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Kris Ludwig, USGS Hazards Scientist

By March 7, 2019June 10th, 2020No Comments

Live Event: March 7, 2019 at 1:00pm Eastern (US)

Kris Ludwig is a staff scientist at the United States Geological Survey where she is part of a team that responds to natural disaster events. She has participated in the response effort for Hurricane Sandy and the Kilauea eruption, among many others. Kris is also an affiliate assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington.

About Kris

Name: Kristin (Kris) Ludwig
Title: Staff Scientist, Natural Hazards Mission Area
Layman’s Title: hazards scientist
Company: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Years in this organization/position?


What does your organization do?

The USGS serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and to understand the Earth; to reduce loss of life and property from natural disasters; to manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and to enhance and protect our quality of life. The natural hazards mission of the USGS is to develop and apply science to help protect the safety, security, and economic well-being of the Nation.

What is your role in the organization?

I’m a staff scientist at the US Geological Survey and during a response to an event, I’m part of a team called the Department of the Interior Strategic Sciences Group. We pull together a team of experts ranging from different types of natural and social scientists, engineers, and even experts from the arts and native cultures in order to weigh in on what may happen in the short and long term after an event. We try to help decision makers understand how best to mitigate potential negative impacts that we see coming down the road.

What is the most exciting, most amazing, or scariest thing that has happened to you during your work?

In July 2018 I co-led a team of experts to help support response to and recovery from the Kilauea eruption in Hawaii. It was exciting, amazing, and scary all at the same time for a few reasons. Upon arrival, we were asked some very difficult questions by decision makers wrestling with how to begin planning for recovery. We didn’t have the answers to all of their questions (and still don’t), but it made me fully appreciate the complexity of some of the challenges they continue to face – and made our work even more compelling. Despite the extreme destruction caused by the eruption, it was incredibly beautiful to see it in person – the scale of the collapse at the crater was daunting and humbling and the power and heat of the erupting lava was spectacular. Geologically, this type of an eruption is a once in a generation event – and I knew I was witnessing something truly special.

What do you enjoy about your job?

One of the best parts of my job is that I get to use my science training in geology and oceanography in order to help different communities prepare for hazard events. I love the fact that I’m able to put some of my training to work in order to help address a variety of societal challenges. It’s rewarding on a daily basis and especially rewarding when we get to help respond to an actual event. Also, I have the chance to work with many different types of people. On any given day, I’m working with scientists, engineers, communications experts, and emergency managers in order to help design solutions to inform preparedness for, response to, and recovery from different hazard events.

Highest degree attained/ Schools attended?

2008 – PhD, University of Washington

What educational accomplishments are you most proud of?

My PhD.

Previous employers and positions that have led to your current role

From 2009-2011, I worked for the Consortium of Ocean Leadership, where I managed communications for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). This position required me to write for different audiences and organize complex logistics for public events in international ports of call. When the Deepwater Horizon accident and explosion occurred in 2010, I had the opportunity to support response to the event. This generated my interest in science policy and hazards, which ultimately led me to an Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship. I started my career at USGS in 2012 as a Fellow working on policy related to natural hazards and supporting recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

Other positions not necessarily related to your current career

Retail Sales Associate at Patagonia, Inc. in Denver, CO

Best job you’ve ever had and why/Worst job you’ve ever had and why:

Best job – my current job at USGS. On any given day I get to work on interesting problems that combine natural science, social science, engineering, the arts, and community engagement. Supporting response to and recovery from major hazard events is exciting, exhausting, and deeply rewarding. In between events, I work on projects to advance our mission to provide scientific information to help mitigate the impacts of hazard events, which is also rewarding, especially when you see the science used to inform decisions. Throughout all of my work, I get to interact with and learn from some truly amazing individuals both within and outside the USGS – some are the best and brightest researchers in their fields, others are incredibly creative at finding solutions with limited resources, and others still are exemplary leaders and collaborative colleagues.

What were you like as a kid?

Curious, a bit stubborn, and loved being outside (and still do!)

Favorite classes/coursework in elementary school, middle school, high school, college:

Elementary/Middle school – science!
High school – French, Chemistry
College – all of my geology classes (and especially the ones with field trips)

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up at age 12? At age 15? At age 18?

From about age 12, I wanted to study the ocean – initially I was interested in marine biology, but as I learned more about the natural sciences, I fell in love with geology and wanted to combine the two to pursue a career in marine geology.

When did you know you wanted to pursue your current career, and what drove you towards it?

I was 16 years old when I had the chance to be a JASON Argonaut on the JASON Project IV expedition to Baja where we spent a week at sea studying deep sea hydrothermal vents. I was fascinated by the geology, chemistry, and biology of these bizarre seafloor systems and also enjoyed the challenge of working in an environment 7000’ below the surface of the water. It was a dream come true and shaped my college and graduate career.

What are your favorite hobbies or activities you do for fun?

Most of my time these days is spent chasing with my toddler. He gets into everything, loves to be outside, and keeps me on my toes! In the spare moments of free time I do find, I enjoy skiing, cycling, yoga, and making jewelry.

Do you play any musical instruments or play any sports?

I played ultimate frisbee for nearly 20 years. I now enjoy yoga and still do a lot of cross-country and downhill skiing in the winter and cycling and hiking in warmer weather.

What’s the most frequently played song?

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of El Michaels Affair and Ray Charles on Pandora.

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your career?

Volunteer for organizations that support disaster response – this kind of personal experience is hard to beat. Also realize that one of the cool things about working in hazards is that you can approach it from so many different professional directions – you can be an environmental scientist who provides information about the hazard to emergency responders. You can be a medical professional providing critical care to those in need. You can be a community organizer who brings together volunteers. You can be an engineer who designs resilient buildings and infrastructure. You can be an urban planner or geographer who helps cities identify evacuation routes. There just a few examples – try different things to see what feels like a good fit!

What are some interesting places you’ve traveled?

Antarctica, Hawaii, Oman, New Zealand