The Dibblee Medal, named for renowned California geologist Thomas Wilson Dibblee Jr. and recognizing exceptional contributions in geologic mapping, has been awarded to George H. Billingsley. Billingsley is a senior geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. The 2004 Dibblee Medal was presented to Billingsley as the highlight of a special party held at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to celebrate Tom Dibblee’s 93rd birthday.

Like Dibblee himself, Billingsley developed from his earliest years a bond with the land he later mapped. He grew up in a ranching family in western Arizona and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northern Arizona University. NAU professor emeritus Stanley Beus remembers that Billingsley’s “skill and interest in outdoor observations” were already strong at that time. After leaving the university, Billingsley spent a decade roaming the Grand Canyon as a National Park ranger and professional Colorado River guide. During that time, funded by grants to the Museum of Northern Arizona from the Grand Canyon Association and University of Wyoming, he began his geologic mapping of the Grand Canyon.

In 1980 Billingsley began his USGS career, first mapping the one- by two-degree Flagstaff quadrangle. In the quarter century since, Billingsley has been involved in the mapping of 70 geologic maps and nearly 20,000 square miles in the southwestern United States, mostly in the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Traveling by foot, mule, river raft, and helicopter, Billingsley has mapped, says NAU’s Paul Umhoefer, “areas vital to our understanding of basic geology, critical for regional environmental issues, and including world-class tourist destinations such as Grand Canyon and Canyonlands.”

Billingsley’s most famous works are his maps of the Grand Canyon. NAU’s Ron Blakey, a longtime Grand Canyon geologist, says that he “can state unequivocally that George Billingsley knows more about Grand Canyon geology than any other geologist who has ever lived.” Millions of tourists have looked at Billingsley’s maps of the Grand Canyon and other parks. To assist public outreach, Billingsley has worked closely with the Grand Canyon Association and the National Park to disseminate geologic maps and books and to train interpreters. Pam Frazier, deputy director of the Grand Canyon Association, has been impressed by Billingsley’s eagerness to share knowledge with the lay public. “He has opened the doors of research to the community and done much to gain the public’s interest in and respect for scientific research,” Frazier says.

Billingsley’s long and continuing career in geologic mapping, says Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico, “has come at a time when his host institution, the USGS, seems to have been changing and de-emphasizing geologic mapping and when the academic community has shifted towards more analytical and modeling approaches to earth science. George has quietly flowed with these changes while maintaining his dedication for geologic maps.”

As a mapper, Billingsley has a reputation for accuracy and integrity. Richard Young of the State University of New York says that in working with Billingsley in the field what impresses him most is Billingsley’s “willingness to significantly modify his ideas when new information is brought to his attention, even when it means modifying map units or the ages of rock units upon which he has collected extensive data.” Billingsley’s maps are “accurate, thorough, and insightful,” says Karlstrom. “In the USGS tradition, he maps what he sees, whatever it is, covers large tracts of territory, and he provides the community with the best base maps that we can all use for a host of studies.”

In helping fellow scientists use his work, Billingsley, like Dibblee, has earned wide respect and gratitude for his professional generosity. Billingsley has shared his knowledge and experience, Beus says, “not only by formal publication, as is expected in his profession, but also informally and graciously to the many individuals and organizations who have sought his advice and counsel. His service is genuine and without vanity.”

Billingsley, the eleventh Dibblee Medalist, received his award at a busy time for the Dibblee Geological Foundation and the Dibblee Geology Center. The foundation was established in 1983 by a group of Dibblee’s friends and fellow geologists intent on publishing Dibblee’s mapping. Covering more than one-quarter of California, this life’s work consists of over 500 detailed 7.5-minute maps, which are remarkable for their consistency from map to map and region to region.

To date, 128 maps covering about 160 quadrangles of Dibblee’s work have been published. The Dibblee Geology Center—since 2003 officially part of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History—is laboring to issue the remaining maps as quickly as possible. Although Dibblee turned 93 this October and has been weakened by leukemia, he continues to work daily with the Dibblee Foundation map editor, John Minch, to ready his maps for publication. “It is imperative that as many maps as possible are prepared for publication while Tom can work,” says Dibblee Foundation president John Powell. “His memory and recollection of each of the areas he has mapped are keen even for those areas mapped 60 or more years ago.” Powell adds that “the quality and thoroughness of his work, and the amount of information he can regularly process, are phenomenal.”

The Dibblee Foundation plans to publish at least 50 new maps this year and quicken its release schedule for upcoming years. Powell is optimistic about the prospect of publishing all of the remaining Dibblee field sheets. “With the stewardship of the museum and the efficiencies of the digital process and print-on-demand technology,” Powell says, “our goals may be realized in the next three or four years.” To learn more about Dibblee map publication or to help with funding, contact the Dibblee Foundation map editor, John Minch, at jminch@sbnature2.org or write Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta del Sol Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.

Dibblee maps may be purchased on the museum Web site at www.sbnature.org or in the museum store.

By J. A. Leventhal

 

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