U.S. Geological Survey


A New Age Begins

In January 1956, after Director Wrather retired because of illness and age, Assistant Director Thomas B. Nolan became the Survey's seventh Director. During his 11 years as Assistant Director, Nolan had many times and for extended periods served as Acting Director so no transition period was needed. Nolan believed that geologists, because of the unique requirements imposed on them by their science, should expand their fields of interest from individual problems and "participate actively and authoritatively in the matters affecting the whole country."34 Until September 1965, when he resumed his research in Great Basin geology, Nolan pushed, prodded, and led the Survey to a broadened and intensified commitment to basic research, to the advancement of geology in the public service, and to the prompt publication of Survey results. As Assistant Director, he had also served as the Interior Department representative on the Interdepartmental Committee on Scientific Research and Development, on the Scientific Advisory Committee on Specialized Personnel to the Selective Service Committee, and on the Advisory Board on Education of the National Academy of Sciences, and had been president of the Society of Economic Geologists. As Director, his professional responsibilities outside the Survey were still further extended to service as vice president and president of the Geological Society of America, as vice president of the International Union of Geological Sciences, and on committees advisory to university geology departments.

Figure 38. Photo of Thomas Brennan Nolan, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, 1956-1965.

Figure 38. Thomas Brennan Nolan, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, 1956-1965.

Science and technology by this time were helping the Nation to meet many of its increasing demands for raw materials through improved methods of exploration, the ability to exploit lower-grade sources, and the substitution of common for less common materials, but new dimensions were added to the problem. Overspecialized exploitation of mineral resources in some areas caused economic problems; competition for resources, where development of one precluded use of others, created resource-management problems; the increasing industrial development and urbanization were creating wastes that caused health hazards and heightened vulnerability to damage by natural geologic processes. The Geological Survey in turn added new dimensions to its own investigations. In 1956, the Geological Survey began an evaluation of the effects of underground nuclear explosions at the Atomic Energy Commission's Nevada Test Site; that program was expanded to study the geologic and hydrologic conditions affecting the peaceful uses of atomic energy and the disposal of radioactive wastes. Geochemical exploration techniques, developed to aid the search for mineral resources, were adapted to investigate subtle differences in the natural distribution of chemical elements that might have a bearing on public health. Studies of geologic processes led to measures to protect the public from natural disasters; for example, research at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory not only provided new understanding of the formation of ore deposits but also aided in the prediction of volcanic eruptions.

Figure 39. Photo of marine geologists preparing sampling buckets to study the sea floor, 1962.

Figure 39. Marine geologists preparing sampling buckets to study the sea floor, 1962.

On October 4, 1957, Soviet scientists, investigating upper atmosphere conditions as part of the International Geophysical Year program, launched a rocket-powered artificial satellite "Sputnik" into orbit, astonishing the world and ushering in a new era in the sciences. The United States joined the race to explore space by putting Explorer I into orbit on January 31, 1958, and Vanguard I on March 17, 1958. In December 1958, Director Nolan, speaking at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, remarked that the early work of the Geological Survey had been characterized by a transition from exploration of a geographical to an intellectual frontier, but demands by younger scientists for studies of the geography of outer space might soon inaugurate a new cycle in the history of the Geological Survey. In 1959, the Survey compiled a photogeologic map of the Earth's satellite, the Moon, and began studies of tektites and impact craters. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed as a goal "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth"35 before the end of the decade, and in 1963, the Geological Survey, in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, began to train astronauts in geology and to investigate and evaluate methods and equipment for geological and geophysical exploration of the Moon.

Figure 40. Photo of an astronaut in the Survey training program 
for geologic investigations of the Moon, 1963.

Figure 40. An astronaut in the Survey training program for geologic investigations of the Moon, 1963.

Congress had by that time already expanded the Survey's Earth-bound investigations, to Antarctica and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1958, and to "outside the national domain"36 in 1962. In 1962, the Geological Survey began a program of marine studies to identify and evaluate potential mineral resources on or beneath the sea floor and to aid in solving the problems caused by rapid population growth, urbanization, and industrial expansion in coastal areas. Both the Geologic and Water Resources Divisions modified their internal organizations to deal more effectively with multidisciplinary investigations and research.

Under the Kennedy-Johnson administration in the early 1960's, appropriations were increased significantly, and total funds available for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1964, for the first time exceeded $100 million, more than double the amount available just a decade earlier. In 1964, the Geological Survey again prepared a long-range plan for its future. Research functions were obviously not susceptible to a definite schedule, but some phases of the work, such as the topographic mapping of the Nation, were planned for orderly progression toward completion. Standard 7.5- and 15-minute quadrangle maps had been published for approximately 60 percent of the total area of the United States, and advance prints were available for another 9 percent. The long-range plan called for completing the topographic maps of the United States and outlying areas in either 7.5- or 15-minute series by fiscal year 1976 and the 7.5-minute series for all areas of the United States except Alaska by fiscal year 1981. Research would be continued in mapping systems and cartography, and the applications of electronic measuring systems and data-processing systems investigated. An increase of approximately 50 percent in the collection of basic water data was planned for the decade 1964-1973, as well as the development and testing of digital recording equipment and processing of water data by automation by 1968. Generalized or detailed ground-water information would be available for 75 percent of the country and reconnaissance information for the remainder by the end of 1974. Research would be increased to approximately 25 percent of the water-resources program. Research in economic geology, engineering geology, regional geology, and experimental geology would be doubled to meet the accelerating needs for resources and to provide the basic geologic data for urban expansion, engineering construction, and other purposes. The marine program would map and evaluate the composition, structure, and resources of the ocean floor and study geologic and hydrologic processes that operate within the oceans to understand better the conditions under which ancient sediments and ore deposits were formed. For the attainment of these goals, the Geological Survey recognized that the cooperative relations with States and other Federal agencies which it had long enjoyed were essential.

Figure 41. Photo showing major earthquake damage in 1964, which destroyed this elementary school in Anchorage, Alaska, and spurred efforts to predict earthquakes.

Figure 41. A major earthquake in 1964, which destroyed this elementary school in Anchorage, Alaska, spurred efforts to predict earthquakes.

In 1964, however, new responsibilities were thrust upon the Geological Survey. One of the greatest earthquakes of all time struck south-central Alaska on March 27. Within a few hours, the Survey began a scientific and engineering study that extended through several field seasons and provided a very thorough documentation of a natural disaster. Survey geologists were also assigned to the Task Force of the Federal Reconstruction and Development Planning Commission and helped select sites for rebuilding the devastated area. In October 1965, following public release of a report by an Ad Hoc Panel of the President's Office of Science and Technology, the National Center for Earthquake Research was established in Menlo Park, California, to provide a focus for research on the causes, mechanics, and effects of earthquakes and on the development of methods for predicting the time, location, and destructive effects of earthquakes to reduce the loss of life and property.

On August 28, 1964, the Bureau of the Budget gave the Department of the Interior responsibility, which the Department then delegated to the Geological Survey, for the design and operation of the national network for collection of water data so that water information needed for effective development and management of water resources would be collected in a timely, effective, and economical fashion, and would be readily accessible at a single focal point. The Geological Survey in turn established an Office of Water Data Coordination. The new organization of the Water Resources Division made it possible for the Division to deal more effectively with multidisciplinary hydrologic studies and research needed for better water-resources and environmental management. The Division had also instituted intensive programs in hydrologic training and aided in establishing curricula in hydrology in leading universities.

On September 3, 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, by which 9.1 million acres of national forest lands were made part of the National Wilderness Preservation System to be safeguarded permanently against commercial use and construction of permanent roads and buildings. New mining claims and mineral leases would be allowed only until December 31, 1983. The Geological Survey and the Bureau of Mines were authorized to assess the mineral resources of each area proposed or established as wilderness if no prior mineral survey had been made, and a new program of geologic mapping and mineral-resource assessment was begun.

In June 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, in proclaiming U.S. participation in the International Cooperation Year, said "I propose to dedicate this year to finding new techniques for making man's knowledge serve man's welfare. Let this be the year of science."37 In January 1965, he proposed a vast program to build a "Great Society," which he assumed could be financed without additional taxation. Among the measures passed by Congress in 1965 were such conservation measures as the Water Quality, Highway Beautification, Clean Air, and Solid Waste Disposal Acts. In the spring of 1965, however, the United States began to increase its commitment to support the anti-Communist regime in Vietnam, begun in the Eisenhower administration, and in his budget message in January 1966, President Johnson acknowledged that the appropriation of funds for increased commitments in Vietnam would hinder domestic programs.

Figure 42. Photo of William Thomas Pecora, Director of the U.S.
Geological Survey, 1965-1971.

Figure 42. William Thomas Pecora, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, 1965-1971.

In late September 1965, Chief Geologist William T. Pecora succeeded Thomas B. Nolan as Director. Pecora, who received his bachelor's degree from Princeton in 1933 and his doctorate from Harvard in 1940, joined the Geological Survey in 1939. For several years, he investigated strategic-mineral deposits in the United States and Latin America and then engaged in a long-range study of rare mineral deposits in volcanic rocks and carbonatite complexes in Montana. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965. He had also had administrative experience as Chairman of the Civil Service Board of Examiners and Chief of the Geochemistry and Petrology Branch before becoming Chief Geologist. Pecora was Director for only a few years; in April 1971, he left the Geological Survey to become Under Secretary of the Interior.

The late 1960's were troubled times in the United States, marked by student unrest, racial demonstrations, racial violence, and increasing opposition to the war in Vietnam. Survey appropriations were not decreased, but the rate of increase was considerably less than it had been. Pecora's administration became an interesting blend of old and new problems and solutions. The Geological Survey had been established in an era of monetary uncertainty, in its first year it had concentrated on a study of some of the great precious-metal mining districts, and it had responded to other monetary crises in the 1890's and 1930's. In 1965, the U.S. gold stock, which had been steadily declining since 1949 despite government efforts to stem the deficit in balance of payments, was a matter of concern. In April 1966, the Geological Survey and the Bureau of Mines began a joint program to stimulate domestic production of a group of metals that were in short supply, about 90 percent of the program effort at the start being on gold because of its international monetary importance. On the basis of the Geological Survey mapping, a mining company located by drilling a major gold mine, the first major gold discovery for several decades. Another major project in the Survey's first year had been a study of the iron-ore resources of the United States. In the early 1900's, it had begun studies of western iron ores in an effort to meet industrial demands. After World Wars I and II there had been major studies of iron districts, and in the late 1960's, appraisals of the iron-ore resources of the United States were again prepared, this time for inclusion in a United Nations survey of the world's iron-ore resources.

Sixty years earlier, the Geological Survey had made its first appraisal of the petroleum resources of the Nation. Periods of oil shortages and oil gluts had followed, but World War II had seriously depleted domestic petroleum resources. The continuing concern over energy resources gave rise to a study of world resources of oil, gas, natural-gas liquids, oil shale, and coal. In the ongoing search for domestic resources, new sources were discovered, but their exploitation was not simple. In 1968, for example, a giant oil field was found in Alaska's Arctic Slope, near where the Survey had first made reconnaissance studies in 1923. The oil would help ease impending shortages but transportation of that oil, whether by tanker or pipeline, posed the possibility of damage to the environment. More than 100 billion tons of coal were estimated to be potentially recoverable by open-pit mining techniques, but plans had to be developed to restore and utilize the strip-mined lands. About 1.8 million acres of land in the Western States were classified as potential sources of geothermal energy, but a new industry would be required to exploit them. At the same time, new studies and investigations in space, under the sea, and on land were expanded.

The space program was centered in the Astrogeologic Laboratory established in October 1965 in Flagstaff, Arizona. In July 1969, two astronauts, trained by the Survey, walked on the Moon as the program called for by President Kennedy in 1961 met his objective of landing men on the Moon before the end of the decade. A Survey geologist turned astronaut also walked on the Moon in one of the later missions. Director Pecora took a personal interest in a program aimed at gathering facts about the Earth's resources from orbiting satellites carrying sophisticated remote-sensing instruments, and the Geological Survey was given direction and management of an Interior Department program to achieve this goal.

The marine program led to a report on resources of the sea beyond the Continental Shelf, summarizing the potential and known mineral resources and the technology for their exploration and exploitation, presented to the U.S. Economic and Social Council in 1968.

In January 1969, as the Nixon administration took office, oil leaking from a well on a Federal Outer Continental Shelf lease in the Santa Barbara Channel off California blackened nearby beaches and threatened marine life. Studies by a task force including Survey geologists and engineers led to new and more stringent operating regulations to prevent or control such incidents in the future. The Santa Barbara oil spill was a catalyst in the passage of the National Environmental Protection Act in January 1970.

Figure 43. Photo of oil spill off Santa Barbara, California, in 1969 that was a catalyst in the passage of the Environmental Protection Act of 1970.

Figure 43. An oil spill off Santa Barbara, California, in 1969 was a catalyst in the passage of the Environmental Protection Act of 1970.

In 1970, the Geological Survey published the "National Atlas of the United States of America," a reference tool comprising more than 700 physical, historical, economic, sociocultural, and administrative maps compiled through the combined efforts of more than 80 Federal agencies and a score of specialists and consultants over a period of several years. In cooperation with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Survey began a pilot study in the San Francisco Bay region of the application of geology, geophysics, hydrology, and topography in improving regional urban planning and decisionmaking. The Survey also played a major role in representing the United States at meetings of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabeds and Ocean Floors Beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction.

Figure 44. Photo of Vincent Ellis McKelvey, Director of the U.S.
Geological Survey, 1971-1978.

Figure 44. Vincent Ellis McKelvey, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, 1971-1978.

In 1971, after Pecora became Under Secretary of the Interior, Chief Geologist Vincent E. McKelvey, a career scientist with the Survey since 1941, became Director. McKelvey, a graduate of Syracuse University with a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, had served in several research and administrative capacities in the Geological Survey. He was internationally known for his studies of phosphates, had headed the Survey's program of exploration and research for the Atomic Energy Commission for several years, had been deeply involved in sometimes controversial estimates of long-range energy and mineral-resource needs, and had most recently been engaged in studies of seabed resources.

In the year that McKelvey became Director, the Geological Survey had an operating budget of $173 million and 9,200 employees. Investigations and mapping were underway in all 50 States, Antarctica, and the Trust Territories, and technical-assistance programs were being carried out in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Great strides had been made toward accomplishing the goals set forth in 1964. General-purpose topographic maps were available for 84 percent of the total area of the 50 States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. Streamflow data were being collected at more than 11,000 gaging stations, water quality was being measured at 4,000 stations, and several hundred ground-water investigations were underway. Mineral production from lands supervised by the Survey was valued at more than $3 billion, and annual royalties were approaching $0.5 billion.

McKelvey's term as Director was marked by an increase in multidisciplinary studies and in the diversity and complexity of Geological Survey operations, as well as an increased effort to make scientific information acquired through years of research available in a form most easily used in the solution of such contemporary problems. The pilot study of the San Francisco Bay region was followed by several similar studies of other urban areas. The marine program assumed new significance, for many regions of the oceans were less well known than the surfaces of the planets. Subsea mineral deposits might be resources for the future, but an understanding of the behavior of marine geologic processes was also of importance if people were to live and build along coasts and out into the sea. The marine-geology investigations included oil-and-gas resource appraisal, environmental investigations assessing the potential impacts of geologic hazards on the development of offshore oil and gas resources, geochemical studies of deep-sea deposits and engineering studies of deep-sea sediments, and the development of deep-ocean remote sensing instruments. Major efforts were made to delineate the hazards associated with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, mudflows, ground subsidence, and floods, and advances were made toward a capability of predicting some of these disasters.

Planetary studies were extended to Mars and other planets. A program to map the geology of Mars systematically, managed by the Geological Survey but involving both Survey and university geologists, was formalized with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1971. A shaded-relief map of Mars was published in 1973, and by the time two Viking spacecraft landed on the surface of Mars in the summer of 1976, at sites selected by scientists at the Survey's Flagstaff, Arizona, office, the Survey had prepared more than 100 maps of Mars, Mercury, Venus, and the Moon in support of space exploration.

The first Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS-1, now Landsat-1) was launched in July 1972, beginning a new era in the acquisition and management of data. The Geological Survey established a data center at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to handle distribution of satellite and other remotely sensed data. Investigations of the applicability of the data to geologic, hydrologic, geographic, and cartographic studies were begun.

In 1973, the Geological Survey moved its National Headquarters from downtown Washington to a new building designed expressly for its needs in Reston, Virginia. It took on primary responsibility for operational research in seismology and geomagnetism by agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and 10 units of NOAA were transferred to the Geological Survey. It also began a Land Resource Analysis program in response to the need for earth-science data in land-use planning and resource management, primarily of nonurban areas not yet critically affected by growth and development but which existing trends indicated were in danger of being seriously impacted in the future.

The long-anticipated energy crisis developed after the Arab-Israeli War in October 1973, when Arab nations embargoed oil shipments to the United States. On November 7, 1973, President Richard Nixon announced measures to address the energy crisis, including increased production from naval oil reserves, approval of the Alaska pipeline, and greater energy research and development efforts designed to make the United States self-sufficient in energy resources by 1980. In 1974, Congress directed the Geological Survey to provide a schedule and objectives for inventorying geothermal energy resources.

In 1974, the National Topographic Mapping Program became the National Mapping Program to meet the increasing demand for basic cartographic data in all forms including digital cartographic data. The National Cartographic Information Center was established to provide a focal point for information on U.S. maps and charts, aerial photographs and space imagery, geodetic control, and related cartographic data. The Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed on a program to produce topographic-bathymetric editions of the 1:250,000-scale maps for the coastal zones of the United States, including those of the Great Lakes.

In April 1975, the Land Information and Analysis Office was established to consolidate several multidisciplinary land-resource and environmental programs. One of its main objectives was to interpret and display land-resource information collected within the Department of the Interior in ways that were readily accessible and understandable to a wide range of users.

In 1976, Congress transferred jurisdiction of the Petroleum Reserve in Alaska from the Department of the Navy to the Department of the Interior, effective June 1, 1977. Responsibility for administration of the continuing petroleum exploration program on the Reserve and operation of the South Barrow Gas Field was delegated to the Director of the Survey. The new activity brought with it a 50-percent increase in funds, but most of the increase was for contractual services.

Figure 45. photo shows the photographic processing laboratory at the EROS Data Center, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 1975.

Figure 45. The photographic processing laboratory at the EROS Data Center, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 1975.

In 1977, Congress directed the Survey to establish a national water-use information program. It became part of the Federal-State cooperative program and by the late 1980's, 49 States and Puerto Rico were participating in it.

In September 1977, Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus announced that he had accepted McKelvey's resignation as Director but that McKelvey would remain with the Survey as a research scientist. In April 1978, H. William Menard became the Survey's tenth Director but remained only through the balance of the Carter administration. Menard, who had graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 1942 and received a doctorate from Harvard in 1949, had been a marine geologist with the Naval Electronics Laboratory in San Diego for several years and then had become a member of the faculty of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 1965-66, he was associated with the Office of Science and Technology in the White House. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Menard was a recognized worldwide authority in marine geology and oceanography and had discovered notable topographic and structural features of the sea floor that laid much of the foundation of the plate-tectonics revolution in geology.



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