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A map for sustainable action through geophysics

31 May 2023

By Solangel Minotta

The Geophysical Sustainability Wheel shows how each SDG can be supported and advanced through geophysics. (Source: Society of Exploration Geophysicists)

The Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) is helping its members see sustainable opportunities through the Geophysical Sustainability Atlas and other initiatives

Founded in 1930, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG)opens in new tab/window is an international society with over 11,000 members dedicated to advancing the science of exploration geophysics. The society is also deeply concerned about education and humanitarian causes, so SEG is engaged in efforts to promote sustainability and supports its members in tackling the challenge of reaching net-zero emissions.

One of the society’s most recent achievements in this area has been the development of The Geophysical Sustainability Atlasopens in new tab/window, which maps geophysics to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Here, we talk with SEG Past President Anna Shaughnessyopens in new tab/window about this project and other ways SEG is helping its members address the impacts of climate change.

Anna Shaughnessy

Anna Shaughnessy

Societies & Sustainability

This article is part of our ongoing series of interviews with engineering society leaders about their perspectives on how engineers are forging a critical path forward toward achieving net zero.

What motivated SEG to take on this project to map the value of geophysics to each of the SDGs?

One of our members, Maria Angela Capelloopens in new tab/window, came up with the idea. She realized that highlighting the applicability of geophysics in pursuit of the SDGs would help all geophysicists better understand the impact geophysics can have in addressing very important challenges of humanity. She saw the opportunity to use this mapping as a communication platform within our geophysics community, as well as with students in geoscience, teachers, policymakers, and society in general.

Maria Angela enlisted two coauthors, Emer Caslin and myself, and we worked on the article and approached SEG for publication. SEG grasped this would mean a lot as a value proposition and offered to include this article in The Leading Edge journalopens in new tab/window, which is distributed to all SEG members. Most importantly, SEG published it as an open-access document, which meant it could be accessed by anyone globally without cost and distributed or reproduced with attribution.

Since its publication in January 2021, have any unexpected opportunities opened up?

Yes! It was downloaded profusely, and the posts about it went viral online, which brought many wonderful surprises.

Maria Angela was invited to deliver many online and in-person presentations explaining how the Geophysical Sustainability Atlas was created and how geophysics can play an important role in creating a sustainable world. She is an engaging speaker, and her presentations generated many discussions and inspired early-career and seasoned professionals with a mind-shifting perspective.

Has it proven to be a useful educational tool?

Students have been particularly enthusiastic in embracing the article. We have seen the Geophysical Sustainability Atlas Wheel used as an instructional tool in many schools, such as the Boone Pickens School of Geology at Oklahoma State University in the United States, Nile University in Nigeria, and Liverpool University in the UK, to name a few.

Many students used the Atlas to exemplify how to extend their work to leverage geoscience for a sustainable world. The SEG EVOLVEopens in new tab/window program, in which students engage in multidisciplinary subsurface projects using real-world data, adopted the Atlas, using it in the formation of new cohorts of geophysicists globally. The article has been translated to Serbian and Swahili, and a Spanish translation is due out soon, likely February.

Geophysical Sustainability Atlas Wheel

The SEG's Geophysical Sustainability Wheel shows how each SDG can be supported and advanced through geophysics. Download a PDFopens in new tab/window.

What other impacts has the Atlas had in the geoscience world?

Other geoscientists who felt motivated by this Geophysics Sustainability Atlas invited Maria Angela to expand this work to include all geosciences. She initiated this new initiative along with 11 coauthors from all over the world, experts in a variety of disciplines within the geosciences. The initiative has been endorsed by UNESCO and soon will be co-published by UNESCO and the American Geophysical Union under the title “Geoscience in Action: An Atlas for Advancing Sustainability.”

Clearly the Atlas is helping to address education and awareness, but what are some of the other ongoing challenges you see when it comes to addressing sustainability issues? What might need to happen to clear these obstacles?

Sustainability in geophysics and in all the industrial sectors still needs to grow and be embraced by our practitioners. We are immersed in the technicalities of our science; many times we are not aware of how our work impacts people, planet, and prosperity challenges around us. This new perspective in life and work needs to be ingrained in geophysics and in geoscience. We would like to see more offerings of the relationship between geoscience and sustainability in our academic institutions.

SEG believes that it is important to raise the awareness in society at large, and especially among our key stakeholders, of the importance of geosciences for decision-making processes and other important arenas such as legislation, education, preparedness of society for geohazards, natural resources management, and other current and future challenges.

How is SEG helping to prepare its members to navigate the challenges of embracing the energy transition toward achieving net-zero emissions? 

In a number of ways. We have initiated task forces on topics such as carbon solutions, geothermal energy, and near-surface geophysics. Topics at our recent annual IMAGE conferenceopens in new tab/window included hydrogeophysics, smart cities and environmental geophysics.

SEG has established a Sustainability Committeeopens in new tab/window to further educate us on what we can and must do to support the Paris Agreement.

In addition, SEG has issued a statement on climate changeopens in new tab/window that embodies our perspective on net zero and the pivotal importance that our profession has in advancing sustainability goals in our lives and work.

SEG is comprised of professionals in a variety of sectors. How are you helping them bring their expertise to sustainability efforts?

Many geophysicists have traditionally been employed by the oil and gas industry, and more are migrating into other sectors and applications. SEG offers our members a space to exchange knowledge and experience in their respective areas. For oil and gas, this means that we focus on recent technological advances that enable more efficiency in the energy sector related to oil and gas in support of sustainability.

Other experts, more related to water management, near surface, and other applications of geophysics, also advance their science and expertise within SEG, contributing to a broader view of “Affordable and clean energy” (SDG7), “Good health and well-being” (SDG3), “Quality Education” (SDG4), “Industry innovation and Infrastructure” (SDG9), and “Climate Action” (SDG13).

Anna Shaughnessy

Anna Shaughnessyopens in new tab/window is Past President of the Society of Exploration Geophysicsts (SEG). After 30 years in the energy industry, she transitioned to the academic sector, becoming Executive Director of MIT’s Earth Resources Laboratory (ERL). She left ERL in 2018 and is currently a consultant, focusing on promoting the role of geoscience in sustainable development. Anna was president of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) from 2021 to 2022. Prior to that, she was Vice Chair of the SEG Foundation Board and served on many additional SEG committees. She is also a member of AGU, AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists), and EAGE (European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers).

Anna’s extensive, global, work experience has given her a great appreciation for the role of applied geoscience in industry, academia, and society worldwide.


Solangel Minotta


Solangel Minotta

Director of Strategic Partnerships & Publisher Relations


Read more about Solangel Minotta