LAWRENCE — Sam Zipper, assistant scientist and geohydrologist at the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas, is the 2022 recipient of the Kohout Early Career Award from the Hydrogeology Division of the Geological Society of America, nominated for his work to help understand and improve water resources in agricultural, urban and natural environments.
The award, given annually to a scientist age 35 or younger or within five years of receiving their highest degree, recognizes the recipient’s contributions to the hydrogeologic profession through original research and service as well as a demonstrated potential for continued excellence throughout their career.
At the KGS, Zipper leads the HydroEcology of Anthropogenic Landscapes (HEAL@KGS) research group and, with KGS assistant scientist Erin Seybold, leads the survey’s geohydrology internship program. Much of his research focuses on how water and land management decisions affect the people, economy and environment of the Great Plains.
“His work wrestles with one of the thorniest societal problems of our day — how do we sustainably manage our land and water resources to support human life and livelihood, ensure food and clean water for a growing population, and preserve natural ecosystems both now and for future generations?” said Steven Loheide, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was Zipper’s doctoral adviser and nominated him for the award.
Zipper’s research includes examining the relationships between intermittent and ephemeral streams and playas and other ecological systems, studying the effects of irrigator-driven groundwater conservation programs on water resources and developing easy-to-use tools to estimate streamflow depletion caused by groundwater pumping.
“I think Sam’s contributions have been particularly important because they transcend disciplinary boundaries, using a range of field methods, numerical modeling, analytical and statistical techniques, and social science to address societally relevant grand challenges,” Loheide said.
Zipper’s current research on water resources in Kansas is funded in part through several large grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey and NASA.
“The KGS and KU have been a wonderfully supportive place to build a career focused on water issues that affect residents of Kansas and the Great Plains and that matter to people around the world,” Zipper said. “It is really heartening to know that the research I am doing has made an impact. Working through COVID, it was challenging to connect with other members of both the state water management and global water research communities, and sometimes working on research felt like releasing things into the void. This award is an encouraging indication that people paid attention to and valued what I have been doing the past couple of years.”
Zipper has been a member of the KGS since 2019 and is the author or co-author of 58 scientific publications with more than 250 co-authors from more than 150 institutions.
“Sam is a truly deserving recipient of the Kohout Early Career Award,” said Scott Ishman, associate director for research at the KGS. “His research is highly relevant to the state of Kansas and globally, addressing water resource availability, use, access and sustainability. The Kansas Geological Survey is fortunate to have such an accomplished early career scientist who shares his love and excitement for his research with his colleagues and students.”
Membership in the Geological Society of America consists of more than 20,000 earth scientists worldwide. Its Hydrogeology Division, established in 1959, promotes research and discussion within the branch of the geological sciences focused on water resources. The Kohout Early Career Award is named for Francis Kohout, an early pioneer in the study of geothermal saltwater convection in carbonate platforms. Zipper will receive the award during GSA’s annual meeting in October.
The Kansas Geological Survey is a nonregulatory research and service division of the University of Kansas. KGS researchers study and provide information about the state's geologic resources and hazards, including groundwater, oil and natural gas, rocks and minerals, and earthquakes.
— Story by Julie Tollefson.