Episode 170: Improving lives with geophysics – A GWB Story

Professors Kirsten Nicholson and Klaus Neumann lead a Geoscientists without Borders (GWB) project to find safe drinking water for two communities in the Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal. This country most famously is home to the world’s favorite trekking destination – the Himalayans.

Even though this area is popular with tourists, it struggles with adequate drinking water. Diseases due to unsafe water are some of the most common causes of death, with diarrheal disease accounting for 4.2% of the global burden of diseases. The situation is far worse in less economically developed, semi-arid mountainous regions where communities experience poor health due to contaminated drinking water.

At the same time, these high-altitude regions face increasing pressure caused by climate variability, impacting precipitation patterns, seasonal snowpack, and glacial growth. The issues surrounding long-term resource management and the reduction of water-related vulnerability are complex and rarely involve simple solutions. Large-scale environmental problems usually involve a mixture of science (geology, hydrology, geophysics, ecology, etc.), applied science (engineering, natural resource management), and human dimensions (politics, economics, culture, etc.). Governments often struggle with these problems, and researchers usually deal with a single aspect, two or three at most.

Kirsten and Klaus lead a GWB project to solve the water problems of two communities in Nepal – Phortse and Lobuche. These communities sought help to determine the placement and capacity of a water filtration and storage facility that would provide potable water to the community members year-round. The placement of the system is essential so that it is resistant to the impacts of climate change and earthquakes.

In this episode, you will hear exclusively from Kirsten and Klaus as they take you on a journey from discovering the need for this project to what they hope they will contribute to these communities. Along the way, they highlight the meaningful contributions of students from the U.S. and Nepal, how the local communities have taken leadership in this project, and share the most enriching experiences for them. This is a powerful example of the significant contribution geoscientists can make when focused on a meaningful project for a local community.

Seismic Soundoff · 170: Improving lives with geophysics – A GWB Story

Related links


Professor Kirsten Nicholson, Ball State University, has a background in hard rock geology and geochemistry, focusing on problem-based science. In addition, Nicholson brings years of international research experience (Nepal, New Zealand, New Caledonia, France, and Canada), project management, and leadership skills. Before serving as Project Manager on this GWB project, she had visited Sagarmatha National Park eight times and conducted preliminary research on water contamination.

Professor Klaus Neumann, Ball State University, is a hydro-geochemist with extensive experience in extreme environments (Antarctica and Nepal). Neumann is responsible for water sampling and chemical analyses. Upon completion of the water sampling, he will help with the ERT survey.

About Geoscientists without Borders

Geoscientists without Borders catalyze bringing capable scientists together with communities to solve their problems. The program provides funding for these projects and assists geoscientists and their teams in collaborating with multidisciplinary and community-based partners. Data is collected, processed, and interpreted to provide resources that result in a sustainable humanitarian benefit to the community.

Geoscientists have the tools necessary to effect positive change in communities coping with environmental hardships and natural hazards. For example, many places facing severe water shortages, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other hazards have benefited from the humanitarian efforts of geoscientists who have offered their specialized knowledge and technical skills to those in need.


SEG produces Seismic Soundoff to benefit its members and the scientific community and to inform the public about the value of geophysics. Please leave a 5-star rating on Apple Podcasts and Spotify to show your support for the show. It takes less than five seconds to leave a 5-star rating and is the number one action you can take to show appreciation for this free resource. And follow the podcast on the app to be notified when each new episode is released.

Original music created by Zach Bridges. Andrew Geary hosted, edited, edited, and produced this episode at 51 features, LLC. Thank you to the SEG podcast team: Jennifer Cobb, Kathy Gamble, and Ally McGinnis.

Download this Seismic Soundoff