Sean McKenna Profile Photo
Dr. Sean McKenna
Executive Director, Division of Hydrologic Sciences

Professional Interests

Dr. McKenna is the Executive Director of the Division of Hydrologic Sciences (DHS) at the Desert Research Institute (DRI). In this position he is responsible for success of a Division with ~120 Research Faculty and Scientists, Postdocs, and Students. DHS works to advance knowledge of hydrologic processes including ground water, surface water, evapotranspiration, precipitation and snowmelt as well as the impacts of climate change and wildfires on these processes and on society. Projects within DHS span the full spectrum from basic science to applied solutions.

Dr. McKenna has over 30 years of experience in initiating and completing research projects that translate basic science to impactful solutions. Prior to joining DRI, Dr. McKenna was a Senior Manager at IBM Research Europe from 2012 to 2020. IBM Research is the largest industrial research organization in the world and Dr. McKenna was hired to lead the water and energy areas for a newly formed Research Laboratory in Dublin, Ireland focused on Smarter Cities. This work evolved into broader research and applications in the areas of Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and AI. Dr. McKennas responsibilities at IBM covered all aspects of initiating research projects and moving outcomes of those projects into solutions for academic, industrial and government sponsors. Parallel responsibilities included business development (Europe and Middle East), creation and review of intellectual property (IP), hiring and mentoring of research staff (MS and PhD) and coordinating projects with 12 other IBM Research labs as well as IBM Business Units.

From 1994-2012, Dr. McKenna was in the Geosciences Research and Development Group at Sandia National Laboratories. There he focused on numerical modeling, spatial statistics and applied mathematics to create solutions to problems in areas of Energy, Homeland Security, Environmental Restoration and Climate Change. His research interests led to solutions for the secure, long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste; real-time protection of water distribution systems from accidental and intentional contamination; and restoration of millions of acres of land potentially containing unexploded ordnance. Dr. McKennas work at Sandia included a two-year assignment in Singapore where he executed projects on water security, energy forecasting and national security.

Dr. McKennas research interests are within the areas of Hydrologeology (numerical modeling of ground water flow and solute transport with inverse parameter estimation in heterogeneous media), Geostatistics (integration of multiple data types and supports into spatial estimation and uncertainty quantification) and Hydroinformatics (online anomaly detection, long-term monitoring networks, leak detection).

Dr. McKenna has served as an Adjunct or Visiting Professor at New Mexico Tech (Dept. of Environmental Science), University of New Mexico (Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences; Dept. of Civil Engineering), National University of Singapore (Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering) and the University of Texas (Dept. of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering). He has taught ~15 short courses/workshops for national and international organizations in areas of water security, probabilistic risk assessment, and geostatistics.

Research Areas

  • Ground water flow and solute transport modeling
  • Parameter estimation
  • Hydroinformatics
  • Spatial Statistics

Awards and Honors

  • IBM Industry Academy Member, nominated for expertise in Environment, Energy and Utility (EEU) Business Unit and service to IBM global EEU business development (2017)
  • International Association of Mathematical Geosciences (IAMG) Distinguished Lecturer (2016)
  • Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) Award (Team Leader), Interagency Partnership Resulting in Technology Transfer (US Dept. of Energy with US EPA) (2011)
  • R&D 100 Award, (Team Leader), CANARY Software selected as one of the 100 most significant technologies of 2010 by R&D Magazine (2010)


Geostatistics, Parameter Estimation, Ground Water Modeling, Uncertainty Quantification, Machine Learning


McKenna, S., Akhriev, A., Ciaurri, D., Zhuk, S. (2020). Efficient uncertainty quantification of reservoir properties for parameter estimation and production forecasting, Mathematical Geosciences, 52 (2), 233-251

Arandia, E., Eck, B., McKenna, S., Wynter, L., Blandin, S. (2019). The Internet of Things and Machine Learning, Solutions for Urban Infrastructure Management, In Mathematics of Planet Earth, 337-368, Springer

Arandia, E., O?Donncha, F., McKenna, S., Tirupathi, S., Ragnoli, E. (2019). Surrogate modeling and risk-based analysis for solute transport simulations, Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment, 33 (11), 1907-1921

McKenna, S. (2018). Statistical parametric mapping for geoscience applications, In Handbook of Mathematical Geosciences, 277-297, Springer: Cham, Switzerland

Arandia, E., Ba, A., Eck, B., McKenna, S. (2016). Tailoring seasonal time series models to forecast short-term water demand, Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 142 (3), 04015067

Rinehart, A., McKenna, S., Dewers, T. (2016). Using wavelet covariance models for simultaneous picking of overlapping P?and S?wave arrival times in noisy single?component data, Seismological Research Letters, 87 (4), 893-900

Tirupathi, S., Tchrakian, T., Zhuk, S., McKenna, S. (2016). Shock capturing data assimilation algorithm for 1d shallow water equations, Advances in Water Resources, 88, 198-210

Ba, A., McKenna, S. (2015). Water quality monitoring with online change-point detection methods, Journal of Hydroinformatics, 17 (1), 7-19

Celauro, J., Torrealba, V., Karpyn, Z., Klise, K., McKenna, S. (2014). Pore-scale multiphase flow experiments in bead packs of variable wettability, Geofluids, 14 (1), 95-105

Heath, J., McKenna, S., Dewers, T., Roach, J., Kobos, P. (2014). Multiwell CO2 injectivity: impact of boundary conditions and brine extraction on geologic CO2 storage efficiency and pressure buildup, Environmental Science & Technology, 48 (2), 1067-1074

Kalinina, E., Klise, K., McKenna, S., Hadgu, T., Lowry, T. (2014). Applications of fractured continuum model to enhanced geothermal system heat extraction problems, SpringerPlus, 3 (1), 1-13

McKenna, S., Fusco, F., Eck, B. (2014). Water Demand Pattern Classification from Smart Meter Data, Procedia Engineering, 70, 1121-1130

Ray, J., Yadav, V., Michalak, A., van Bloemen Waanders, B., McKenna, S. (2014). A multiresolution spatial parameterization for the estimation of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions via atmospheric inversions, Geoscientific Model Development, 7 (5), 1901-1918

Difallah, D., Cudre-Mauroux, P., McKenna, S. (2013). Scalable anomaly detection for smart city infrastructure networks, IEEE Internet Computing, 17 (6), 39-47

Ginn, T., Nassar, M., Kamai, T., Klise, K., Tidwell, V., McKenna, S. (2013). On a recent solute transport laboratory experiment involving sandstone and its modeling, Water Resources Research, 49 (11), 7327-7338

McKenna, S., Pike, D. (2013). Fluid Pressure Redistribution Events Within a Fault: Impact of Material Property Correlation, In Advances in Hydrogeology, 57-72, Springer: New York, NY

McKenna, S., Vugrin, E., Hart, D., Aumer, R. (2013). Multivariate trajectory clustering for false positive reduction in online event detection, Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 139 (1), 3-12

Yoon, H., Hart, D., McKenna, S. (2013). Parameter estimation and predictive uncertainty in stochastic inverse modeling of groundwater flow: Comparing null?space Monte Carlo and multiple starting point methods, Water Resources Research, 49 (1), 536-553

Heath, J., Kobos, P., Roach, J., Dewers, T., McKenna, S. (2012). Geologic heterogeneity and economic uncertainty of subsurface carbon dioxide storage, SPE Economics & Management, 4 (01), 32-41

Kalinina, E., McKenna, S., Hadgu, T., Lowry, T. (2012). Analysis of the Effects of Heterogeneity on Heat Extraction in an EGS Represented with the Continuum Fracture Model, Sandia National Laboratories: Albuquerque, NM

Kalinina, E., McKenna, S., Klise, K., Hadgu, T., Lowry, T. (2012). Incorporating complex three-dimensional fracture networks into geothermal reservoir simulation, Sandia National Laboratories: Albuquerque, NM

Mann, A., McKenna, S., Hart, W., Laird, C. (2012). Real-time inversion in large-scale water networks using discrete measurements, Computers & Chemical Engineering, 37, 143-151

Ray, J., McKenna, S., van Bloemen Waanders, B., Marzouk, Y. (2012). Bayesian reconstruction of binary media with unresolved fine-scale spatial structures, Advances in Water Resources, 44, 1-19

Yoon, H., McKenna, S. (2012). Highly parameterized inverse estimation of hydraulic conductivity and porosity in a three?dimensional, heterogeneous transport experiment, Water Resources Research, 48 (10)

Koch, M., McKenna, S. (2011). Distributed sensor fusion in water quality event detection, Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 137 (1), 10-19

McKenna, S., Hart, D., Murray, R., Haxton, T. (2011). Testing and evaluation of water quality event detection algorithms, In Handbook of Water and Wastewater Systems Protection, 369-396, Springer: New York, NY

McKenna, S., Ray, J., Marzouk, Y., van Bloemen Waanders, B. (2011). Truncated multiGaussian fields and effective conductance of binary media, Advances in Water Resources, 34 (5), 617-626

Hart, D., McKenna, S., Murray, R., Haxton, T. (2010). Combining water quality and operational data for improved event detection, In Water Distribution Systems Analysis, 287-295, ASCE

Lowry, T., Tidwell, V., Blankenship, D., Hadgu, T., Kobos, P., Klise, G., Villa, D., McKenna, S., Kalinina, E. (2010). A Multi-Tiered System Dynamics Approach for Geothermal Systems Analysis and Evaluation, Sandia National Lab.(SNL-NM), Albuquerque, NM (United States); Sandia …

Murray, R., Haxton, T., McKenna, S., Hart, D., Klise, K., Koch, M., Vugrin, E., Martin, S., Wilson, M., Cruze, V. (2010). Water quality event detection systems for drinking water contamination warning systems?development, testing, and application of CANARY, 91 pp., EPA/600/R-010/036

Wong, A., Young, J., Laird, C., Hart, W., McKenna, S. (2010). Optimal determination of grab sample locations and source inversion in large-scale water distribution systems, In Water Distribution Systems Analysis, 412-425

Wong, A., McKenna, S., Hart, W., Laird, C. (2010). Real-time inversion and response planning in large-scale networks, In Computer Aided Chemical Engineering, 28, 1027-1032, Elsevier

Hart, D., McKenna, S. (2009). CANARY user’s manual, version 4.1, Sandia National Laboratories. US Environmental Protection Agency

Hart, D., McKenna, S., Klise, K., Wilson, M., Murray, R. (2009). CANARY user’s manual and software upgrades. US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-08/040A

Klise, K., Weissmann, G., McKenna, S., Nichols, E., Frechette, J., Wawrzyniec, T., Tidwell, V. (2009). Exploring solute transport and streamline connectivity using lidar?based outcrop images and geostatistical representations of heterogeneity, Water Resources Research, 45 (5)

Austin, R., Waanders, B., McKenna, S., Choi, C. (2008). Mixing at cross junctions in water distribution systems. II: Experimental study, Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 134 (3), 295-302

Klise, K., Tidwell, V., McKenna, S. (2008). Comparison of laboratory-scale solute transport visualization experiments with numerical simulation using cross-bedded sandstone, Advances in Water Resources, 31 (12), 1731-1741

McKenna, S., Wilson, M., Klise, K. (2008). Detecting changes in water quality data, Journal?American Water Works Association, 100 (1), 74-85

Kulatilake, P., Park, J., Balasingam, P., McKenna, S. (2007). Hierarchical probabilistic regionalization of volcanism for Sengan region, Japan, Geotechnical and Geological Engineering, 25 (1), 79-102

Saito, H., McKenna, S. (2007). Delineating high-density areas in spatial Poisson fields from strip-transect sampling using indicator geostatistics: application to unexploded ordnance removal, Journal of environmental management, 84 (1), 71-82

Khanal, N., Buchberger, S., McKenna, S. (2006). Distribution system contamination events: Exposure, influence, and sensitivity, Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 132 (4), 283-292

McKenna, S., Reeves, P. (2006). Fractured continuum approach to stochastic permeability modeling, In Stochastic Modeling and Geostatistics: Principles, Methods, and Case Studies, Volume II, AAPG

McKenna, S., Hart, D., Yarrington, L. (2006). Impact of sensor detection limits on protecting water distribution systems from contamination events, Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 132 (4), 305-309

McKenna, S., Wahi, A. (2006). Local hydraulic gradient estimator analysis of long?term monitoring networks, Groundwater, 44 (5), 723-731

Khanal, N., Buchberger, S., McKenna, S., Clark, R., Grayman, W. (2005). Vulnerability assessment of water distribution system to chemical intrusions, In Impacts of Global Climate Change, 1-12

Orear, L., Hammond, G., McKenna, S., Molina, P., Johnson, R., O’Hern, T., van Bloemen Waanders, B. (2005). Physical modeling of scaled water distribution systems networks, Sandia National Laboratories: Albuquerque, NM, SAND 2005-6776

Saito, H., Coburn, T., McKenna, S. (2005). Geostatistical noise filtering of geophysical images: application to unexploded ordnance (UXO) sites, In Geostatistics Banff 2004, 921-926, Springer: Dordrecht, Germany

Saito, H., McKenna, S., Goovaerts, P. (2005). Accounting for geophysical information in geostatistical characterization of unexploded ordnance (UXO) sites, Environmental and Ecological Statistics, 12 (1), 7-25

Saito, H., McKenna, S., Zimmerman, D., Coburn, T. (2005). Geostatistical interpolation of object counts collected from multiple strip transects: ordinary kriging versus finite domain kriging, Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment, 19 (1), 71-85

Gaud, M., Smith, G., McKenna, S. (2004). Relating small-scale permeability heterogeneity to lithofacies distribution, In Aquifer Characterization, SEPM

McKenna, S., Beauheim, R., Chavez, J. (2004). Culebra Water Level Monitoring Network Design, Sandia National Laboratories. ERMS: Carlsbad, NM, Analysis Report AP-111

McKenna, S., Selroos, J. (2004). Constraining performance assessment models with tracer test results: a comparison between two conceptual models, Hydrogeology Journal, 12 (3), 243-256

McKenna, S., Smith, G. (2004). Sensitivity of groundwater flow patterns to parameterization of object-based fluvial aquifer models, In Aquifer Characterization, SEPM Special Publication No. 80, SEPM

McKenna, S., Doherty, J., Hart, D. (2003). Non-uniqueness of inverse transmissivity field calibration and predictive transport modeling, Journal of Hydrology, 281 (4), 265-280

McKenna, S., Walker, D., Arnold, B. (2003). Modeling dispersion in three-dimensional heterogeneous fractured media at Yucca Mountain, Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 62, 577-594

Powers, D., Holt, R., Beauheim, R., McKenna, S., Johnson, K., Neal, J. (2003). Geological Factors Related to the Transmissivity of the Culebra Dolomite Member, Permian Rustler Formation, Delaware Basin, Southeastern New Mexico, In Evaporite Karst and Engineering/Environmental Problems in the United States. Oklahoma Geological Survey Circular, 109, 211-218

Altman, S., Meigs, L., Jones, T., McKenna, S. (2002). Controls of mass recovery rates in single?well injection?withdrawal tracer tests with a single?porosity, heterogeneous conceptualization, Water Resources Research, 38 (7), 30-1-30-15

Haggerty, R., Fleming, S., Meigs, L., McKenna, S. (2001). Tracer tests in a fractured dolomite: 2. Analysis of mass transfer in single?well injection?withdrawal tests, Water Resources Research, 37 (5), 1129-1142

McKenna, S., Meigs, L., Haggerty, R. (2001). Tracer tests in a fractured dolomite: 3. Double?porosity, multiple?rate mass transfer processes in convergent flow tracer tests, Water Resources Research, 37 (5), 1143-1154

Haggerty, R., McKenna, S., Meigs, L. (2000). On the late?time behavior of tracer test breakthrough curves, Water Resources Research, 36 (12), 3467-3479

Wingle, W., Poeter, E., McKenna, S. (1999). UNCERT: geostatistics, uncertainty analysis and visualization software applied to groundwater flow and contaminant transport modeling, Computers & Geosciences, 25 (4), 365-376

McKenna, S. (1998). Geostatistical approach for managing uncertainty in environmental remediation of contaminated soils: case study, Environmental & Engineering Geoscience, 4 (2), 175-184

Poeter, E., McKenna, S. (1998). Combining geologic information and inverse parameter estimation to improve ground water models, In Hydrogeologic models of sedimentary aquifers: Concepts in Hydrogeology and Environmental Geology, 171-188

Altman, S., Arnold, B., Barnard, R., Barr, G., Ho, C., McKenna, S., Eaton, R. (1996). Flow calculations for Yucca Mountain groundwater travel time (GWTT-95), Sandia National Labs., Albuquerque, NM (United States)

McKenna, S., Poeter, E. (1995). Field example of data fusion in site characterization, Water Resources Research, 31 (12), 3229-3240

Poeter, E., McKenna, S. (1995). Reducing uncertainty associated with ground?water flow and transport predictions, Groundwater, 33 (6), 899-904

McKenna, S. (1994). Utilization of soft data for uncertainty reduction in groundwater flow and transport modeling, Colorado School of Mines: Golden, CO, Ph.D. Dissertation.

McKenna, S., Poeter, E. (1994). Simulating geological uncertainty with imprecise data for groundwater flow and advective transport modeling, In Stochastic Modeling and Geostatistics: Principles, Methods, and Case Studies, AAPG

McKenna, S., Ingraham, N., Jacobson, R. L., Cochran, G. F. (1992). A stable isotope study of bank storage mechanisms in the Truckee river basin, Journal of Hydrology, 134 (1-4), 203-219

McKenna, S. (1990). Examination of water quality and groundwater-surface water interaction during drought periods, Truckee River, California-Nevada, University of Nevada, Reno, M.S. Thesis.

Conference Proceedings
Perez, L. J., Bebis, G., McKenna, S., Parashar, R. (2021). Estimating solute transport in heterogeneous porous media via machine learning, AGU Fall Meeting: New Orleans, LA, December 13, 2021-December 17, 2021

Eck, B., McKenna, S., Akrhiev, A., Kishimoto, A., Palmes, P., Taheri, N., van den Heever, S. (2014). Pump scheduling for uncertain electricity prices, 426-434, World Environmental and Water Resources Congress: Portland, OR, June 1, 2014-June 5, 2014

Lowry, T., Kalinina, E., Hadgu, T., McKenna, S., Cutler, L. (2012). Integrated risk assessment for geothermal energy development and evaluation, Thirty-Seventh Workshop on Geothermal Reservoir Engineering: Stanford, CA, January 30, 2012-February 1, 2012

Vugrin, E., McKenna, S., Hart, D. (2009). Trajectory clustering approach for reducing water quality event false alarms, 1-10, World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2009: Great Rivers: Kansas City, MO, May 17, 2009-May 21, 2009

Hart, D., McKenna, S., Klise, K., Cruz, V., Wilson, M. (2007). CANARY: a water quality event detection algorithm development tool, 1-9, World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2007: Restoring Our Natural Habitat

Ho, C., Choi, C., McKenna, S. (2007). Evaluation of complete and incomplete mixing models in water distribution pipe network simulations, 1-12, World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2007: Restoring Our Natural Habitat

McKenna, S., Hart, D., Klise, K., Cruz, V., Wilson, M. (2007). Event detection from water quality time series, 1-12, World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2007: Restoring Our Natural Habitat

McKenna, S., Orear, L., Wright, J. (2007). Experimental determination of solute mixing in pipe joints, 1-11, World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2007: Restoring Our Natural Habitat

Ho, C., Orear, J., Wright, J., McKenna, S. (2006). Contaminant mixing at pipe joints: Comparison between laboratory flow experiments and computational fluid dynamics models, 1-18, 8th Annual Water Distribution Systems Analysis Symposium

Klise, K., McKenna, S. (2006). Water quality change detection: multivariate algorithms, 6203, 62030J, Optics and Photonics in Global Homeland Security II: International Society for Optics and Photonics

Klise, K., McKenna, S. (2006). Multivariate applications for detecting anomalous water quality, 1-11, 8th Annual Water Distribution Systems Analysis Symposium

McKenna, S., Klise, K., Wilson, M. (2006). Testing water quality change detection algorithms, 1-15, 8th Annual Water Distribution Systems Analysis Symposium

Romero-Gomez, P., Choi, C., van Bloemen Waanders, B., McKenna, S. (2006). Transport phenomena at intersections of pressurized pipe systems, 1-20, 8th Annual Water Distribution Systems Analysis Symposium

Saito, H., Goovaerts, P., McKenna, S. (2002). Combining Logistic Regression with Kriging for Mapping the Risk of Occurrence of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), IAMG Annual Meeting: Berlin, Germany

McKenna, S. (2001). Application of a doubly stochastic Poisson model to the spatial prediction of unexploded ordnance, 6-12, 2001 Annual Meeting of the International Association of Mathematical Geology: Cancun, Mexico, September 6, 2001-September 12, 2001

McKenna, S., Botea, A. (2020). Combined route planning and opportunistic searching in variable cost enviroments, US Patent App. 16/194,773

McKenna, S., Buesser, B., Tirupathi, S. (2020). Identification and localization of anomalous crop health patterns, US Patent 10,621,434

O’donncha, F., Chen, B., McKenna, S. (2020). Methods and systems for wave energy generation prediction and optimization, US Patent App. 16/102,616

Akhriev, A., McKenna, S., Moore, S., Zhuk, S. (2019). Multi-scale manifold learning for full waveform inversion, US Patent 10,353,093

Ba, A., Marinescu, R., McKenna, S. (2019). Dynamic water quality prediction, US Patent 10,458,969

McKenna, S., Tirupathi, S. (2019). Methods and systems for monitoring groundwater discharge, US Patent 10,215,883

O’donncha, F., Ragnoli, E., Arandia, E., McKenna, S. (2019). Methods and systems for managing aquaculture production, US Patent App. 15/865,532

Tirupathi, S., Fusco, F., McKenna, S. (2019). Methods and systems for optimizing and monitoring groundwater and solar energy usage, US Patent App. 15/971,040

McKenna, S., O’donncha, F., Ragnoli, E. (2017). Defining basis function requirements for image reconstruction, US Patent 9,558,554

Ba, A., McKenna, S. (2016). Water quality monitoring and early event detection, US Patent App. 14/591,949

McKenna, S., Suits, F. (2016). Measuring velocity using substance characteristics, US Patent App. 14/446,380