Skip to main content

Niel Plummer

Niel Plummer, since the award of his Ph.D. degree at Northwestern in 1972, has been a geochemical innovator and new-trail blazer par excellence. His doctoral dissertation and the several publication resulting from it and subsequent work has defined a new standard for studying in the laboratory mineral-water reactions. Plummer's study of the reaction rates and dissolution products of the ubiquitously present mineral calcite in water was a seminal study the results of which are cited to this day. After joining the U.S. Geological Survey in 1974, Plummer's activities became focused on the important sets of geochemical processes that control the composition of ground waters flowing through in the Earth's subsurface. Here he developed a novel computational model of mineral-water geochemical interactions, based on chemical thermodynamic and hydrological data. The purpose of this very successful model was to estimate how ground water composition may change in the course of its flow through aquifers where the rock mineralogy changes. Numerous applications of this basic model and its later variants were made in the studies of ground waters by Niel Plummer and collaborators in many parts of North America, including such geologically diverse setting as the ground waters in New Mexico, Virginia, California, Wisconsin, Idaho, Florida, and Pennsylvania. These studies opened a new page in our understanding of evolution of ground-water systems and their contamination by human activities.

Since the mid-1990s, Niel Plummer's work took a different term. A number of human-made gaseous compounds have been identified in the atmosphere and shown to act as greenhouse gases, potentially affecting the climate. These are mostly several CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) compounds and sulfur hexafluoride. Additionally, a wide range of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), released to the atmosphere by various industrial activities, are known to affect the ozone cycle in the lower atmosphere. Plummer's and his collaborators' work has been focused in the last 10 to 15 years on the identification of these rare gaseous compounds in ground waters, in order to measure their ages and flow rates. The work is a combination of field sampling of ground waters, laboratory analyses using cutting-edge ultra-sensitive techniques, and theoretical modeling and interpretation. These are completely novel techniques making a new chapter in the study of ground waters that is being written to a great extent by Niel Plummer and his collaborators.

During his work at U.S. Geological Survey, Niel Plummer's contributions have been recognized by three awards of the U.S. Department of Interior and two awards by external organizations: the O. E. Meinzer Award of the Geological Society of America, Hydrogeology Division, and Special Recognition Award of the Association of Ground Water Scientists and Engineers, lilsted below.

Back to top