Meet the scientist #1 – Kris Piessens

Kris Piessens is the coordinator of GeoConnect³d. He joined the Geological Survey of Belgium (RBINS-GSB) as a geologist in 2002, and was one of the founders of the GeoEnergy research group. He has been carrying out fundamental and applied research on various topics, with a focus on CO2 capture and storage (CCS) and the interface between geological, economic, policy, engineering and regulatory aspects. He has been involved in several EU-funded projects such as GESTCO, CGS Europe, EuroGeoSource and ACCESS.

Why geology?

With little exposure to geosciences in school, being a geologist was not a first choice of career. However, after thinking a few times about all possible paths he could follow and not finding anything entirely fulfilling, geology seemed to be the only career that made a little bit of sense. This feeling was correct: he found out that it was indeed an extremely interesting topic, and soon discovered his research skills. Kris: “Learning and questioning why the Earth around us looks like it does today, how you can translate processes of today to the past and the level of imagination that you have to use to come to a deeper understanding of all of those processes – that was exactly what I was looking for.”.

Ambitious research question

After working for over a decade on climate and environmental problems, the current fundamental question guiding his research is: how to demonstrate that we cannot face such challenges without giving geology a central role? Kris believes the role of geology in the understanding of faster cycles ecosystems and societies go through is overlooked by those working on solving problems such as climate change. Kris: “There are many opportunities left in the subsurface to help us make the shift into a more sustainable way of life.”.

GeoConnect³d as a bridge

Unlike safe project proposals that might have predictable outcomes in order to secure funding, big risks were taken in the GeoConnect³d proposal – which ended up funded by GeoERA. Kris values the freedom to shape and test a methodology that has never been attempted before, taking the time for much needed discussions and to decide on what is considered important to meet the goals that were set. Kris: “Researchers are at their best when you give them some freedom and a topic to work on in which they believe”.

Kris also highlights the ambition of the project to make geologists look at geological information differently, and to use that different perspective when communicating to non-geologists. GeoConnect³d goes further from the classic representation of geological information on a map or 3D model: it is about defining the information and using semantic relations to clarify how the different elements represented relate to each other, and how they tell a story together. Kris: “That makes GeoConnect³d ideally suited to be a bridge between scientific research and stakeholders, especially in a time when we must talk to policy makers and make them understand what geology is and why it is valuable.”.

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