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Thomas Brennan Nolan

Thomas Brennan Nolan

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USGS career

In January 1956, after Director Wrather retired because of illness and age, Assistant Director Thomas B. Nolan became the United States Geological Survey
United States Geological Survey
The United States Geological Survey is a scientific agency of the United States government. The scientists of the USGS study the landscape of the United States, its natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten it. The organization has four major science disciplines, concerning biology,...

's (USGS) seventh director. During his 11 years as Assistant Director, Nolan had many times and for extended periods served as Acting Director so no transition period was needed. Nolan believed that geologists, because of the unique requirements imposed on them by their science, should expand their fields of interest from individual problems and "participate actively and authoritatively in the matters affecting the whole country." Until September 1965, when he resumed his research in Great Basin
Great Basin
The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America and is noted for its arid conditions and Basin and Range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than away at the...

 geology, Nolan pushed, prodded, and led the Survey to a broadened and intensified commitment to basic research, to the advancement of geology in the public service, and to the prompt publication of Survey results. As Assistant Director, he had also served as the Interior Department representative on the Interdepartmental Committee on Scientific Research and Development, on the Scientific Advisory Committee on Specialized Personnel to the Selective Service Committee, and on the Advisory Board on Education of the National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

, and had been president of the Society of Economic Geologists
Society of Economic Geologists
The Society of Economic Geologists originated from a 1919 gathering of a group of Geological Society of America members who were especially interested in economic geology. The Society was established on December 28, 1920, during a constituting meeting of 60 distinguished professionals...


As Director, his professional responsibilities outside the Survey were still further extended to service as vice president and president of the Geological Society of America, as vice president of the International Union of Geological Sciences, and on committees advisory to university geology departments. In 1956, the Geological Survey began an evaluation of the effects of underground nuclear explosions at the Atomic Energy Commission's Nevada Test Site; that program was expanded to study the geologic and hydrologic conditions affecting the peaceful uses of atomic energy and the disposal of radioactive wastes.

In December 1958, Director Nolan, speaking at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization with the stated goals of promoting cooperation among scientists, defending scientific freedom, encouraging scientific responsibility, and supporting scientific education and science outreach for the...

, remarked that the early work of the Geological Survey had been characterized by a transition from exploration of a geographical to an intellectual frontier, but demands by younger scientists for studies of the geography of outer space might soon inaugurate a new cycle in the history of the US Geological Survey.

In 1959, the Survey compiled a photogeologic map of the Earth's satellite, the Moon, and began studies of tektites and impact craters. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

 proposed as a goal "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth" before the end of the decade, and in 1963, the US Geological Survey, in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, began to train astronauts in geology and to investigate and evaluate methods and equipment for geological and geophysical exploration of the Moon.


  • Nolan, Thomas B. “Gold Hill mining district, Utah “ USGS Professional Paper No. 177 (1935)
  • Miesch, Alfred T. and Nolan, Thomas B. “Geochemical prospecting studies in the Bullwhacker mine area, Eureka district, Nevada” USGS Bulletin 1000-H (1958)
  • Nolan, Thomas B. Merriam, C. W., Williams, J. S. “Stratigraphic section in the vicinity of Eureka, Nevada“ USGS Professional Paper No. 276 (1956)
  • Nolan, Thomas B. “Report on El Guineo and Matrullas dam sites, Toro Negro Project, Porto Rico” USGS Open-File Report No. 559 (1928)
  • Nolan, Thomas B. “The Eureka mining district, Nevada” USGS Professional Paper No. 406 (1962)
  • Nolan, T B “Potash brines in the Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah” USGS Bulletin 0795-B, pp.25-44, 1928
  • Nolan, Thomas B “Late Paleozoic positive area in Nevada” American Journal of Science, vol.16, no.92, pp.153-161, Aug 1928
  • Nolan, Thomas Brennan and Johnston, W.D.Jr. “Methods of constructing block diagrams for use in mining geology” Economic Geology and the Bulletin of the Society of Economic Geologists, vol. 32, no. 2, pp.194-195, Mar 1937
  • Nolan, Thomas Brennan “The search for new mining districts” Economic Geology and the Bulletin of the Society of Economic Geologists, vol.45, no.7, pp.601-608, Nov 1950
  • Nolan, Thomas Brennan “The place of geology in the development of the mining industry” Mines Magazine, vol.50, no.2, pp.20-22, 1960
  • Nolan, T B “Oil-shale” USGS Professional Paper No. 424 (1961)
  • Leopold, Luna B and Baker, A.A. “Memorial to Thomas Brennan Nolan, 1901-1992” Memorials - Geological Society of America, vol.27, pp.33-34, 1997
  • Stewart, David B “Memorial of Thomas Brennan Nolan, 1901-1992” American Mineralogist, vol.79, no.5-6, pp.575-576, Jun 1994

External links

Further reading

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