Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wrapping up an eventful year at the Arizona Geological Survey

The Arizona Geological Survey celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2013, tracing our origins back to the creation of the Office of Territorial Geologist in 1888, 25 years before Arizona became a state.   Over this time we underwent a number of transformations, moving into the University of Arizona in 1893, where we served under a variety of names but for the longest period as the Arizona Bureau of Mines.  For the last 25 years we have been an independent agency reporting directly to the Governor, one of only two state geological surveys in the nation in that position.
My colleague Priscilla Grew, when she was State Geologist of Minnesota, was asked by a state legislator when her organization would be finished carrying out its geologic survey of the state. She famously replied, “When you’re finished legislating.”  While that may initially sound flippant or harsh, Priscilla made an important observation. The world changes in unexpected ways and we have to continually deal with unpredicted and unpredictable events.
During the the last 125 years, our mission has grown and evolved, in response to changing needs of our society and environment.   When Arizona became a state in 1912, more than 40% of the residents were involved in mining and we focused on basic geologic mapping and identification and assessment of mineral resources.  We continue to carry out those tasks with a lot more work still needed to be done.  Arizona is consistently the number 1 or 2 non-fuel mineral producing state in the country, yet only about one-quarter of the geology of the state is mapped at a scale of 1:24,000 or better.   But we also are deeply involved in natural hazards assessment and mitigation, groundwater geology, environmental geology, and the rapidly growing field of geoinformatics, or geoscience cyberinfrastructure including making all of our data and reports digital, online, and interoperable with one another.   
In this, our 125th anniversary year, we are celebrating the efforts of hundreds of geologists and geoscientists to understand Arizona’s remarkable geology and apply that knowledge to making our lives safer and richer.  All told, AZGS and its predecessor agencies have published more than 1,000 geologic products – maps, reports, assessments, etc.  As we continue to respond to new demands and take advantage of new technologies, we’ll be creating new products and establishing new communication pathways to serve Arizona.  All of our publications are now digital and put online as soon as they are released.  A lot of our work is communicated to our constituents through electronic and social media, including blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and a new online video magazine, “Arizona Mining Review.”
AZGS continues to play a prominent role with Arizona’s natural resources and natural hazards. Among some of the more notable accomplishments this past year are:
  • Approaching 1,000 AZGS publications place in an online document repository for free downloading, encompassing almost all AZGS documents dating from 1915 to present
  • Issuance of 33 drilling permits for the Arizona Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, primarily for potash exploration core holes in the Holbrook basin
  • Release of online interactive map viewers of Arizona natural hazards, oil and gas wells, and the state geologic map
  • Successful deployment of the $22 million National Geothermal Data System project (with 965 data sets representing over 5.6 million data points posted from over 60 data providers in all 50 states, with hundreds of more datasets under review, a large number of  standardized web services enabled, and over 100 geologic and gravity web map services online
  • Completion of the inventorying and partial scanning of over 800,000 documents, 10,000 maps, and 7,500 historical photos from the collections of the Arizona Dept. of Mines & Mineral Resources, acquired through the merger of the agencies
  •  Mapping of new earth fissures in Cochise County and updating existing maps throughout Arizona, all available online in an interactive map viewer
  • Took a leadership role in organizing the national geoscience cyberinfrastructure under the National Science Foundation’s EarthCube program
Over the past year, AZGS has continued to grow due to our success in bringing in external funds to support and underwrite our work on state priorities.   This allowed us as one example, to continue operations without any direct state or federal financial support, of the Arizona Broadband Seismic Network, the first statewide earthquake monitoring system.
AZGS has maintained services and expanded into new areas during the economic recession by creative, entrepreneurial, and aggressive pursuit of new funding opportunities.   In FY13, AZGS raised 90%+ of its total budget from grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements, mostly from federal sources, and almost entirely through competitive solicitations.    We started FY13 with about three-quarters of the annual budget revenues in place and raised sufficient funds during the year to meet all obligations.

We started FY14 with funding in place or committed to fund the Survey for the full year.   We continue to be successful in moving from a primarily state-funded to a grant-funded mode of operation. One of our challenges is to maintain this level of fund-raising to help us meet Arizona’s existing, continually growing, and evolving needs. 

There are many more chapters in the story to tell. Stay tuned, and happy new year!

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