research program to support restoration efforts. During her term as president of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in 2009–2010, the society finalized a number of position statements, including ones on climate change and on diversity in the geoscience community. In 2003, she was selected as the GSA -Birdsall–Dreiss Distinguished Lecturer and delivered lectures at 64 universities and public venues.

In recognition of her high regard and outstanding leadership ability, Jean was elected in 2017 president of the American Geological Institute, a nonprofit federation of 45 geoscientific and professional associations (including AGU and GSA). In 2017, she was also appointed by President Barack Obama as chair of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, an independent federal agency charged with reviewing the U.S. Department of Energy’s programs to manage the disposal of spent fuel and -high-​-level radioactive waste. Previously, Jean served on the National Research Council’s Board on Radioactive Waste Management (1992–1997) and was part of the panel that made recommendations to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the highly influential repository standard for Yucca Mountain. Jean has served AGU in many roles, including as editor of Water Resources Research.

Jean’s mentorship of young colleagues is impressive. She has been major adviser to 44 graduate students—57% of whom are women—who are now serving as university professors and scientists working at national laboratories, consulting firms, environmental agencies, and advocacy groups. She served as faculty codirector of the University of -Wisconsin–​-Madison innovative undergraduate Women in Science and Engineering Residential Learning Community from 2003 to 2005. She helped coordinate activities for the University of -Wisconsin–​-Madison’s -Pre–​-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) Program, which seeks to encourage minority high school students by providing opportunities for learning and involvement at the university. In recognition of the above efforts, Jean received the 2012 Association for Women Geoscientists Outstanding Educator Award.

In summary, Professor Jean Bahr is one of those rare individuals in science who not only has inspired students and colleagues with -top-​-tier science and mentoring but also has worked tirelessly and unconditionally on behalf of Earth sciences, her fellow citizens, and the nation.

—Mary Lou Zoback, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.; and Efi -Foufoula-​-Georgiou, University of California, Irvine


I’m honored to have been nominated for this award by Mary Lou Zoback, Efi -Foufoula-​-Georgiou, and Sue Brantley and to have had my nomination supported by a number of other colleagues who, like the nominators, have exemplary records of scientific contributions as well professional service. I love the idea of being considered an “ambassador” for the Earth sciences. As I look back on my career, many of the activities that have brought me the most personal satisfaction (as well as frustration) were those that involved representing the geosciences in general, and hydrogeology in particular, in questions related to public policy. I have enjoyed sharing my passion for our science, as well as my conviction of its importance to society, with audiences ranging from students in introductory to -graduate-​-level courses at the University of -Wisconsin–​-Madison, to local civic groups, to the institutions I visited as a GSA distinguished lecturer, and to governmental -decision makers. I have been fortunate to have had several international ambassador opportunities, including 2 years of sharing my (then meager) knowledge of hydrogeology with a technical team in Mali, West Africa, shortly after college and, more recently, representing the American Geosciences Institute and some of its member societies while presenting an invited short course in Bucaramanga, Colombia, last January.

My father, an electrical engineer, encouraged my early interest in math and science. My mother, who studied economics with one of those who popularized the term “spaceship Earth” in the 1960s, was a consistent, active model of her dedication to goodwill among people of many cultures and to creating a more just, healthy, and peaceful society. Together, they inspired me to find a career that would challenge me intellectually but that also had the potential to make a difference. During the first Earth Day, I saw a path that would easily combine these two. I entered college a few years later with the goal of becoming some type of environmental scientist, finding my way to a major in geology and geophysics courtesy of faculty who highlighted the fact that our planet is, after all, our environment. My graduate mentors from Stanford, Environment Canada, and the U.S. Geological Survey provided me with outstanding hydrologic training as well as tangible examples of how our science can be used to address environmental and societal problems. I have done my best to offer similar training and good examples to my advisees.

—Jean M. Bahr, University of -Wisconsin–​-Madison