Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 8:45 AM


ADAMS, Kenneth D., Desert Research Institute, 2215 Raggio Parkway, Reno, NV 89512,

The late 19th century was a golden age of scientific exploration of the American west, spearheaded by the several surveys that traversed the region in the 1870s. This era was also the dawn of the integration of Quaternary geology and geomorphology (QG&G) as we know it today. Although many geologists contributed to this effort, this presentation focuses on I. C. Russell (1852-1906) and his studies of pluvial lakes, glaciers, active faulting, and volcanoes in the Great Basin and surrounding regions.

After serving as a field assistant to G.K. Gilbert in the Bonneville basin during the 1880 season, Russell was assigned to study the history of Lake Lahontan, on the opposite side of the Great Basin. During this study (1881-1885), he also made forays into the Mono basin and south-central Oregon. What sets his work apart is that many of the approaches and tools that we continue to use in the practice of QG&G are so eloquently explained in his publications.

His accomplishments include: 1) integrating the sedimentology and stratigraphy of Pleistocene shore deposits with their morphology, which provided clues to the processes that formed them; 2) documenting the sequence of tufa precipitation in the Lahontan basin and its relationship to lake history; 3) recognizing the chronostratigraphic significance of tephra layers in lacustrine deposits and correctly surmising their origins; 4) documenting that two major lake cycles occurred in the Lahontan basin and speculating on the climatic changes necessary to create these lakes; 5) mapping the distribution and recency of active faults bounding a number of pluvial lake basins; 6) surveying, mapping, and photographing “living” glaciers in the Sierra Nevada in the late 19th century, as well as the Cascade Range, so that future geologists would have baseline data for comparison; and 7) mapping the extent of Pleistocene glaciation in the Mono basin and suggesting that there were at least two major advances that coincided with two major lake cycles.

As we celebrate the 125 year history of the Geological Society of America, it is important to remember that accurate and perceptive field observations are still at the core of our science, an exemplary skill that is abundantly on display in the publications, drawings, and photographs of I.C. Russell.