The Geophysical Sustainability Wheel

The Geophysical Sustainability Wheel

The Way Forward

The Geophysical Sustainability WheelGeophysics contributes to and has the long-term potential to advance all 17 [of the United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is an urgent need to raise the awareness and importance of the SDGs and the applicability of geophysics to them among geophysical practitioners as well as internal and external stakeholders. Professional societies related to geophysics have an important role to play in sharing this Geophysical Sustainability Atlas and its potential value with organizations, companies and academic institutions. This atlas empowers geophysicists to identify their contributions at the individual, team, organization and country level in pursuit of the UN SDGs. This will provide a sense of pride and belonging to all geophysicists.

For decades, most professionals in applied geophysics have focused their work on conventional oil and gas and mining exploration. Yet, in recent years, increasing numbers have become engaged in CO2 sequestration and energy and storage, enhanced oil recovery, near-surface investigations, underground water resource management, infrastructure integrity and the sourcing of renewable energy – all progressively being driven by digitalization or digital transformation.

The geophysical language needs to expand beyond the profession’s traditional set of technical terms to accommodate the different semantics, skills, and especially the integrative and humanitarian vision and objectives of the SDGs, with the understanding that only with a wider scope can we make relevant and significant contributions to the attainment of those goals.

A change of mindset is needed. The sustainability of the geophysics profession requires framing its current and usual activities to the SDGs to understand our own strengths, which are indeed many, but also our weaknesses. The exercise of having mapped geophysics’ main activities into the SDGs enables the pursuit of long-term goals by individuals and organizations and empowers all of us to work with purpose and with sustainable consciousness.

The Geophysical Sustainability Atlas can inspire each geophysicist when they see the applicability of their expertise and skills within a global and strategic framework.

The applicability of the atlas will be feasible only with buy-in from geophysics stakeholders, which may be clustered in two main groups:

  1. External stakeholders: Communities affected by geophysical operations, legislators, unions, organizations involved in preservation of the environment, organizations pursuing betterment of society, investors and financial institutions and regulators.
  2. Internal stakeholders: Leadership, managers, employees (staff), business developers, operational personnel, and researchers in companies and institutions that practice geophysics; faculty, administrators, and students in academic institution, and professional organizations related to geophysics.

Many initiatives to support SDGs call for organizational action, but others could be advanced at the individual level by each geophysicist in [their] area of influence. Some questions that may exemplify how to trigger reflections and actions in sustainability include:

  • Are there seismicity standards and is there legislation pertinent to infrastructure-building parameters for human, industrial and animal settlement in my country/region/organizations? (SDGs 3 and 9)
  • Are electromagnetic surveys required in my city/area/community/country/region to preserve underground aquifers and water courses on the ground (seasonal rivers, streams and seasonal flooding plains)? Is there legislation about this topic? (SDGs 6, 11, 12, and 15)
  • Are primary and secondary schools and community colleges where I live prepared to teach about earthquake/seismicity levels, volcanoes, landslides and other hazards in their localities? Have I proposed to deliver an awareness session about the geohazard specifics of my city/region/country to the schools or universities in my community? (SDGs 4, 10, and 11)

It becomes clear then that each one of us may play a role in advancing SDGs using geophysics. We particularly encourage geoscience professional societies to play an active role in advancing an understanding of the 17 SDGs to foster collaboration loops toward achieving them.


The results of mapping geophysics to the SDGs provide a pathway for geophysicists to act as pivotal workers in pursuit of society’s sustainability goals, helping them examine their interests, expertise, and talents in a wider and noble context, which is extremely relevant for the sustainability of the profession.

We encourage other authors and researchers to further our work and identify specific additional ways geophysicists can work toward achievement of the SDGs. New pathways toward SDG achievement through geophysics practice will become apparent over time, so the Geophysical Sustainability Atlas must evolve.

  • The Geophysical Sustainability Atlas outlines a first approach to consider what geophysics means to the pursuit of the 17 SDGs at global scale.
  • We included all sectors of geophysics in the design of the atlas with the aim of triggering a sense of pride and belonging across the profession and raising awareness about the full spectrum of geophysical activities that can and do relate to the SDGs.
  • The Geophysical Sustainability Atlas would benefit from an awareness campaign to maximize collective outreach into the profession, including each of its major sectors – oil and gas, unconventionals, near-surface applications, academia, and mining, among others.
  • There is a clear need to improve the skills, knowledge and willingness of geophysicists and geophysical organizations to engage in assessments of their own economic, social and environmental impacts and to optimize their participation and collaborative efforts toward achievement of the SDGs.
  • Mapping geophysics to the 17 SDGs in collaboration with the focus groups revealed many opportunities to further develop the Geophysical Sustainability Atlas and strengthen it through buy-in of all stakeholders.


Crafting this article put us in contact with remarkable global initiatives fully grounded in geophysics. We would like to highlight Geoscientists Without Borders, a humanitarian initiative of SEG, and the Ghost Net and Marine Debris Removal Initiative, an initiative of IAGC. These are just two wonderful examples of how geophysicists already contribute in significant ways to social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability.

This project was a result of a collaboration by virtual means from Kuwait, Ireland and the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. The “new normal” triggered in us unavoidable reflections on what matters and what we value the most. We value sustainability. We offer this work to all our peers in geophysics in the firm belief that it supports a positive and integrated path toward pursuing the 17 SDGs for 2030.

Editor’s note: The Geophysical Sustainability Wheel was adapted from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals wheel and implies no UN endorsement.

Excerpted with permission. Full download available.

Maria A. Capello, Anna Shaughnessy, and Emer Caslin, (2021), “The Geophysical Sustainability Atlas: Mapping geophysics to the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” The Leading Edge 40: 10–24.

© The Authors. Published by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. All article content, except where otherwise noted (including republished material), is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License (CC BY). See Distribution or reproduction of this work in whole or in part commercially or noncommercially requires full attribution of the original publication, including its digital object identifier (DOI).

Publisher: Society of Exploration Geophysicists

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