Gilbert, G K

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Photograph[edit]

The Young G K Gilbert
G K Gilbert


Dates[edit]

Grove Karl Gilbert 1843 (Rochester, New York, USA) - 1918 (Jackson, Michigan)

Biography[edit]

Karl Gilbert was born in Rochester, New York. His father was something of a family maverick, a self-taught portrait painter who barely eked out a living; thus Karl’s family was too poor to afford much in the way of entertainment outside the home, which they called the “Nutshell.” Karl seems to have had no problem entertaining himself—in addition to puzzle-solving, he liked to read, including popular magazines, and was particularly fond of boating; with a friend, he built several small boats, which they took on the Genesee River near Rochester. A quiet, intelligent child, Karl was very curious, and early on, he developed excellent pow-ers of observation. His superb physical intuition is evident in this recollection of childhood boating experiences:

"When I was a boy I noticed that by rocking a skiff I gave it a forward motion. That led to the trial of other impulses, and I found that by standing near the stern and alternately bending and straightening my legs so as to make the skiff rock endwise, I could produce a forward velocity of several yards a minute. If I stood on one side of the medial line, the skiff moved in a curve. The motions I caused directly were strictly reciprocal, the departures from initial position being equaled by the returns. The indirect result of translation was connected with reactions between the water and the oblique surfaces of the boat."

At some financial sacrifice from his family, he graduated from the University of Rochester in 1862. Probably because he was physically weak and also perhaps because he was disinclined toward conflict, he did not enlist for military duty in the Civil War, norwas he drafted, though his name came up twice. He had debts to pay off from college, so he took a job teaching public school in Jackson, Michigan, where his older sister lived. But Gilbert had so much trouble handling unruly schoolboys that he quit even before the school year ended!

Karl returned to the family home in Rochester. Soon he found work at Ward’s Cosmos Hall, where for the next five years (1863–1868) he catalogued samples, and, as he gained experi- ence, collected specimens and helped mount exhibits in museums. He was left in charge of a mastodon excavation on the Mohawk River when the excavation director, James Hall, wrenched his hip. Because the skeleton was incomplete, in addition to directing the excavation, Gilbert had the opportunity to visit and study other mastodon skeletons in Boston; later he studied other fossil exhibits in New York. On these trips he had opportunities to meet with professional geologists. Also during this time, he studied mathe- matics, anatomy, and geology at home in the evenings.

While excavating the mastodon, he became fascinated with potholes in the river bed, and conducted a detailed survey of 350 of them in order to determine their origin and the rate of retreat of the associated waterfall. He published both a popular account of the mastodon excavation and a technical report on the potholes, his first two publications. Gilbert later recalled that his potholes study was what attracted him to further work in geology.

Gilbert learned in the spring of 1869 that a second geological survey of Ohio was being organized, and, quite boldly, decided to go in person to ask the governor Rutherford B. Hayes for a survey job. Upon being told that only Ohioans would be hired, he persisted by visiting J. S. Newberry, director of the survey (and a professor at Columbia School of Mines), who told Gilbert the same thing, but offered him a volunteer position, at $50/month expenses. Gilbert accepted this excellent opportunity in July 1869 and was an impressive enough worker that the next year he was offered a salaried job. His duties included conducting field work, drawing fossil plants and fish (at which he excelled), and writing reports. New- berry also employed Gilbert to help him prepare college lectures, and introduced him to several eminent geologists.

In 1871, he joined George M. Wheeler's geographical survey as its first geologist. He then joined the Powell Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region in 1874, becoming Powell's primary assistant, and stayed with the survey until 1879. During this time he published an important monograph, The Geology of the Henry Mountains (1877). After the creation of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1879, he was appointed to the position of Senior Geologist and worked for the USGS until his death (including a term as acting director).

Gilbert published a study of the former ancient Lake Bonneville in 1890 (the lake existed during the Pleistocene), of which the Great Salt Lake is a remnant. He named that lake after the army captain Benjamin L.E. de Bonneville, who had explored this region previously. The type of river delta that Gilbert described at this location has since become known to geomorphologists as a Gilbert delta.

In 1891, Gilbert examined the possible origins for a crater in Arizona, now known as Meteor Crater but then referred to as Coon Butte. For a number of reasons, and against his intuition, he concluded it was the result of a volcanic steam explosion rather than an impact of a meteorite. Gilbert based his conclusions on a belief that for an impact crater, the volume of the crater including the meteorite should be more than the ejected material on the rim and also a belief that if it was a meteorite then iron should create magnetic anomalies. Gilbert's calculations showed that the volume of the crater and the debris on the rim were roughly equal. Further there were no magnetic anomalies. Gilbert argued that the meteorite fragments found on the rim were just "coincidence." Gilbert would publicize these conclusions in a series of lectures in 1895. Subsequent investigations would reveal that it was in fact a meteor crater, but that interpretation was not well established until the mid-20th century. As part of his interest in crater origins, Gilbert also studied the moon's craters and concluded they were caused by impact events rather than volcanoes, although he wondered why the craters were round and not oval as expected for an oblique impact. The interpretation of lunar craters as of impact origin was also debated until the mid-20th century.

He joined the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899. Two weeks after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Gilbert took a series of photographs documenting the damage along the San Andreas fault from Inverness to Bolinas.

Gilbert is considered one of the giants of the sub-discipline of geomorphology, having contributed to the understanding of landscape evolution, erosion, river incision and sedimentation. Gilbert was a planetary science pioneer, correctly identifying lunar craters as caused by impacts, and carrying out early impact-cratering experiments.[6] Gilbert was one of the more influential early American geologists.

He joined the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899. Two weeks after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Gilbert took a series of photographs documenting the damage along the San Andreas fault from Inverness to Bolinas.

Gilbert is considered one of the giants of the sub-discipline of geomorphology, having contributed to the understanding of landscape evolution, erosion, river incision and sedimentation. Gilbert was a planetary science pioneer, correctly identifying lunar craters as caused by impacts, and carrying out early impact-cratering experiments. Gilbert was one of the more influential early American geologists.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

G K Gilbert was interesting in all aspects of process contributing to the development of landforms, including processes associated with flowing water and glaciers. He carried out early quantitative experimental work on the mobilisation and transport of sediments and was one of the first to explore the implications for hillslope forms. He wrote one of the very first summaries of knowledge on glaciers and glaciation following his work with the Harriman expedition.

He was also one of the earliest to consider the scientific method in application to environmental systems. Along with T C Chamberlin he advocated a method of testing multiple working hypotheses.

Reference Material[edit]

G K Gilbert Wikipedia entry

Joanne Bourgeios, 1998, Model Survey Geologist: G K Gilbert, Geology today


Davis, William Morris, 1926, Biographical memoir Grove Karl Gilbert, 1843–1918: National Academy of Sciences Memoirs, v. XXI, 303 p.

Pyne, S., 1975. The mind of Grove Karl Gilbert. Theories of Landform Development: Binghamton, New York, State University of New York, pp.277-298.

Pyne, Stephen J., 1980, Grove Karl Gilbert, a great engine of research: Austin, University of Texas Press, 306 p.

Yochelson, Ellis L., editor, 1980, The scientific ideas of G. K. Gilbert: Geological Society of America Special Paper 183, 148 p.

Baker, V.R. and Pyne, S., 1978. GK Gilbert and modern geomorphology. American Journal of Science, 278(2), pp.97-123.

Chorley, R.J. and Beckinsale, R.P., 1980. GK Gilbert’s geomorphology. Geological Society of America Special Papers, 183, pp.129-142.

Pyne, S.J., 2007. Grove Karl Gilbert: A Great Engine of Research. University of Iowa Press.

Picard, M.D., 2008. Grove Karl Gilbert, master of laccoliths and lakes. Rocky Mountain Geology, 43(1), pp.111-118.

Major Publications[edit]

G K Gilbert, 1877, Report on the Geology of the Henry Mountains Link

Powell, J.W., Gilbert, G.K., Dutton, C.E., Drummond, W. and Thompson, A.H., 1879. Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States: With a More Detailed Account of the Lands of Utah. With Maps (Vol. 3). Governmentprint. Office.

Gilbert, G.K., 1884. A theory of the earthquakes of the Great Basin, with a practical application. American Journal of Science, (157), pp.49-53.

Gilbert, G.K., 1885. The topographic features of lake shores. US Government Printing Office: Washington, DC.

G K Gilbert, 1890, The Underground Water of the Arkansas Valley in Eastern Colorado Link

G K Gilbert, 1890, The history of the Niagara River, Albany, J.B. Lyon, printer, Albany, NY [ https://archive.org/details/historyofniagara00gilbuoft Link]

Gilbert, G.K., 1893. The moon's face—a study of the origin of its features. Scientific American, 36, pp.15003-15006.

Gilbert, G.K. and Gulliver, F.P., 1894. Tepee buttes. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 6(1), pp.333-342.

G K Gilbert, 1895, Niagara Falls and their history, American Book Company: New York, Chicago Link

Gilbert, G.K., 1895. Sedimentary measurement of Cretaceous time. The Journal of Geology, 3(2), pp.121-127.

Gilbert, G.K., 1895. Lake basins created by wind erosion. The Journal of Geology, 3(1), pp.47-49.

Gilbert, G.K., 1896. The origin of hypotheses, illustrated by the discussion of a topographic problem. Science, pp.1-13.

G K Gilbert, 1899, Harriman Alaska Expedition, Volume 3: Glaciers and glaciation, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC Link

Gilbert, G.K., 1899. Ripple-marks and cross-bedding. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 10(1), pp.135-140.

Gilbert, G.K., 1900. Rhythms and geologic time. Science, pp.1001-1012.

G K Gilbert and A P Brigham, 1902, An Introduction to Physical Geography, D Appelton and Co.: New York Link

Gilbert, G.K., 1904. Domes and dome structure of the High Sierra. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 15(1), pp.29-36.

Gilbert, G.K., 1904. Systematic asymmetry of crest lines in the High Sierra of California. The Journal of Geology, 12(7), pp.579-588.

Gilbert, G.K., 1906. Crescentic gouges on glaciated surfaces. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 17(1), pp.303-316.

Gilbert, G.K., 1906. Gravitational assemblage in granite. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 17(1), pp.321-328.

Gilbert, G.K., 1906. Moulin work under glaciers. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 17(1), pp.317-320.

G K Gilbert and W C Hall, 1907, Rate of Recession of Niagara Falls, Government Printing Office: Washington DC Link

A. C. Lawson et al., 1908, The California Earthquake of April 18, 1906. Report of the State Earthquake Investigation Commission, Carnegie Institution of Washington: Washington DC. Link

Gilbert, G.K., 1909. The convexity of hilltops. The Journal of Geology, 17(4), pp.344-350.

Gilbert, G.K., 1909. Earthquake Forecasts.—I. Scientific American, 67, pp.142-144.

Gilbert, G.K., 1917. Hydraulic-mining debris in the Sierra Nevada (No. 105). US Government Printing Office: Washington, DC.

G K Gilbert, 1918, The transport of débris by running water, Government Printing Office: Washington DC (with experimental work by Edward Charles Murphy) Link

Gilbert, Grove Karl. 1928, Studies of basin-range structure. Professional Paper No. 153. US Government Printing Office: Washington, DC. Link

Links[edit]