November 28, 1876 (Davis, Illinois) - June 14, 1948 (Washington, D.C.)
Meinzer was born on a farm near Davis, Illinois, in 1876. He graduated magna cum laude from Beloit College, Wisconsin, in 1901. He was a graduate student in geology at the University of Chicago (1906–1907) and received the Ph.D., magna cum laude, in 1922. His career in the United States Geological Survey began as geologic aide in June 1906. He married Alice Breckenridge Crawford in October 1906. Meinzer became junior geologist on ground-water investigations in 1907, and acting chief of the ground-water division succeeding W. C. Mendenhall in 1912. In 1913 he was named as chief of the Division of Ground Water, a post which he held until retirement on 30 November 1946. In that same year he received an honorary doctorate from Beloit College.
His long term as Chief of the Division of Ground Water, from 1912 to 1946, is often referred to as "the Meinzer years." It was a period of rich intellectual achievement during which researchers developed the fundamental blocks of knowledge that would support the new science.
Oscar E. Meinzer is best known for his leadership at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). His career with the USGS spanned 40 years (1906–1946), when hydrogeology first gained recognition as a significant branch of earth science. Under Meinzer's leadership, a systematic scientific approach was applied to the problems of hydrogeology, and the underlying principles were defined. His work in codifying and organizing elements of the many disciplines related to the study of ground water helped define the fundamental concepts and underlying principles of a new science called ground water hydrology. His early involvement in studying the principles and occurrence of ground water in the United States earned him the moniker "father of modern ground water hydrology."
During his thirty-four years as the chief, groundwater division (now branch) of the United States Geological Survey, Meinzer became the main architect in development of the modern science of ground-water hydrology. He organized and trained a large number of scientists and engineers, many of whom became recognized international authorities in this vastly expanded field. When he began, the study of underground water was an insignificant and poorly appreciated art.
During his early years as chief, he initiated the development of the science of ground-water hydrology. He realized that in addition to locating and defining ground-water basins, as had been the earlier practice, the principles governing occurrence, movement, and discharge of ground water must be determined, and methods had to be devised and tested for determining the quantity and quality of available ground water. In order to standardize terms and describe principles, he prepared Outline of Ground-Water Hydrology, With Definitions, and The Occurrence of Ground Water in the United States, With a Discussion of Principles. Among his definitions he proposed the term “phreatophyte” taken from Greek roots meaning a “well plant,” which like a water well taps the groundwater supply especially in arid regions in contrast to most plants which derive their water from soil moisture in humid regions. That term, together with many of his logical definitions, continues to be used. In his definitions he explained the significant difference between “porosity” and “effective porosity” and the relation of these terms to specific yield, which many hydrologists failed to recognize.
In 1923 Meinzer published two reports that formalized the status of ground water hydrology as a science and that provided a state-of-the-art review of the ground water field. In aggregate, these benchmark reports, "The Occurrence of Ground Water in the United States, with a Discussion of Principles" and "Outline of Ground Water Hydrology, with Definitions defined the breadth, scope, and philosophy of the new science. They provided a generation of ground water hydrologists with clear guidance and high standards for the conduct of ground water investigations. Meinzer described twenty-six approaches, eleven of which are applicable, though not exclusively, to aquifers and parts of aquifers under water table conditions. Five of the methods are applicable to aquifers in which water moves considerable distances from intake to discharge areas.
As part of the study of ground-water hydrology, Meinzer established a laboratory, where, along with other experiments and tests, he was able to prove that as long as the flow of water through granular material is laminar, the vetocity is directly proportional to the hydraulic gradient—that is, the flow conforms to Darcy’s law. For field investigations Meinzer proposed and encouraged development of geophysical methods and such instrumentation as automatic water-stage recorders on wells. He was in the vanguard of those pioneers who urged pumping tests and other analytical tests on wells to obtain quantitative information on the water-bearing properties of aquifers. Among these was the method of Gunter Thiem, which was tested in the field and described by L. K. Wenzel.
In 1931 Meinzer was Chair of a Committee tasked with setting up a Section of Hydrology of the American Geophysical Union (with Robert Horton as vice-Chair). An article about the formation of the Hydrology Section can be found here
In 1942 he edited the text "Hydrology" published by McGraw-Hill.
Meinzer, Oscar Edward". Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 9. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons. 2008. pp. 257–258.
Sayre, A. Nelson (1948). "Oscar Edward Meinzer". Transactions, American Geophysical Union. 29 (4): 455. doi:10.1029/TR029i004p00455.
Meyer, Gerald (17 November 2012). "Oscar E. Meinzer — father of modern groundwater hydrology in the United States". Hydrogeology Journal. 3 (2): 76–78. doi:10.1007/s10040-995-0005-0.
Hackett, O. M. (April 1964). "The father of modern groundwater hydrology". Ground Water. 2 (2): 2–5. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6584.1964.tb01749.x.
Lohman, S. W. (1986). "Tribute to Oscar Edward Meinzer". In J. S. Rosenshein, J.E. Moore, S.W. Lohman, and E.B. Chase. Two-hundred years of hydrogeology in the United States (PDF) (Report). U.S. Geological Survey. pp. 51–60. Open-File Report 86-480. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
Maxey, George B. (1986). "The Meinzer era of hydrogeology in the United States, 1910-40". In J. S. Rosenshein, J.E. Moore, S.W. Lohman, and E.B. Chase. Two-hundred years of hydrogeology in the United States (PDF) (Report). U.S. Geological Survey. pp. 45–50. Open-File Report 86-480. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
Committee on Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences, 1991, Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences, Water Science and Technology Board, National Research Council, http://www.nap.edu/catalog/1543.html
R A Freeze, 1985, Historical Correspondence Between C. V. Theis and C. I. Lubin, EoS Trans. AGU v66(20), May 14.
- Meinzer, O E (1923). The occurrence of ground water in the United States, with a discussion of principles (PDF) (Report). Water Supply Paper 489. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- Meinzer, O E (1923). Outline of ground-water hydrology, with definitions (PDF) (Report). Water Supply Paper 494. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- Meinzer, O E and Hard, Herbert A (1925). The artesian water supply of the Dakota sandstone in North Dakota, with special reference to the Edgeley quadrangle (PDF) (Report). Water Supply Paper 520. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- Meinzer, O E(1927). Plants as indicators of ground water (PDF) (Report). Water Supply Paper 577. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- Meinzer, O E(1928). "Compressibility and elasticity of artesian aquifers". Economic Geology. 23 (3): 263–291. doi:10.2113/gsecongeo.23.3.263.
- Meinzer, O E(1929). A study of ground water in the Pomperaug Basin, Connecticut : with special reference to intake and discharge (PDF) (Report). Water Supply Paper 597-B. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- Meinzer, O E and Stearns, Norah Dowell (1929). Problems of the soft-water supply of the Dakota sandstone, with special reference to the conditions at Canton, South Dakota (PDF) (Report). Water Supply Paper 597-C. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 September 2015.* (1932). Outline of methods for estimating ground-water supplies (PDF) (Report). Water Supply Paper 638. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- Meinzer, O E and Fishel, V. C (1934). "Tests of permeability with low hydraulic gradients". Transactions, American Geophysical Union. 15 (2): 405. doi:10.1029/TR015i002p00405.
- Meinzer, O E, ed. (1942). Hydrology. McGraw-Hill.