Skip to Content

Looking to the Future

The year 1992 marked the centennial of a 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 is very much tied to the state’s economic and political tides and to the state’s definition of the geological needs of the public. Under plans to reorganize state government, the original Iowa Geological Survey was merged with three other state agencies to form a new Department of Natural Resources, effective July 1, 1986. This change reflects similar patterns experienced by other states and their geological surveys.

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 drawings to cameras, aerial photography, and satellite imagery as a way of looking at the earth’s resources; 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 which 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.

Tags: , , , , , ,
Last modified on July 1st, 2015
Posted on May 13th, 2014