UC Berkeley hosts conference June 2-4 celebrating 100 years of western U.S. geology

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

BERKELEY--One hundred years ago, western U.S. geology came into its own with the establishment of a western, or Cordilleran, section of the venerable Geological Society of America.

That centennial will be celebrated in a three-day conference on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, June 2-4. Sponsored by UC Berkeley's Department of Geology and Geophysics, Museum of Paleontology and Earth Resources Center, the meeting is attracting more than 1,000 geologists from around the world.

In the 100 years since 19th century geologists first met in San Francisco, much has changed in the field. From an early emphasis on mining geology and mapping of a largely unexplored West, research progressed in step with technological developments, such as improved methods of dating rocks, aerial and satellite photography and more precise mapping techniques.

In the 1960 and 1970s, geological studies of the western margins of North and Central America played a large role in proving the validity of the theory of plate tectonics, which now dominates the field of geology and geophysics.

The centennial meeting's title, "Century of the Pacific Rim, The Past as Prologue to the Future," heralds a new shift in emphasis toward the countries encircling the Pacific Ocean. In fact, a delegation of 20 geologists from the Republic of China is planning to attend, as are prominent geologists from Japan and Southeast Asia.

"We're trying to call attention to the contributions that geoscientists living and working in the Cordilleran Section have made to our understanding of geology worldwide," said Doris Sloan, adjunct professor of geology and geophysics at UC Berkeley and one of the organizers of the meeting.

The meeting consists of 48 sessions on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from the past history of Cordilleran exploration to future directions in Pacific Rim research. Cordillera refers to the chain of mountains running along the west coast of North and South America, from the Alaskan ranges through the Cascades of the northwestern U.S. and the Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges of California to the Sierra Madre of Mexico and into the Andes of South America.

The sessions will address major outstanding issues related to tectonics, geologic hazards, resources and environmental quality, and also highlight creative lines of future research.

For a complete list of sessions and scheduled events, consult the meeting website at

Highlights of the three-day meeting include:

o A free public lecture by Bill Muehlberger, a University of Texas geologist who has trained NASA astronauts on how to photograph and understand the Earth's features from space. His talk, "The Earth from Space: What the Astronauts See," is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, June 3, in Room 155 Dwinelle Hall.

o Volcanism in western Mexico and the relationship between eruptions and plate tectonics. Friday, June 4, 8 a.m. - 11:30 a.m., 219 Dwinelle Hall.

o Geology and metal ore deposits in China, presented by a delegation from the People's Republic of China. Thursday, June 3, 8 a.m.-noon, 1:30 p.m. - 3 p.m., 2 LeConte Hall.

o Landslides and other geologic hazards of northern California and the western U.S. Wednesday, June 2, 1:30 p.m - 5 p.m., 110 Barrows Hall.

o Mercury contamination from mine runoff in California and Alaska. Thursday, June 3, 1:30 p.m. - 4:45 p.m., 4 LeConte Hall.

o A series of symposia on ore deposits and mine restoration around the Pacific Rim. These include sessions on the impacts of gold mining in California's Mother Lode, from placer to hydraulic mining, plus ore formation in China, Japan, South America and other areas around the Pacific. To be held Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. (See complete schedule for details.)

o A day-long workshop on the latest mapping technology using Global Positioning Satellites and laser range finders. These space-age methods allow accurate and fast mapping for applications in geology, exploration and environmental management. Saturday, June 5, 8:30 a.m.- 5 p.m., 105 Space Sciences Laboratory, Silver Addition.

The Geological Society of America was founded in 1888 and currently has 17,000 members, fellows and student and teacher associates. There are six regional sections throughout North America, each of which conducts an annual meeting. Among the society's monthly publications are "The Geological Society of America Bulletin" and "Geology," the most popular journal in the earth sciences.

Other sponsors of the centennial meeting are the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Association for Women Geoscientists, the Paleontological Society, the Seismological Society of America, the San Francisco Section of the Association of Engineering Geologists and the Society of Economic Geologists.

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