At about the time that Indiana became a state, the nebulous roots of several sciences, including geology, were evolving into distinct fields of investigation. The theory called Catastrophism, according to which all rocks were deposited as a series of layers in a worldwide ocean, was being superseded by Uniformitarianism, which held that "the present is the key to the past," and that the seemingly everlasting hills had, in fact, been quite changeable over the eons owing to constant processes of erosion and deposition. And a canal surveyor in England had, after many years of field observations, prepared a magnificent geologic map of England and Wales that explained why certain rocks were found in specific areas. (The Lilly Library on the Indiana University campus has one of the rare copies of this map.) This same man, William Smith, also laid the groundwork for the science of stratigraphy, the study of layered rocks. Smith had determined that fossils were not just beautiful cabinet specimens but were an important guide in tracing the many geologic layers across the country.
Indiana had entered the union just as the industrial revolution gathered strength and was endowed with ample natural resources. Streams were harnessed to power mills and also provided transportation routes for produce and merchandise. For household supplies of water, whether in the country or in towns, settlers depended on rain barrels, springs, or shallow-dug wells. Mineral springs were noted by early travelers, and enterprising settlers built spas. Sandstone and limestone for piers and foundations were obtained from the nearest outcrop, as hauling over the primitive roads presented problems. For house construction, brick using local clay was burned with charcoal onsite in temporary kilns; commercial kilns were being built in towns to supply local markets. Settlers prepared quicklime for mortar by burning limestone with charcoal in heaps covered with soil. Saltpeter for gunpowder and epsomite for medical use were leached and concentrated from deposits in caves. An unusual laminated siltstone was found to make excellent whetstones, and a small industry developed. Early travelers noticed coal, but it was little used, in part because of the difficulty of transport and also because abundant fuel was available from the forests. Iron ore prospects also were noted but were not developed until the 1830s. In the northern part of the state, peat and marl were available for soil improvements.
The first studies of Indiana's geologic resources were made by David Dale Owen, whose father Robert bought the Rappite colony at New Harmony in 1825. Dale, as he was called, and his brother Richard studied in Switzerland and Scotland, where Dale developed an interest in the new science of geology.
A geologic map of what were then called the Northwestern States is the only known map that displays the scope of David Dale Owen's work in Indiana. It appeared in 1846 in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society in London.
In 1828 at the age of 21 he settled in New Harmony, where he created a laboratory and a museum, and gave lectures on science to the townspeople. It was a propitious time; European geologists were naming bundles of strata according to age, slicing Smith's stratigraphic column into meaningful layer-cake bits. And at about this time, the Indiana legislature decided that this new science might be helpful in developing the state's economic resources. This fit perfectly with Owen's philosophy that science should be of service to the people. And so in 1837, sponsored by the state of Indiana, Owen began the first systematic study of the geology of the state and followed it with a second survey in 1838. His reports (along with maps that unfortunately have been lost) established that the oldest consolidated rocks in Indiana were in the southeastern part of the state and the youngest in the southwest-this because the rocks, though the strata look horizontal, actually dip gently westward. Thus rocks in the bluffs along the Ohio River from Lawrenceburg to Mt. Vernon display a cross section of the bedrock strata of southern Indiana, from oldest to youngest. Owen also noted that a black shale seen at New Albany extended far northward as an important marker stratum, and that coal deposits were limited to the southwest corner of the state.
For the next 20 years, Owen made geological surveys in neighboring states, while his Indiana reports were reprinted, altered, and expanded many times. By the time he returned to work in Indiana he had accepted many of the geologic time-terms that had arisen for bedrock strata in Europe, such as Silurian, Devonian, and Carboniferous. He did not, however, accept the theory that glaciers had once expanded across much of the northern hemisphere, which was becoming accepted in Europe. He thought that the deposits of unconsolidated sand, gravel, and clay, along with boulders of obvious northern source, which spread widely across northern Indiana had been transported by icebergs. He called these deposits "diluvium" or "drift," and recognizing that they are much, much younger than the bedrock on which they lie, he associated them with the time-term for what came to be known as the Ice Age: the Pleistocene Period. Within this framework he began another geological survey of Indiana in 1859. While preparing the report, however, he died, leaving his brother Richard, who had served as his assistant, to finish the report, which appeared in 1862.
The Civil War then intervened, but in 1869 the legislature established a Department of Geology and Natural Science to further survey and assess the geology of the state. This organization, with several changes of name, continues this mission to the present day as the Indiana Geological Survey. Its initial staffing was small, but in summers the State Geologist filled out the ranks mostly with professors who taught in nearby colleges. The reports they authored were primarily county by county. In 1891, shortly after the giant Trenton oil and gas field in northeastern Indiana began to be developed, a physician, Dr. A. J. Phinney, prepared for the newly organized U.S. Geological Survey a report on the Trenton Field that placed much of Indiana on the west flank of a large anticlinal feature that came to be known as the Cincinnati Arch. This structure accounts for the westward dip of the rocks that had been observed by Owen.
In 1895 a new state geologist, W.S. Blatchley, brought together a corps of geologists that commenced studies that were organized topic by topic. They produced a thick volume with an atlas of maps covering what was then known of the coal resources of Indiana. Another report included cross sections showing the rocks of southern Indiana. They issued a new and more detailed geologic map of the state. Several reports described fossils, but the emphasis was on mineral resources such as sandstone, limestone, coal, oil and gas, and iron ore. Though Blatchley was primarily an entomologist, he wrote extensively on the geology of oil and gas. Geologists of this group went on to greater fame as they worked elsewhere after the Blatchley survey wound down. Finally, in 1917 Blatchley wrote a report summarizing the first 100 years of geologic studies in Indiana.
Starting about the mid-nineteenth century, the concept of glaciations of continental extent came to be firmly established in Europe, and beginning in 1882 several reports by academics and geologists associated with the newly founded United States Geological Survey began placing the "drift" of northern Indiana within the context of widespread continental glaciation in North America. These reports established that the northern two-thirds of Indiana (roughly that part of the state that lies north of U.S. 40 and I-70) are mostly covered by a suite of glacial deposits that are from a few to a few hundred feet deep. These deposits are of the latest continental glaciations; earlier glacial advances extended to within a few miles of Bloomington but also spread as far southeast as the Ohio River at Madison and New Albany and to New Harmony in the southwestern quarter of the state. Because deposits of these glaciations are much older and are much eroded, their remains have left a lesser imprint on the land.
Blatchley lost the election of 1910 (the office of state geologist was filled at that time by election), and the state geologist who followed him was not able to carry on the momentum of the Blatchley survey. In 1919, however, state government was reorganized, and a Division of Geology was established and placed under a newly created Department of Conservation. Geology staff at Indiana University had become important in studies of Indiana geology, and Professor W.N. Logan of the university was appointed State Geologist. Thus began an association of the organization that became the Indiana Geological and Water Survey with the university Department of Geology (now Geosciences) that has continued to the present. A signal accomplishment of the geological survey during this era was the publication of a Handbook of Indiana Geology in 1922. The several chapters in this work, published by the Department of Conservation, covered physiography, stratigraphy, paleontology and economic geology and were authored by faculty members of Indiana University, but the geological survey itself had only a small staff. At the same time, a growing number of geologists were working in Indiana, primarily in the search for oil and gas.
The appointment of Charles F. Deiss as State Geologist in 1945 brought changes to the Indiana Geological Survey. Within a few years he built its staff to about 50, including specialists in coal, industrial minerals, petroleum, glacial geology, geophysics, geochemistry and geologic mapping, along with support staff. Reorganizations since have reflected changes in the field of geology, but staff numbers have remained about the same. In 1965 the Department of Conservation was incorporated into a new Department of Natural Resources, and in 1992, recognizing that the Indiana Geological and Water Survey had for many years been closely affiliated with Indiana University, it was transferred to become a research institute of the university. In 1987, in observance of the Indiana Geological Survey's sesquicentennial, former State Geologist John Patton summarized the history of the geological survey up to that point.
In 1837 and 1838 David Dale Owen carried on his field studies on foot or on horseback, staying overnight in camp, in homes near where he was working, or in the occasional hostelry. Simple chemical tests sufficed in the laboratory. By the late 1800s the horse was still the usual mode of transport, but it was not uncommon for a geologist to catch a ride on a train for a few miles, spend the day on foot in the countryside, then hitch another ride back to accommodations in town. By the 1920s, roads were improving and the automobile had become a reliable facilitator of fieldwork, and in the 1930s photographs taken from the air began to be used in geologic studies.
Today, dozens of remote sensing and laboratory techniques that could not have been dreamed of a few years ago have become available, and several hundred geologists now apply their science in Indiana in directed research and consulting in environmental geology, resource development, and geologic mapping. Sensors carried by aircraft and by satellites at high altitudes are able to image the earth in remarkable detail in color and measure elevations and geographic locations in fractions of an inch. Geophysical instruments can peer below the surface to reveal the geological strata below and characterize the sediments or rocks. In the laboratory, geologists can complete detailed mineralogical and rock analyses within minutes if not seconds. But even with all these technical aids, there will always be a need for the individual to "walk the surface" to understand the precise meaning and application of all these remotely gathered data.