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The Arizona Geological Survey: A Short History

The Arizona Geological Survey is the latest in a line of academic departments and state agencies serving the people of the Arizona Territory and now the State of Arizona. In 1883, then Territorial Governor Tritle, requested federal assistance in establishing a geologic survey for the Arizona Territory. The U.S. Congress responded in 1888 by creating the post of Territorial Geologist of Arizona. The unpaid position of Territorial Geologist first went to John F. Blandy, who served until the mid-1890s. Upon gaining statehood in 1912, the position of Territorial Geologist was abolished. Table 1 (below) comprises, in chronological order from most recent to earliest, the territorial and state geologic agencies.

From 1893 until 1915, the role of geologic mapping and reporting was handed off to the University of Arizona Bureau of Mines. In 1915, the Arizona Bureau of Mines was established at the University of Arizona with Charles Willis as its first director. See our online yearbook for Arizona's former directors of state and territorial geologic agencies.

World War II was a fertile time for the Arizona Bureau of Mines. The hunt for strategic metals from large volume, low-grade deposits involved Bureau geologists in research and design of ore concentrating facilities at five major low-grade copper deposits. Following WW II, renewed emphasis on geologic mapping led to the publication of county geologic maps between 1957 and 1960. 

Table 1. Territorial and State Geologic Agencies of Arizona from 1888-2014
1988-Present Arizona Geological Survey
1977-1988 Arizona Bureau of Geology and Mineral Technology
1915-1977 Arizona Bureau of Mines
1893-1915 The University of Arizona Bureau of Mines
1888-1890,1898-1912 Office of the Territorial Geologist

In 1971, the first volume of “Fieldnotes,” a non-technical geologic newsletter was published; its successor, “Arizona Geology,” first issued in the Fall of 1988 is still published quarterly. That same year Dr. William H. Dresher was named Director, and for the first time, “State Geologist” In 1977, the Bureau became the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Technology, comprising the geological survey and a mineral technology branch. The geologic survey branch became responsible for assessing and informing the public about geologic hazards in Arizona. (See Table 2 below for a listing of our Publications from 1915-2007.)  

The Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) was established as an independent state agency on July 1, 1988; we still maintain strong collegial ties with faculty and staff at the University of Arizona. In 1991, the AZGS became the institutional home of Arizona’s Oil & Gas Conservation Commission – a five-member commission charged with supporting and monitoring oil and gas exploration in the state. The US Geological Survey in conjunction with the AZGS opened the jointly run “Tucson Earth Science Information Center” in August 1992. AZGS moved to its present location at 416 W. Congress St., Tucson in July 1995.

Table 2.  Bulletins, circulars, open-file reports, maps and other publications of AZGS and its predecessors from 1915 to 2007.
Arizona Geology/Fieldnotes:

Roughly 144 issues published from 1971-2007.             

Arizona Bureau of Mines & AZGS Circulars (C): 30 circulars from 1940s-2001.
Arizona Bureau of Mines & AZGS Open File Reports: More than 400 reports from 1973-2007.
AZGS Miscellaneous Maps (MM): 19 maps from 1976-1988; replaced by Contributed Map series in 1989.
AZGS Geologic Maps (M): 36 maps from 1983-2002 ; largely replaced by our digital geologic map series in 2002.
AZGS Digital Geologic Maps (DGM): 57 maps from 2000-May 2007.
AZGS Oil & Gas Publications (OG): 35 reports/maps from 1991-2002.
Arizona Bureau of Mines & AZGS Bulletins: 200 volumes from 1915-1996.
Contributed Maps (CM): 59 maps from 1989-2004.
Contributed Reports (CR): 55 reports from 1989-2003.
Special Papers (SP): 8 papers from 1977-1991.
See our Publications Catalog for a detailed description of each series and for titles, authors, and dates of individual bulletins, reports, maps, or circulars.  (The Arizona Bureau of Mines Bulletins are not listed in our online catalog.)


This brief history is drawn largely from Dr. Larry Fellows longer report published in “The State Geological Survey: A History.”


Anonymous, 1991, AZGS takes on oil and gas regulatory responsibilities; Steve Rauzi joins AZGS staff. Arizona Geology, vol. 21, no 3. Fall 1991.  Murray D., 1992, Tucson Earth Science Information Center Opens. Arizona Geology, v. 22, no. 4, Winter 1992. Socolow A.A., ed., 1988, The State Geological Survey: A History. American Association of State Geologists, 499p. 

Related Links

Online Yearbook of Former Directors


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