The Groundwater Project

Making Groundwater Understandable

A Tribute to John D. Bredehoeft (1933-2023), Pioneer and Leader in Groundwater Science

A Tribute to John D. Bredehoeft (1933-2023), Pioneer and Leader in Groundwater Science

On January 1, 2023, John Bredehoeft died quietly at home in Sausalito, California, with family members at his side. The world of groundwater science lost a pioneer and leader who laid the foundations of knowledge and techniques that are routinely used today.

Dr. Bredehoeft devoted 32 years to public service at the U.S. Geological Survey as a research scientist, as chief of the water research program, and as chief of the western region of the Water Resources Division. In 1995, he retired from the USGS and established the consulting firm, the Hydrodynamics Group. Dr. Bredehoeft stayed engaged in groundwater science throughout his life. In 2020, he and Dr. Leonard F. Konikow co-wrote the book Groundwater Resource Development, published by The Groundwater Project.

In the 1970’s, when groundwater hydrologists were still using analog models, Dr. Bredehoeft and his colleague, Dr. George F. Pinder, pioneered the development of computer models to simulate groundwater flow (Pinder and Bredehoeft, 1970) and contaminant transport (Bredehoeft and Pinder, 1973). Collaboration with Dr. Robert A. Young produced one of the first instances of coupling a hydrologic model with a behavioral-economic model to analyze the economics of irrigated agriculture (Bredehoeft and Young, 1983). Dr. Bredehoeft also developed many novel techniques for determining difficult-to-measure quantities, such as the use of temperature profile in wells to estimate vertical flow through aquitards (Bredehoeft and Papadopulos, 1965), the pressure-pulse test to measure the hydraulic properties of tight rocks (Bredehoeft and Papadopulos, 1980), and the use of earth tide to estimate aquifer specific storage (Bredehoeft, 1967).

Dr. Bredehoeft was among the few Earth scientists who understood the role of fluids in geological processes before the topic was widely recognized. He and his USGS colleagues carried out the now-famous Rangely (Colorado) experiment, using fluid injection to create and control earthquakes (Raleigh et al., 1976). He was among the first to use hydraulic fracturing to determine the state of stress within the Earth (Bredehoeft et al., 1976). His research in regional groundwater flow systems revealed the nature of brine distribution (Bredehoeft et al., 1963), excess fluid pressure (Bredehoeft and Hanshaw, 1968), sub-normal fluid pressure (Belitz and Bredehoeft, 1988), and the role of confining layers (Bredehoeft et al., 1983).

For his scientific contributions, Dr. Bredehoeft received numerous recognitions, including the Horton Medal from the American Geophysical Union, the Penrose Medal from the Geological Society of America, the M. King Hubbert Award from the National Ground Water Association, and membership in the National Academy of Engineering.

Nonetheless, not being a person who dwelt on his achievements, he would have been pleased if we honored him through educating ourselves by studying some of his groundbreaking publications.

References and Further Reading

Belitz, Kenneth, and J. D. Bredehoeft, 1988, Hydrodynamics of Denver Basin: Explanation of subnormal fluid pressures, AAPG bulletin, v. 72, no. 11, pp. 1334-1359, doi:10.1306/703C999C-1707-11D7-8645000102C1865D.

Bredehoeft, J. D., 1967, Response of well-aquifer systems to Earth tides, Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 72, no. 12, p. 3075– 3087, doi:10.1029/JZ072i012p03075.

Bredehoeft, J. D., C. R. Blyth, W. A. White, and G. B. Maxey, 1963, Possible mechanism for concentration of brines in subsurface formations, AAPG Bulletin v. 47, no. 2, pp. 257-269, doi:10.1306/BC743983-16BE-11D7-8645000102C1865D.

Bredehoeft, J. D., and B. B. Hanshaw, 1968, On the maintenance of anomalous fluid pressures: I. Thick sedimentary sequences, Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 79, no. 9, pp. 1097-1106, doi:10.1130/0016-7606(1968)79[1097:OTMOAF]2.0.CO;2.

Bredehoeft, J. D., C. E. Neuzil, and P. C. D. Milly, 1983, Regional flow in the Dakota aquifer: a study of the role of confining layers, U. S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2237, doi:10.3133/wsp2237.

Bredehoeft, J. D., and I. S. Papadopulos, 1965, Rates of vertical groundwater movement estimated from the Earth’s thermal profile, Water Resources Research, v. 1, no. 2, pp. 325-328, doi:10.1029/WR001i002p00325.

Bredehoeft, J. D., and S. S. Papadopulos, 1980, A method for determining the hydraulic properties of tight formations, Water Resources Research, v. 16, no. 1, pp. 233-238, doi:10.1029/WR016i001p00233.

Bredehoeft, J. D., and G. F. Pinder, 1970, Digital analysis of areal flow in multiaquifer groundwater systems: A quasi three-dimensional model, Water Resources Research, v. 6, no. 3, pp. 883-888, doi:10.1029/WR006i003p00883.

Bredehoeft, J. D., and G. F. Pinder, 1973, Mass transport in flowing groundwater, Water Resources Research, v. 9, no. 1, pp. 194-210, doi:10.1029/WR009i001p00194.

Bredehoeft, J. D., R. G. Wolff, W. S. Keys, and Eugene Shuter, 1976, Hydraulic fracturing to determine the regional in situ stress field, Piceance Basin, Colorado, Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 87, no. 2, pp. 250-258, doi: 10.1130/0016-7606(1976)87<250:HFTDTR>2.0.CO;2

Bredehoeft, J. D., and R. A. Young, 1983, Conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water for irrigated agriculture: Risk aversion, Water Resources Research, v. 19, no. 5, pp. 1111– 1121, doi:10.1029/WR019i005p01111.

Konikow, L. F., and J. D. Bredehoeft, 2020, Groundwater resource development: Effect and sustainability, The Groundwater Project, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Raleigh, C. B., J. H. Healy, and J. D. Bredehoeft, 1976, An experiment in earthquake control at Rangely, Colorado, Science, v. 191, no. 4233, pp. 1230-1237, doi:10.1126/science.191.4233.1230.