History of the Department

Female Ph.D. recipient–Doris E. Zeller was the first woman to receive a geology-related Ph.D. from the department (see also the 1920 entry above for Selma Schubring, whose dissertation was in geography). Zeller’s dissertation, which was directed by M.L. Thompson, was entitled Endothyroid Foraminiferal Faunas from the Lower Carboniferous of England and Algeria.

Gunflint fossils
Gunflint fossils

The Precambrian Gunflint microfossils were discovered by Professor Stanley A.Tyler on the north shore of Lake Superior in cherts of the Gunflint Iron Formation. With more than 12 species of unicellular plants and bacteria, this was the first diverse assemblage of definite Precambrian fossil organisms then known other than the long-familiar stromatolites. Tyler, in partnership with paleobotanist, Elso Barghoorn of Harvard University, announced the momentous discovery in 1956 in Science. Precambrian fossils had long been sought, and once Tyler showed where and how to search, many other occurrences of similar microfossils were discovered in cherts on several other continents. Discovery of the Gunflint fossils spawned a surge of studies of Precambrian life, which has resulted in the emergence of a distinct speciality in Precambrian paleobiology.

Robert Meyer
R.P. Meyer in Kenya

Crustal seismologyRobert P. Meyer joined the faculty and began to develop a large program in crustal seismology. Initially, Woollard had seen seismology as an important way to constrain crustal structure as determined by the gravity and magnetics potential field methods. In the 1960s, seismology in general received great impetus from the effort for nuclear test detection as well as from the emergence of plate tectonics. Meyer was especially noted for the development with Electronic Engineer Lee Powell of refined field recording instrumentation. The USGS and other agencies often sent personnel to learn their techniques, which have become models for the science. Meyer’s program began in the continental interior, but expanded into international cooperative studies of Latin American subduction zones, African and Siberian rifts, and active volcanoes in Hawaii and Italy.

The Midcontinent Gravity Anomaly, which was discovered by G.P. Woollard before he came to Wisconsin, traces the ancient Midcontinent rift system from the surface at Lake Superior into the subsurface from Minnesota to Kansas. This is the world’s largest positive gravity anomaly, and its delineation was the most notable early result of Woollard’s new program to establish continent-wide and even global networks of gravity and magnetic observations. R.P. Meyer and John S. Steinhart (then a student, later a professor) pioneered the seismological studies of crustal structure within and adjacent to this feature, and later expanded such studies to other parts of the continents.

During the International Geophysical Year (IGY), Woollard was responsible for the U.S. program of crustal studies and for global standardization of gravity measurements on every continent for geodetic purposes. In 1959 he established the Geophysical and Polar Research Center, initially to analyze data gathered in Antarctica during the IGY, but its mission was subsequently broadened greatly. C.R. Bentley and N.A. Ostenso were principals in the polar geophysical research from the outset, with Bentley working in Antarctica and Ostenso in the Arctic, until the latter took a federal government post in marine research in 1966.


Antarctic research
Antarctic research

Glaciology–Charles R. Bentley joined the department’s faculty in 1962, having come to the Geophysical and Polar Research Center in 1959 to work with data from the Antarctic oversnow traverses conducted during the IGY. He introduced yet another new specialty, glaciology, to the instructional and research program. Geophysical reconnaissance of the polar continent continued during the 1960s, but the emphasis gradually shifted to studies of the physical nature of glacial ice employing a variety of geophysical tools. Knowledge of subglacial topography and geology have also been goals, which in recent years have become crucial in assessing the likelihood of a calamitous shrinkage of the Antarctic ice cap, which would have dramatic impacts upon human civilizations due to a resulting rapid rise of sea level and climate change.

Other polar research–Besides geophysicists, several faculty geologists also became involved in polar research during the 1960s. These included R.F. Black, C.R. Bowser, J.C. Craddock, R.H. Dott, Jr. in Antarctica and D.L. Clark in the Arctic.

Palynology–Louis J. Maher’s appointment to the faculty introduced palynology as a new specialty, which was especially important to support a large interdisciplinary campus effort in Quaternary history and paleoclimate. Maher has been an international leader in refining procedures for standardized sampling of pollen from cores taken from lakes and bogs as well as in the portrayal and statistical analysis of large sets of quantitative pollen data.

A trans-Atlantic structural geology connection–The circle was closed for a trans-Atlantic Wisconsin connection (see 1926 above) with the appointment of Ian W.D. Dalziel, a structural geologist trained at the University of Edinburgh, after the untimely death of S.A. Tyler. Dalziel brought the latest concepts of the vigorous British/European school of detailed structural analysis. Dalziel went to Columbia University in 1966 and later moved to the University of Texas at Austin.

Geochemistry–Carl J. Bowser’s appointment recognized the growing importance of geochemistry as a distinct specialty. His interest in low-temperature geochemistry was manifested in such diverse studies as iron-manganese nodules and water chemistry in support of a large interdisciplinary national and international program on the ecology of lakes (see 1981 entry on LTER—the Long Term Ecological Research project).

Hydrogeology was added as a new specialty with the appointment of David A. Stephenson. Besides launching this important new program within the department, Stephenson was very active in diverse interdisciplinary water-related programs on the campus. For example, he was instrumental in establishing the Water Resources Management Program in 1965. After leaving the university in 1979, Stephenson served as president of both the Geological Society of America and of the American Geological Institute.

1966 to present time

E.N. Cameron

Microbeam laboratory–Thanks to the heroic efforts of E.N. Cameron to raise funds from several sources, the department was able to purchase its first electron probe. This vital new instrument was almost as revolutionary for petrology as the petrographic microscope had been 100 years earlier; however, prior to 1966, our faculty and students had to travel to other institutions to do probe analyses.

The department’s first electron microprobe laboratory was established in make-shift quarters in a former retail store building, with Everett D. Glover in charge. After moving to Weeks Hall, two generations of probe instruments have succeeded the original; the first scanning electron microscope on the campus was, for some time, also housed in the laboratory. Since 1992, John Fournelle has directed the laboratory, which is used extensively by members of other departments as well as our own. In 1993, it was dedicated to E.N. Cameron in recognition of the leadership that led to its founding 27 years earlier.

John Fournelle, 199

Geological oceanography was added to the department’s program in 1966 with the appointment of J. Robert Moore. Marine geophysics was added in 1968 with the appointment of C.S. Clay. These new specialties became elements of the new interdisciplinary oceanography and limnology program for graduate study and the Sea Grant Institute for research. Several other Geology and Geophysics faculty members have also participated in both programs; Meyer and Bowser have chaired the Oceanography and Limnology Graduate Program.

The Department of Geology became the Department of Geology and Geophysics in recognition of the greatly increased importance of the latter specialty in the overall program. The department has included four or five geophysics faculty members ever since.