Our Rich Historical Legacy: 1900-Present

  • Portrait of Thomas MacBride



    A New Mandate

    It is interesting to note that the 1892 legislative mandate for the Geological Survey called for (in addition to classical geological pursuits):

    … investigating the characters of the various soils and their capacities for agricultural purposes; the growth of timber, the animal and plant life of the state, the streams and water power, and other scientific and natural history matters that may be of practical importance and interest.

    It is not unusual to see the individual county geological reports published in the Annual Report Series, supplemented with extensive botanical reports on prairie and forest flora, as well as meteorological records or information on archaeological remains. In fact, the Bulletin Series (1901–30) devotes entire volumes to the grasses, weed flora, rodents, raptorial birds, and honey plants of Iowa. This broad approach to natural science characterized individual geologists as well as the role of geological institutions of the time. Men such as Samuel Calvin, Thomas MacBride, and Bohumil Shimek were equally at home in several fields of natural history now regarded as separate scientific disciplines. Louis H. Pammel, Ada Hayden, and Charlotte M. King were recognized botanists who served as special assistants on the survey staff. Charles R. Keyes, William H. Norton, and H. Foster Bain were other geological authors whose highly readable county reports were written in a personal, almost poetic, style seldom seen in today’s technical literature.

  • Old photo of Calvin Hall



    At Home with the Hawkeyes

    The assistant state geologist oversaw offices in Des Moines until 1934, when state budget cuts resulted in moving the headquarters permanently to Iowa City, where most of the actual work was done. Since that time, the survey has been housed on the University of Iowa campus, but until 2014, the survey had no administrative ties to the university. Initially, the staff occupied limited space in the geology building (Calvin Hall), and in 1938 moved next door to the “Geology Annex,” a former Department of Botany greenhouse and laboratory. According to former State Geologist H. Garland Hershey, on the day of this move, all the well-sample cuttings were put in the greenhouse. A hailstorm a few hours later demolished most of the panes, and considerable time was spent separating glass from samples, and later, building storage space under the greenhouse slab.

  • Coversheet of 1908 IGS annual report



    The Annual Report Series

    As noted, Iowa’s counties became the geographical unit in which the state’s more detailed geological information was compiled. By 1941, 38 volumes in the Annual Report Series were published (only five out of the state’s 99 counties were not completed), and to a large degree the history of the Iowa Geological Survey during this period is contained within them. In addition to the county reports, these volumes were also devoted to special topics such as:

    - A bibliography of Iowa geology, coal, gypsum, lead, and zinc
    - Artesian wells
    - Clays
    - Cement materials
    - Quarry products
    - Devonian fishes of Iowa
    ​​​​​​​- Peat
    ​​​​​​​- Underground water resources
    ​​​​​​​- Pleistocene mammals
    ​​​​​​​- Road and concrete materials
    ​​​​​​​- Iron ore
    ​​​​​​​- Origin of dolomite
    ​​​​​​​- The Des Moines Valley
    ​​​​​​​- Iowan drift
    ​​​​​​​- Pleistocene of northwestern Iowa
    ​​​​​​​- Extinct Lake Calvin
    ​​​​​​​- Devonian echinoderms
    ​​​​- Mississippian stratigraphy
    ​​​​​​​- Trilobites
    ​​​- Altitudes in Iowa
    ​​​​​​​- Deep wells
    ​​​​​​​- Pre-Illinoian Pleistocene geology
    ​​​​​​​- The Maquoketa Shale
    ​​​​​​​- The Dakota Stage
    ​​​​​​​- Pleistocene gravels, and
    ​​​​​​​​​​​​- Illinoian and post-Illinoian Pleistocene geology

    This listing of some of the more lengthy reports demonstrates the growing diversity in geologic investigations, as well as the attention devoted to economic aspects of the state’s geology.

  • Portrait of Melvin Arey



    Samuel Calvin

    Together, these county reports admirably reflect Calvin’s philosophy, as set forth in 1892 when he wrote:

    The work of the Survey is now fairly begun. The questions of greatest economic interest to the people of the State cannot all be fully settled at once … It must also be borne in mind that the determination of the economic problems, which must ever be kept in view as the end sought after in this Survey, is an impossibility without the preliminary determination of questions relating to the genesis and order of succession of the geological strata.

    The significance of Calvin’s influence is best summed up by Melvin F. Arey’s comments in reference to the first 20 Annual Report volumes:

    … which will ever stand as a worthy monument to the energy, scholarship, and eminent ability of the great souled man who planned the work and himself did no small part of it and who chose and directed as his assistants men who, in the midst of other heavy tasks, gladly gave themselves to the furtherance of the plans of their great leader, who for 40 years was so identified with Iowa Geology that the one can scarcely be thought of apart from the other. (Arey, 1912, p. 70)

  • Portrait of Arthur C. Trowbridge



    Arthur C. Trowbridge

    These county reports also contain concepts important to the evolution of geologic thought in the United States, as well as worldwide. Iowa played an important role in presenting the stratigraphic facts that established the concept of multiple continental glaciations during the Pleistocene. The complexity of these glacial periods, including the existence of warm, interglacial episodes as interpreted from the “Aftonian” gravels of western Iowa and their classic fauna of Pleistocene mammals, was unraveled by such men as McGee, Chamberlin, Salisbury, Calvin, and Leverett. Confirmation of the windblown origin of loess, based in part on his study of land snails, was presented by Shimek in the Geology of Harrison and Monona Counties (1909). This emphasis on midwestern Pleistocene studies continued under George F. Kay and Arthur C. Trowbridge (IGS director, 1934–47). Problems related to glacial drifts, gravels, buried soils, peats, and loess were inseparable from economic geology in Iowa. The adaptability of Iowa’s terrain and soils to agriculture, and the importance of agriculture to Iowa’s economy and as a factor in today’s environmental issues ensure the continued justification for Quaternary research.

  • Portrait of H. Garland Hershey



    H. Garland Hershey

    In 1947, State Geologist H. Garland Hershey succeeded Trowbridge, with whom he had served as assistant state geologist beginning in 1939. This was also the watershed year in which the director of the Geological Survey and the chair of the Department of Geology were separated into two full-time positions. Today, the Iowa Geological Survey and the Department of Geology continue to enjoy a beneficial association, sharing a good library and lab facilities, with the survey providing opportunities for student employment, staff guidance on Iowa-based thesis projects, and occasionally filling the role of adjunct professor.

  • Photo of Trowbridge Hall, circa 1940s




    In 1951, an addition to the main building was constructed, and in 1963, arrangements for off-campus warehouse facilities were completed. In 1975, the survey and the Department of Geology both moved into Trowbridge Hall, and in 1979 the sample library, publications and archives, laboratory facilities, and additional offices were installed on the university’s Oakdale Campus (now the UI Research Park) in nearby Coralville.

  • Photo of a page from a strip log



    Groundwater Research and Service

    In his 22 years of service, Hershey greatly expanded the survey’s groundwater research and service functions. The post-war expansion of Iowa’s economy included industry as well as agriculture. Hershey observed, “One of the first needs of new industry locating in Iowa is a good water supply, usually obtained from wells they drill with the aid of information from our records” (Jensen, 1955). Those records now include more than 30,000 wells, including sample sets of drill cuttings, drillers’ logs, and rock cores. The collection and interpretation of these records is the heart of the survey database. They reflect a continuing cooperative association with the state’s water-well drillers and are invaluable in the preparation of groundwater availability forecasts and in addressing water resource issues. This improved database also made possible the siting of underground natural gas and liquid-petroleum-gas storage facilities in Iowa.

  • Photo of Samuel Tuthill



    Samuel J. Tuthill

    Samuel J. Tuthill’s career as state geologist and director began in 1969 and is notable for the creative application of the survey’s traditional research and service functions to the resource, environmental, and energy issues that faced Iowa in the early 1970s. A scientific investigation of Cold Water Cave was conducted to determine its potential as a scientific and public resource. New regulations governing site selection of sanitary landfills were adopted based on geologic criteria designed to protect water resources. The Remote Sensing Laboratory was established within the survey to apply information from aerial and satellite imagery to a broad range of interagency users. The first land-use map of the state was produced and new methods of flood-hazard assessment were inaugurated using this information base. The expansion and diversification of public services and interagency cooperation included his teaming with other agency administrators and the Governor’s Office to coordinate Iowa’s response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo. A coal-resources evaluation program and a drilling program to examine the hydrology of carbonate aquifers in the eastern Iowa groundwater district were also established. He focused public attention on the role of carbonate rocks and the impact of agriculture on groundwater problems. In a 1972 speech delivered to a seminar for community leaders, he stated, “It is not the use of chemicals that serve agriculture, it is the chemicals that escape productive agricultural systems that damage water resources.” This emphasis on the importance of understanding geologic systems in addressing the state’s environmental concerns continues today as a concept fundamental to our existence.

  • Photo of Stanley Grant



    Stanley C. Grant

    Stanley C. Grant took over the reins of the Iowa Geological Survey in 1975. As the staff had grown from about 14 in 1965 to 41 in 1978, he initiated an internal reorganization into several management divisions reflecting the survey’s various programs and functions. An annual newsletter joined the list of survey publications in 1976 and in 1979 became known as Iowa Geology, a magazine of illustrated articles designed to communicate important and interesting information about the state’s geology to the public. The survey’s advisory role to other state and federal agencies continued to expand in the areas of remote sensing applications, energy resources, data systems management, and “environmental geology,” a term that came in vogue to describe this more intense and visible, practical application of geology to contemporary resources issues. Highlights of programs that continued or were initiated during this period included development of a state water plan, study of strippable coal reserves, availability of groundwater for irrigation, applied soils engineering and surficial geology studies, monitoring of earthquake activity, appraisal of groundwater occurrence and quality by aquifer and region, uses of Mississippi River dredge materials, geologic analysis of the Cherokee Archaeological Site, Missouri River landownership litigations, toxic waste problems, Plum River Fault zone mapping, Pleistocene stratigraphy, and improvements in data storage and retrieval systems.

  • Photo of Donald K. Koch



    Donald K. Koch

    Donald L. Koch became director and state geologist in 1980, noting the survey’s improved capabilities in problem-solving and service functions as a result of refinements in data collection and interpretation over the years. Growing interest in the Midcontinent Rift Zone, a good example of refinements in geophysical techniques, resulted in the 1987 completion of the deepest well yet drilled in Iowa, the M.G. Eischeid No. 1 in Carroll County, an AMOCO Production Company oil and gas test to 17,851 feet. Also, 1987 was a milestone in terms of the completion of statewide topographic map coverage by the USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle series. An abundant concentration of Mississippian amphibian fossils, perhaps the oldest known tetrapods in North America, was discovered in Keokuk County in 1985. Major studies also continued in water resources evaluation, especially the documentation of water-quality degradation in shallow carbonate and alluvial aquifers. Research efforts were oriented toward development of land treatment and management strategies that could be implemented to reduce groundwater contamination. Other studies included agricultural drainage wells, leakage from underground storage tanks, abandoned coal-mine lands and subsidence problems, geomorphological influences on the preservation of archaeological resources, Des Moines Lobe surficial geology, a municipal water-supply inventory, Plum River Fault Zone mineralization, and enhanced computer processing capabilities.

  • Photo of Keith Schilling



    Looking to the Future

    The year 1992 marked the centennial of the state geological survey in Iowa. The U.S. Geological Survey celebrated its centennial in 1979. The Geological Society of America celebrated its centennial in 1988, with its ambitious Decade of North American Geology (DNAG) publications project now completed. Our staff’s comprehensive stratigraphic review of the geologic section in Iowa was part of the DNAG contribution. The Association of American State Geologist’s sponsorship of this volume of state geological survey histories is another example of the considerable interest sparked by these anniversaries in tracing the roots of geological science in this country and among the individual states. They have caused us to take a long look back, evaluate our current status, and consider the future. It is clear, as stated at the outset, that our existence and work are tied to the state’s economic and political tides and to the state’s definition of the geological needs of the public. In 1986, the original Iowa Geological Survey merged with three other state agencies to form a new Department of Natural Resources. This change reflected similar patterns experienced in other states and their geological surveys.

    Today, State Geologist Keith Schilling leads the Iowa Geological Survey, which is now part of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa. As this historical review becomes meshed with current events, the focus becomes closer and more detailed with a consequent clouding of broader perspectives. We have seen a shift from naturalist to specialist among geologists; a shift from looking at drawings of the Earth’s resources to cameras, aerial photography, and satellite imagery; a shift in orientation of data acquisition from surface exploration, spurred by the 19th-century influence of railroads in quest of routes and resources, to subsurface exploration spurred by the 20th-century role of the water-well and petroleum industries.

    The future of the state geological survey of Iowa will be closely tied to economic and environmental concerns. The inventory, development, management, and conservation of the state’s geological resources are recognized as vital elements in Iowa’s economic stability and future growth. There is a finite limit to these resources, and they are not uniformly distributed in quantity or quality. There are competing interests for their use. Sensitive geological environments exist that are vulnerable to contamination from human activities. Iowa’s diverse public interests need a technically qualified source of reliable information on water, mineral, rock, soil, and energy resources to aid the resolution of environmental issues and to develop assessments for resource development, protection, and management. This framework of needs will guide our future. Calvin (1909) wrote,

    It has been the aim of the Survey to collect and furnish trustworthy information, the fullest possible, relative to the geological structure and resources of Iowa; but while the purely economic side of the subject has necessarily been emphasized in all the work so far done, any facts that could make knowledge clearer, broader, more definite, have not been neglected. … The pure science of today becomes the basis of the applied science of tomorrow, and enlightened states, the world over, realize that money expended for the prosecution and encouragement of scientific research, is money well invested. By the substitution of definite knowledge for vague uncertainty relative to water supplies … and all other natural products, the Survey has saved to the citizens of Iowa, many times over, all that the Survey has cost.

    This philosophy also must be part of our future. Finally, communication of these research results to the public and to nongeologists needing geological information will be increasingly important. About this, Calvin said,

    The Survey has earned its place as an important factor in contributing … to public education, helping the people to see and appreciate and correctly interpret the geological phenomena which lie all about them.

    Calvin’s well-articulated message, of responding to the state’s economic resource needs, with information based on scientific research and communicated effectively, is as valid today as it was more than 100 years ago.