Oct. 20, 2020

Bernhard Mayer named fellow of the International Association of Geochemistry

Interim science dean one of fewer than 50 researchers globally to hold the honour

Dr. Bernhard Mayer, PhD, has been named to the fellows of the International Association of Geochemistry (IAGC). The elite honour — which is held by fewer than 50 researchers globally — is bestowed to no more than two scientists each year who have made significant contributions to the field of geochemistry.

Already an internationally recognized isotope geochemist, Mayer is currently the interim dean of the Faculty of Science, and recently served as head of the Department of Geoscience. He has been a professor at the University of Calgary since 1997, and was awarded a UCalgary Killam Professorship in 2017-18.

While Mayer’s nomination to the fellowship came as a welcome surprise, he suspects his nomination was successful because of his distinguished record of high-impact publications in the area of geochemistry, and his involvement in organizing and speaking at various international conferences and events organized by IAGC, among others.

He has authored or co-authored more than 175 papers in international refereed journals and 16 book chapters on a wide variety of geochemical topics including the quality of groundwater and surface waters on several continents, the environmental impact of fossil fuel development, including shale gas exploitation, geologic CO2 sequestration, and oil sands recovery.

Applied geochemistry research refines science-based environmental monitoring solutions

Mayer’s Applied Geochemistry research group combines aqueous, gas and isotope geochemical approaches to determine the sources, the transport and the fate of nutrients and contaminants in surface and subsurface systems on the continents.

The associated technology is used widely for tracing environmental pollution, for example in identifying the sources of nitrate contamination of groundwater or methane leakage associated with hydraulic fracturing in shale gas areas.

“In applied isotope geochemistry, we constantly refine techniques to detect the sources of nutrients and contaminants and assess their fate in the subsurface," says Mayer. "The goal is to be able to use these techniques to accurately identify the cause of pollution so that effective mitigation strategies can be designed. For example, the public may be worried about methane being released into shallow environments, like groundwater. If methane is found, the combination of chemical and isotope approaches allows us to determine whether that methane was formed microbially in shallow environments, or has migrated from deep geologic formations.”

Mayer says that this specialized type of isotope monitoring has remained predominantly with university-based labs because of the costly state-of-the-art instrumentation and the highly specialized staff needed. As a result, the public, industry, and government departments often look to academia to help.

He has seen the application of isotope tracer tools change throughout his career. “Our research tends to pivot towards scientific challenges that are important to the public," he says. "Initially, in Alberta, I worked mainly on water pollution such as nitrates in groundwater.”

In the first decade of the 21st century, he began working on geologic CO2 sequestration and monitoring, while shifting toward assessing the environmental impacts of shale gas development in the last 10 years. It is work he plans to continue during and after his tenure as interim dean.

Mayer’s future research will work toward resolution of challenges in the area of energy and the environment. This will include several major projects concerning groundwater contamination in Alberta, steam generation and steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) in the oil sands, and shale gas development.