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Sandia engineer honored by American Indian science group

Dylan Moriarty, a geoscience engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, has been named the 2019 Most Promising Engineer or Scientist by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. (Randy Montoya/Sandia National Laboratories)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For Dylan Moriarty, the choice of a career was an easy one.

“As a kid, I liked to play in the dirt,” he told the Journal. “Civil engineers get to play in the dirt, and they have better toys.”

Moriarty has gone from playing in the dirt to monitoring the nation’s oil reserves as a geoscience engineer at Sandia National Laboratories.

bright spotAnd it’s a job he’s pretty good at. Just ask the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

The organization has named Moriarty – a member of the Navajo Nation – its 2019 Most Promising Engineer or Scientist.

“It’s really a great honor,” he said about the announcement made at the group’s annual conference earlier this month. “It wasn’t expected. It was a pleasant surprise.”

Moriarty joined the team of geoscientists at Sandia National Laboratories in 2014. He specializes in spatial statistics and data analytics, a field he first learned during his undergraduate internship at the labs.

“It’s a toolset that can be used for various engineering problems,” Moriarty said. For example, he uses spatial and regular statistics “to analyze data in space and time.”

His main project at Sandia involves monitoring ongoing site integrity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, created in 1977 to hold the country’s emergency oil reserves and ensure energy security. Moriarty has also applied his skills to analyze water distribution and traffic infrastructure networks, as well as describe multiphase fluid flow important to groundwater contamination and oil and gas extraction. “My goal is to use statistics to tell the most accurate story of a situation given the data,” he said.

“We study crude oil lodged in deep salt caverns,” Moriarty said. “No one has ever been down there.”

He said the oil is stored in four sites in Louisiana and Texas. The combined volume of the caverns equates to a storage capacity of more than 700 million barrels. Moriarty said one site had as many as 14 caverns, some as deep as World Trade Center 1, or Freedom Tower, in New York City.

He said his team looks at the day-to-day operations at the sites and helps people make decisions should problems arise. They monitor the health of the sites.

“We look at the vertical amount of the surface as it goes up and down,” he said. The analysis uses data from land surveyors and satellite-based measurements.

His job isn’t limited to monitoring the nation’s oil reserve. He also works on infrastructure and engineering problems at the labs.

“I work on a wide variety of problems that are all related to my background,” Moriarty said.

Moriarty attended high school in St. Michaels, Arizona, graduating in 2007 as one of 30 students. He completed a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Arizona in 2012. During that time, he interned at Sandia Labs, working with researchers detecting fugitive emissions of carbon dioxide, often from leaks or unintended releases from industrial equipment. In 2014, he finished a master’s degree in energy resources engineering from Stanford University, sponsored by a Sandia fellowship.

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