Dr. Beth Parker

Photo of Beth Parker

Director, G360 Institute for Groundwater Research, PhD, BCEEM, LEL
Professor, School of Engineering, University of Guelph
Associate Director, The University Consortium

Dr. Beth Parker is a hydrogeologist who has made exceptional contributions to the science and practice of Contaminant Hydrogeology, which is the science concerning the occurrence, migration and fate of contamination in the groundwater component of the hydrological cycle. Dr. Parker has achieved strong national and international recognition for her contributions to the science and technologies important to the understanding and remediation of contaminated groundwater. She is the most cited Canadian under the age of 65 for papers concerning groundwater contamination. She is one of the most cited internationally and most frequently invited speakers internationally for presentations about groundwater contamination research. She draws substantial research funds from international sources including the USA, Sweden, China and Brazil and is sought after as a collaborator internationally. Dr. Parker has advanced a particular and original conceptual view concerning groundwater contamination in fractured geologic media and has established the validity of this view by invention and application of a suite of novel and powerful methods to acquire field data for creation and validation of conceptual models.

Dr. Parker’s recent awards and recognition from scientific & professional organizations include the 2021 Tage Erlander Visiting Professorship with the Swedish Research Council & Lund University, awarded to an “Internationally prominent researcher in natural and engineering sciences”. Dr. Parker was also nominated and received a Certification by Eminence as a Board Certified Environmental Engineering Member in the category of Hazardous Waste Management and Site Remediation in 2020 with the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES). In 2019, Dr. Parker was distinguished as an American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fellow in the Hydrology Section, as a “Member whose visionary leadership and scientific excellence have fundamentally advanced research in their respective fields”. Also awarded in 2019, Dr. Parker received the Women of Distinction by the Guelph YMCA, “A celebration of women who are role models, pioneers and outstanding achievers – they improve the quality of life in our community”. In 2018, Dr. Parker received the M. King Hubbert Award, “Presented to a person who has made a major science or engineering contribution to the groundwater industry through research, technical papers, teaching, and practical applications” by the National Groundwater Association (NGWA). Additional awards include the Nova Domus Erasmus Mundus programme by Lund University, Sweden in April, 2017, and the Herbette Visiting Professorship Award at the Université de Lausanne, Switzerland from September to December 2012. Dr. Parker also received the John Hem Award in 2009 for Excellence in Science & Engineering, “In recognition of a significant, recent (within the past five years) scientific or engineering contribution to the understanding of groundwater”, awarded by the National Groundwater Association (NGWA), Association of Ground Water Scientists and Engineers (AGWSE) division.

Dr. Parker received her PhD degree in 1996. As of July 1, 2020, Dr. Parker has published over 140 papers in refereed journals, has 7 additional papers submitted and currently in review and has produced many non-refereed papers. Of these published and in review refereed papers, most are in ‘fractured rock hydrogeology’ with relevance to contaminant transport and fate. Her publications are widely recognized. According to Google Scholar, her publications have 4489 total citations, her overall H index is 37 and her ‘i10’ index is 97 and these numbers have grown markedly in the past few years. These are impressive, but what is most outstanding is the period since 2015 for which her citations total is 2519, her H index is 28, and her ‘i10’ index is 79. These numbers are in the top tier of those in the groundwater contamination domain. Since 2015, she has published an average of nearly 17 journal articles per year, a productivity level that is the largest among all Canadian and international academics who are comparable based on specialization in the physical aspects groundwater science and engineering (separate from the chemical and microbiological specializations). Dr. Parker has been an invited keynote speaker at more than 60 conferences distributed across many countries (USA, Canada, Brazil, China, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark). She has many international collaborations as indicated by her publications. Of her papers published and submitted, nearly 30% have co-authors from beyond Canada (USA, Spain, Italy, Switzerland). As supervisor and co-supervisor of graduate students, Dr. Parker has produced 44 masters graduates and 8 doctoral graduates.

Dr. Parker’s accomplishments are a combination of conceptual models, methods, and technologies that have ‘high resolution contaminant hydrogeology’ as their common denominator. She is the Director of the G360 Institute for Groundwater Research (g360group.org) at the University of Guelph. This Institute, which Dr. Parker founded in 2007, has grown to a team of approximately 50 people including research associates, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and technicians who support projects in many countries. This Institute is now one of the largest University based groundwater groups in Canada in terms of funding, staff, and number of students. Dr. Parker is the principal investigator for research funding from more than a dozen government and industry sources totaling more than $6.5 million annually that supports the large research team that she directs.  Dr. Parker is also co-Director of the longest standing industry-funded independent research program in Canada, the University Consortium for Field-Focused Groundwater Research (theuniversityconsortium.org).

Dr. Parker is in the top echelon of academics who are advancing the field of fractured-media hydrogeology, including bedrock aquifers and clayey aquitards. Although she is an academic, she is heavily involved with advancing knowledge and technologies most relevant to real problems at contaminated sites in the United States, Canada, and several other countries including Brazil, Germany, Sweden, and others, and her advances are rapidly influencing professional practice. Her unique contributions centre on the incorporation of molecular diffusion into the framework for assessing the behaviour of many types of contaminants in groundwater, where the interplay between advection and diffusion is the key to rigorous understanding of contaminant transport and fate with emphasis on fractured porous sedimentary rock. This theme is at the heart of nearly all her publications regardless of the type of geologic media. As sedimentary bedrock aquifers become increasingly important in water security, the need for better understanding of fractured rock has become globally important for cities, municipalities, brownfields development, agriculture, manufacturing, oil and gas development, mining, nuclear plant decommissioning, geothermal energy, and beyond. Although the research mostly concerns fundamental aspects of contaminant behaviour at the high resolution field scales, broad practical usefulness of her research is evident from the fact that her research program is funded from many diverse sources in addition to NSERC, including large multinational companies with exceptionally complex contaminated sites, petroleum companies, chemical companies, cities and municipalities, environmental consulting firms, the US military, a water bottling company and even a citizen’s group seeking safe drinking water.

Dr. Parker’s research emphasizes interactions between contaminant advection due to groundwater flow and molecular diffusion, including the effects of forward diffusion on plume attenuation and back diffusion on source and plume persistence and as an impediment to remediation. This original research path began with her PhD thesis, the first paper from which (Parker BL, Gillham RW, Cherry JA. 1994. Diffusive disappearance of immiscible-phase organic liquids in fractured geologic media, Groundwater 32(5): 805-820) has more than 250 citations in the scientific literature (according to Google Scholar). Dr. Parker was the first to show the importance of back diffusion of contaminant mass stored in low permeability layers and aquitards on the persistence of plumes in aquifers using high-resolution site datasets combined with mathematical modeling. Back diffusion is now widely accepted as a cause of plume longevity and, in some situations, is the basis for technical impracticability. Her emphasis on the development of process-based conceptual models for understanding contaminant behaviour began in the 1990s as she focused primarily on chlorinated solvents as dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) in source zones and on the solute plumes that form downgradient in non-indurated geologic deposits, such as fractured and unfractured clayey aquitards and heterogeneous sandy aquifers. These studies included controlled contaminant-release experiments and intensive investigations at decades-old contaminated sites.

Over the past 15 to 20 years, Dr. Parker’s research emphasis shifted to chlorinated solvents in fractured sedimentary rock, mostly sandstone, shale, limestone, and dolostone, and the contaminant categories have broadened to include metals such as hexavalent chromium, agricultural contaminants such as nitrate, chloride, toluene, methane, and human pathogens. Intensive, multidisciplinary collaborative studies, led by Dr. Parker, of many contaminated bedrock sites have resulted in a comprehensive methodology for acquiring high-resolution data from fractured porous media (the field Discrete Fracture Network (DFN) approach) that incorporates techniques from geology, hydrogeology, geophysics, and environmental chemistry. This methodology includes the use of core sampling and contaminant analysis of core samples to delineate contamination in aquitards and in the rock matrix in fractured rock (e.g., CORE DFN™) as well as detailed methods for assessing the groundwater flow systems. Most recently, the methodology has incorporated the use of fiber optic cables and heating cables for high resolution temporal monitoring of temperature in rock boreholes in combination with FLUTe flexible liners to position the cables against the borehole walls, detect active flow in fractures, and prevent the vertical cross-flow in the boreholes that disrupts the flow system and biases/ obscures the resulting interpretations. The methodology provides robust data sets to existing DFN mathematical models for simulations of groundwater flow and contaminant plume evolution in fractured sedimentary bedrock. Much of this involves innovations incorporated into three patents on which Dr. Parker is a co-inventor, with one additional patent submission currently in progress.


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