Bredehoeft, John D. (earth scientist)

(1933- ) American Hydrogeologist

With the mounting pressure to find clean sources of groundwater as the population of the world increases, hydrogeology has emerged from the shadows of the Earth sciences to become perhaps its most important discipline. Indeed, protection of water resources is one of the most pressing needs of society today. One of the true pioneers in shepherding this emergence is John Brede-hoeft. He was among the first to apply quantitative methods to modeling the underground flow of water. He developed numerical models to predict the direction and speed of this flow as well as the transport of contaminants and wrote them into widely adopted computer programs. These models were not only applied to contaminated sites like the San Francisco International Airport, but also for economic analysis for optimal groundwater development in a modified version. His expertise in groundwater flow and environmental impact was also applied to the disposal of high-level nuclear waste. He developed his own plan for the burial of waste in crystalline rocks beneath a cover of sediment that contradicted accepted practices. In this role, Bredehoeft evaluated and advised on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico and the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada.

In more of a pure research role, Bredehoeft conducted several investigations into the hydrodynamics of fluid flow in the deep subsurface. These studies are regional in nature to explain large-scale movement. Among these investigations are a model of the Dakota Sandstone and associated aquifers (water-bearing rock units) and artesian (pressurized) systems in South Dakota and similar studies of the Denver Basin, Colorado, the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, the Uinta Basin of Utah, and the Illinois Basin. He also produced an analytical flow model for the Caspian Basin of Russia. Many of these studies provided new and innovative explanations for the patterns including the role of geological membranes and partitioning of aquifers with shale layers. He was even involved with the high-pressure injection of fluid into deep wells to produce earthquakes in Rangely, Colorado. He attempted to use the information gleaned in this project to help predict earthquakes in California using data from water wells near active faults.

John Bredehoeft was born on February 28, 1933, in Saint Louis, Missouri. He attended Princeton University, New Jersey, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in geological engineering with honors in 1955. He completed his graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, earning a master of science degree in geology in 1957 and a Ph.D. in geology with a minor in civil engineering in 1962. Between his graduate degrees, from 1957 to 1959, he worked as an exploration geologist for Humble Oil in Vernal, Utah. John Bredehoeft married in 1958; he and his wife, Nancy, have three children. During the later stages of his doctoral work, Bredehoeft also worked as a groundwater hydrologist for the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Reno in 1961-1962. He joined the U.S. Geological Survey in 1962 as a research geologist in Arlington, Virginia, and remained until his retirement in 1994. During that time, he held positions as deputy chief hydrogeologist for research (1970-1979), regional hydrogeologist in Menlo Park, California (1980-1984), and research geologist supergrade, also in Menlo Park (1984-1994), among others. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Illinois (1967-1968) and a consulting professor at Stanford University, California (1989-1991). In 1995, Bredehoeft established his own environmental consulting company, The Hydrodynamics Group, in La Honda, California, where he is still the principal today.

Productivity in John Bredehoeft’s career can be measured in a variety of ways, including governmental and industrial reports in addition to some 100 research papers in scientific literature. Many of these papers contain widely adopted methods to model groundwater flow and contaminant transport in addition to site specific studies. In recognition of his research contributions to hydrogeology, Bredehoeft has received several honors and awards. He was named to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. He received the Horton Award from the American Geophysical Union, the Penrose Medal, and the O. E. Meinzer Award from the Geological Society of America, the Meritorious Service Award and the Distinguished Service Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Boggess Award from the American Water Resources Association, the M. King Hubbert Award from the National Ground Water Association, and the Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Illinois, among others.

Bredehoeft performed extensive service to the profession and the public through his governmental position. He served on the board of directors for the National Ground Water Association, the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars, and on numerous committees for nuclear waste for the National Research Council. He also served on advisory committees for the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, UNESCO, American Geophysical Union, and the Geological Society of America, among others. Bredehoeft has also served as the editor for the journal Ground Water for many years.

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