GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA - 2018

Paper No. 200-14
Presentation Time: 5:05 PM


SACK, Dorothy, Department of Geography, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701

Donald R. Currey (1934-2004) was an accomplished Quaternary geologist and physical geographer who is best known for his significant contributions to the scientific study of late Pleistocene Lake Bonneville and its successor, Holocene Great Salt Lake, Utah. The enormity and influence of Currey’s Lake Bonneville research is second only to that of G.K. Gilbert. Currey’s work was well supported by research grants, and, like Gilbert’s investigations, was based on fieldwork that was both intensive and extensive. Currey, however, suffered severe personal abuse throughout his career as a result of popularized misinformation about him that spread widely through the academic and environmental communities. Currey used dendrochronology in his dissertation research of Quaternary glacial limits in the western U.S., and was wrongly accused of having chopped down Prometheus, an ancient bristlecone pine in eastern Nevada, to obtain data. Prometheus was subsequently determined to be the oldest known individual at the time, and the story of its demise, which began with a field accident, was popularly branded as the purposeful act of a callous and cavalier data-hungry scientist, Currey. Like the tree’s namesake, who in the ancient Greek tragedy was riveted to a crag for eternity, Currey’s name remained tied to the Prometheus bristlecone pine incident for the rest of his life, and beyond, generating continued vilification. The Prometheus experience may have contributed to Currey’s subsequent shift from glacial geology to paleolake studies, and to his tendency to avoid large conferences. Nevertheless, he persevered, and through the strength of his intellect, mentoring, and scientific accomplishments, he earned great respect from those who worked and studied directly with him as well as from those who study his publications.