Saint Louis University


The current Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, or EAS, has a rich and complex history that reflects a long tradition of research in the solid earth, atmospheric, and environmental sciences at Saint Louis University. The present department was established in 1969, but EAS can trace its origin to the establishment of the first department of geophysics in the Western Hemisphere, in 1925. Parts of the current department can trace their history back to 1860, through the meteorological observations of Jesuit priests in the Theology and Philosophy departments.

Saint Louis University began taking conventional meteorological observations in 1860 at the request of the United States Government, which used these observations for official purposes. The observers were Francis Stuntebeck, S.J., and John Luneman, S.J., of the Theology and Philosophy departments, and the observing station was at 38° 40' N, 90° 15' W, at a site named 'College Hill'.

When the federal government set up its own observational program, the university's official observation program was de-emphasized in 1874. A meteorological bureau was set up in 1910 by the university. In addition to conventional meteorological observations, the electrical signals from thunderstorms were received and ground temperatures measured. Particular care was given to taking the observations and recording them with comments on notable extremes. The diligence exercised by the early observers, Reverend John Goesse, S.J. and Reverend George Rueppel, S.J. demands special praise. Most of these observations were available in the form of monthly means in the Bulletin of Saint Louis University.

In the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Philosophy and Science, meteorology was initially taught indirectly, primarily in the Department of Physics, by drawing material from mechanics, heat and electricity, and magnetism. A milestone was the establishment of the Department of Geophysics in 1925 by Fr. James B. Macelwane, S.J.  who was the first departmental director. Fr. Goesse, S.J., was named an Emeritus Professor of Meteorology and Seismology Observations. Brother George Rueppel, S.J., joined the department as a meteorologist in 1930, as the Assistant Director of the Observatory and radio station WEW, which was operated by the department. The first PhD in Meteorology was awarded in 1944.

Because the weather in St. Louis was influenced heavily by migratory air masses, topics relating to air masses, severe weather, and climatology received the attention of the earlier researchers. Additionally, microseisms were also researched comprehensively by Reverend Macelwane and his collaborators, as was evidenced by his article in the Compendium of Meteorology in 1951. For the first time, Geophysics and Meteorology appear as separate disciplines in the 1951 Catalogue. In 1956 when Father Macelwane died, Reverend Victor Blume became the Dean of the Institute of Technology and Ross Heinrich, the Director of the department.

In 1960, the department became a founding member of the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research. In 1968, the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences was formed with three sections: Meteorology, Geophysics, and Geology. Reverend W. V. Stauder, S.J. became the chair in 1972 with Professor D. Martin as the Associate Chair and Director of Meteorology. Reverend Stauder was succeeded, successively, by Drs. Heinrich, Mitchell, and Crossley, while Dr. D. Martin by Dr. G. V. Rao.

The first seeds of a geoscience program at Saint Louis University were planted in 1909 with the installation of a seismograph in the basement of DuBourg Hall. It was one of 18 Wiechert inverted pendulum instruments which were emplaced at Jesuit colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. The Jesuit network was the first to be established in North America and was the forerunner of the network of WWSSN stations installed by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in the 1960's.

Although there were no formal degree programs in the geosciences until 1925, the director of the newly installed seismograph station, Fr. John Goesse, organized seminars on various geophysical topics. A young scholastic, James B. Macelwane (photoat left), who attended Fr. Goesse's seminars, went to the University of California in 1921 for doctoral study, earning his Ph.D. in physics with minors in seismology and mathematics.

Macelwane returned to Saint Louis University in 1925 as Professor of Geophysics and established a new Department of Geophysics, the first in the western hemisphere. It was a geophysical department in a broad sense, in that it included meteorological as well as solid Earth studies. By 1929 two geologists had also joined the department.

As one of his first tasks, Macelwane revitalized the Jesuit seismological network with Saint Louis University as the administrative center. Wood- Anderson and Galitzen-Wilip seismographs were installed in a vault in Florissant, Missouri, outside St. Louis, in 1928 and in the same year Wood-Anderson instruments were also installed on a pier in the basement of the university gymnasium. The department began operating Wood-Anderson seismographs in Little Rock, Arkansas and Cape Girardeau, Missouri in 1930 and 1938, respectively. The latter instruments were the first to be emplaced for the specific purpose of studying earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone.

Geology was established as a separate department in 1938. It consisted, in its early years, of three faculty members who were primarily committed to undergraduate teaching but who, nonetheless, conducted research programs in mineralogy, stratigraphy, and clay petrology.

In 1944, the Department of Geophysics and the Department of Geology became separate units of the newly formed Institute of Geophysical Technology with Fr. Macelwane as Dean. After the addition of some engineering departments, this became the Institute of Technology in 1948. An important event during that time was the award of what was probably the first Ph.D. in North America to a female geophysicist, Florence Robertson. Dr. Robertson then served as a faculty member in the department until her untimely death in 1954.

Seismology continued, until the 1960's, to be the only geophysical discipline in the department in which research was conducted. During that decade two new faculty positions were added, those being in the areas of paleomagnetism and geochemistry, adding breadth to departmental research endeavors.

The Departments of Geophysics and Geology merged in 1968, and adopted the name Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in 1970. The newly named department joined the College of Arts and Sciences that same year. In 1974, under the leadership of Fr. William Stauder, the first stations of the Upper Mississippi Valley Seismic Network were installed. This network formed the basis for much of the continuing expansion of seismological research and facilities in the department which continues to the present time.

The 1980's and 90's have been marked by increased activity in the fields of tectonics, structural geology, rock properties, paleontology, petrology, geochemistry, and groundwater hydrology. Growth in these areas, combined with previously existing strengths in seismology, paleomagnetism, rock magnetism, and surface water hydrology, have produced broadly based graduate and undergraduate programs in the geosciences. As a result, the recent history of the department has been marked by increased breadth and interesting new research projects in a variety of geoscience areas.

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