Jahns/ AEG2022Talk/

Two portraits of Dick Jahns and information about the Jahns Lecture Series for 2022-2023

Presentation at the AEG Annual Meeting, 2022

————— o0o —————

Why do I think geoethics is fundamental to engineering geoscience?


My presentation will highlight some of the topics in my Jahns' lecture series. These themes include geoethics; navigating the path from undecided undergraduate to serving society as an engineering geologist; using open-access geophysical databases to understand active crustal deformation in an area and to find seismogenic/active faults; the search for a potentially deadly active fault in the mountains just west of Reno; and the engineering geoscience challenges posed by climate change.

I will introduce the lecture series by discussing why geoethics is fundamental to engineering geoscience. I was privileged to have an outstanding formal education in geology, but the basic ethics of science were largely implicit throughout that learning process. During my early experiences as an engineering geologist, it became clear that geoscience education without consideration of geoethics is insufficient. I was an apprentice under the first Jahns Lecturer, Jim Slosson, and worked on forensic studies of two deadly debris flows in California early in my career (Cronin et al., 1990; Cronin, 1993; Shlemon et al., 1987). Forensic analysis to discover the causes of geological disasters helps to identify and either avoid or mitigate dangerous situations.

The two debris-flow cases made me aware of the high stakes in applied geologic work. They demonstrated there is more to engineering geoscience than just applying technical knowledge. The practice of applied science also involves ethical considerations. As licensed professionals, we work for the benefit of society as well as our client or employer.

Using geoethical constraints in our professional work is fraught with challenges. Many questions and dilemmas are difficult to resolve. Disasters are relatively easy because we know their outcomes and need only to investigate their causes. But what about situations in which there is only a potential for disaster? CGS geoscientist William Bryant described a case involving the development of residential housing within the San Andreas Fault Zone in Pacifica, California, that illustrates the challenge of balancing economic interests, legal requirements, societal interests, potential danger to people, and a conventional sense of geoethics (Bryant, 2009). Some people view the outcome of this case as a success story that fulfills a clear societal need while meeting legal requirements, while others are concerned that it will lead to a disaster in the future. In such cases, achieving (or even recognizing) good outcomes can be difficult.

My view is that the primary reason for engineering geoscience to exist as a profession is to protect human life and the health of our shared ecosystems. Our shared geoethical commitments as a community of applied geoscientists help to guide our work (Bobrowski et al., 2017; Cronin, 2017, 2021a, b).

Presentation files


Bobrowsky, P.T., Cronin, V.S., Di Capua, G., Kieffer, S.W., Peppoloni, S., 2017, The emerging field of geoethics, in Gunderson, L.C., [editor], Scientific integrity and ethics in the geosciences, chapter 11, p. 175-212, Published Online: 20 October 2017, DOI: 10.1002/9781119067825.ch11

Bryant, W.A., 2009, Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act: presentation slide set for Surface Fault Displacement Hazard Workshop, University of California-Berkeley, accessible via

Cronin, V.S., 1993, A perspective on professional ethics in engineering geosciences, in Hoose, S., [editor], Proceedings of Symposium on Ethical Considerations in the Environmental Practice of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology: Association of Engineering Geologists National Meeting, San Antonio, p. 21-28.

Cronin, V.S., 2017, Facilitating a geoscience student's ethical development, in Gunderson, L.C., [editor], Scientific integrity and ethics in the geosciences, chapter 14, p. 267-291, Published Online: 20 October 2017, DOI: 10.1002/9781119067825.ch14

Cronin, V.S., 2021a, Geoethics as a common thread that can bind a geoscience department together, in Di Capua, G., [editor], Geoethics—Status and Future Perspectives: Geological Society of London Special Publication SP508, p. 55-65.

Cronin, V.S., 2021b, Geoethics in natural hazards from the perspective of an engineering geologist (, in Short Course on Geoethics, presented at the 2021 European Geoscience Union Meeting and available online at

Cronin, V.S., Slosson, J.E., Slosson, T.L., and Shuirman, G., 1990, Deadly debris flows on I-5 near Grapevine, CA, in French, R.H., [editor], Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Hydraulics/Hydrology of Arid Lands (H2AL): New York, American Society of Civil Engineers, p. 78-83,

Shlemon, R.J., Wright, R.H., and Montgomery, D.R., 1987, Anatomy of a debris flow, Pacifica, California, in Costa, J.E., and Wieczorek, G.F., editors, Debris Flows/Avalanches: Process, Recognition, and Mitigation: Geological Society of America Reviews in Engineering Geology, p. 181-200, download from ResearchGate .

Return to the homepage for the Jahns Lecture Series, 2022-23

If you have any questions or comments about this site or its contents, drop an email to Vince Cronin.