University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Bridget R. Scanlon

August 14, 2017
Dr. Bridget R. Scanlon

Dr. Bridget R. Scanlon is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, where she works within the Environmental Group. Scanlon received her undergraduate degree in geology from Trinity College, Dublin, and her M.Sc. and Ph.D.—both in geology focusing on hydrogeology—from the University of Alabama and the University of Kentucky, respectively. Her research focus has varied over time from an initial emphasis on groundwater recharge in semiarid regions in Texas and globally to an emphasis on contaminant transport and groundwater depletion for irrigated agriculture. She has also worked on various issues related to groundwater contamination, including natural contaminants (arsenic and fluoride) and anthropogenic contaminants (e.g., nitrate). More recently her focus has shifted to water and energy interdependence related to oil and gas extraction and electricity generation, and remote sensing of global water-storage trends using GRACE satellites. Scanlon currently serves as an Associate Editor for Environmental Research Letters and Water Resources Research. She was the 2006 Birdsall- Dreiss Distinguished Lecturer, and is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA) and American Geophysical Union (AGU), as well as a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

What are your current research activities?

My current research focuses on two main topics: (1) water issues related to unconventional oil and gas production, and (2) comparison of models and GRACE satellite data for estimating land–water storage trends globally. We are completing a study on produced water volumes from unconventional tight oil plays (Bakken, Eagle Ford, Permian, and Oklahoma) and assessing various management options to minimize potential risks related to induced seismicity. We evaluated various GRACE satellite data products for monitoring land–water storage globally, and we are now comparing results from GRACE satellites with several global hydrologic and land surface models to assess the reliability of these models.

What excites you most about your current research?

I enjoy the range of research topics that we address in our group. The collaborative spirit at the Bureau is incredible. I work closely with Bob Reedy and have learned a great deal from J.-P. Nicot on water and energy topics. Interacting with the energy team, including Scott Hamlin, Frank Male, and Svetlana Ikonnikova allows us to address water-energy issues from many different perspectives, such as fundamental geologic controls, reservoir engineering, and economic aspects. UT-Austin’s Center for Space Research (CSR) is a global leader in remote sensing and allows us to conduct more in-depth research on remote-sensing applications to hydrology. Working with Himanshu Save at CSR and the global modeling community allows us to evaluate the reliability of outputs from remote sensing and models as we try to assess impacts of climate extremes and human water use on the global water cycle. The research opportunities at the Bureau are immense—just not enough hours in the day. 

What is the desired outcome of your research?

Our research goals for water and energy issues are to understand the evolution of water issues in the energy field and to develop approaches to adapt through recycling of water. In the remote-sensing arena, we would like to more strongly link remote sensing, global and regional modeling, and ground-based monitoring to understand controls on the global water cycle. This understanding should help us develop more-sustainable approaches to managing water resources.

What do you need in order to make your research efforts more successful?

We would like to develop a program to assess the water implications of different energy sources by comparing renewable and nonrenewable energy. This would greatly benefit collaboration with industry. The BP Energy Sustainability Challenge provides an example of this type of effort. We are limited in our evaluation of water-energy issues on reported data; however, collaboration with industry could greatly enhance our data records. We would like to expand our research group to include a geodesist to address remote-sensing applications to global water-resource problems.

What are your latest papers/publications and what is most exciting to you about them?

Scanlon, B. R., Reedy, R. C., Male, F., and Hove, M., 2016, Managing the increasing water footprint of hydraulic fracturing in the Bakken play, United States: Environmental Science & Technology, v. 50, no. 18, p. 10273–10281.

This paper shows that although water demand for hydraulic fracturing increased by up to six times in the Bakken, various strategies were adopted to manage the increasing demand, including legal and regulatory changes along with expanding pipeline infrastructure.


Scanlon, B. R., Ruddell, B., Reedy, P. M., Hook, R. I., Zheng, C., Tidwell, V. C., and Siebert, S., 2017, The food-energy-water nexus: transforming science for society: Water Resources Research, v. 53, doi:10.1002/2017WR020889.

This commentary highlights the water intensity of food production globally and proposes innovative strategies to meet the increasing water demands for food and energy production.


Scanlon, B. R., Zhang, Z., Save, H., Wiese, D. N., Landerer, F. W., Long, D., Longuevergne, L., Chen, J., 2016, Global evaluation of new GRACE mascons products for hydrologic applications: Water Resources Research, v. 52, no. 12, p. 9412–9429.

The analysis in this paper shows that the newly developed mascon processing of GRACE satellite data significantly improves land–water storage estimates globally over traditional processing approaches.


Who will benefit from your latest paper or publication?

Much of our research focuses on providing context for many current issues related to water. We hope that the paper on water issues related to hydraulic fracturing would be of benefit to the public, water managers, regulators, and other groups involved in water and energy interdependence. The GRACE satellite paper should be valuable to people interested in using GRACE satellite data to assess changes in water storage at regional to global scales, including NASA scientists, geodesists, and hydrologists.


What was your most exciting past paper or publication and why?


Scanlon, B. R., Levitt, D. G., Reedy, R. C., Keese, K. E., and Sully, M. J., 2005, Ecological controls on water-cycle response to climate variability in deserts: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, v. 102, no. 17, p. 6033–6038.

This paper describes how dynamic vegetation controls water-cycle response to climate change from the Pleistocene to the present and at local to global scales by combining site-specific field data and remote sensing. I found it most interesting because of the range of spatial and temporal scales covered by the analysis.

Who are the types of research partners you are seeking? What are the desired relationships, expertise, or skills that could be brought in to benefit your research?

I seek industry partners to expand our work on water and energy interdependence and to develop better data sets to understand these issues. I also seek partnerships with geodesists and global and regional modelers to understand hydrologic responses to climate extremes and human water abstractions.

What have been recent successes associated with your research?

It is difficult to gage success because the ultimate success of the research would be to effect change in water management to enhance sustainability of water resources.

What is the geographic location of your research?

While much of our past research has been conducted in Texas, the Jackson Endowment has allowed us to expand our research areas to different regions globally, assessing water issues for food and energy production, mostly in semiarid regions.