2020 was one of the most unusual years in the long history of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey. January began normally, with WGNHS staff involved primarily in office projects and participating in the normal sequence of winter professional meetings and outreach events. By mid-March, however, our professional lives had dramatically changed in response to the Covid-19 global pandemic. Following University of Wisconsin-Madison guidance, WGNHS closed its doors and staff began working primarily remotely from their homes. Local and national professional meetings were first postponed and then canceled entirely. We learned to wear masks and to communicate using Zoom and Teams software, and staff meetings and check-ins became virtual.
In spite of the challenges posed by Covid-19, WGNHS had a very successful year. Our staff pivoted to remote work and continued to be productive. In late April, we began to re-engage in field work while following social distancing protocols. Gradually, our buildings reopened to limited occupancy following approved return-to-work plans. We found that there is an upside to virtual meetings because they can eliminate the time and costs of travel. For example, our annual meeting of the Wisconsin Geologic Mapping Advisory Committee (WGMAC) was the best-attended meeting of that group in years.
In May the nation learned of the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, and the protests that followed across the nation, including here in Madison, highlighted the need to confront long-standing racial injustices. Here at the Survey, we engaged in discussions and trainings about diversity and inclusion with a focus on the geosciences and have realized that we have a long way to go, but we are starting the journey.
Covid-19 severely impacted the University of Wisconsin budget, and the long-term impacts on the Survey’s base budget remain unclear. Most of our staff had to take several days of mandated unpaid furlough. However, in 2020 WGNHS increased its outside grant and contract funding versus prior years. Funds from the USGS STATEMAP and Data Preservation programs were increased significantly, and the Survey also received new funding from the US Forest Service Good Neighbor Program, the National Groundwater Monitoring Program, and the Wisconsin Groundwater Joint Solicitation, among others. These outside funds allowed us to hire and retain several early-career geoscientists to work on groundwater and geology projects.
An exciting development in December was the release of our new online Publications Catalog, which gives users a powerful tool to search for and freely download hundreds of WGNHS publications.
In summary, we are proud of the work we do for the people of Wisconsin and that we didn’t miss a beat during this challenging year. Please take a few minutes to review the highlights of our work below and explore our website and Story Map for more information.
Ken Bradbury, Director and State Geologist
Bedrock Mapping. The Survey completed new 1:100,000 scale bedrock geology and depth-to bedrock mapping in Dodge County and initiated new mapping in neighboring Jefferson County. These maps provide an updated understanding of the distribution of different rock types and a foundation for developing new studies into the relationship between buried bedrock units and groundwater contaminants like arsenic. In Dodge County fold geometry and preferential sulfide mineralization along fold limbs is similar to that observed in the Upper Mississippi Valley Lead-Zinc District, suggesting similar controls on deformation and mineralization for southwestern and southeastern Wisconsin. The Survey also initiated new 1:100,000 scale bedrock mapping in Grant County in southwestern Wisconsin.
WGNHS geologists developed new 1:24,000 scale maps of the surface and subsurface Precambrian geology of the Baraboo Hills, Sauk and Columbia Counties. This work is constraining the location of several newly identified and previously recognized folds and faults, suggesting minor Paleozoic reactivation of Precambrian structures.
Quaternary and Surficial Mapping. WGNHS completed an 8-year project mapping the surficial geology of all of the lower Wisconsin River valley. The resulting 1:100,000 scale maps and accompanying report, which are in preparation for publication, will provide new insight into the nature and distribution of unconsolidated sediments at the earth’s surface throughout this portion of Wisconsin’s unglaciated “Driftless Area.” In addition to producing new maps, this project is providing important insights into the history and reorganization of mid-continent rivers and the chronology of the Green Bay Lobe of the last major glaciation.
The Survey also completed new 1:100,000 scale Quaternary mapping in Oneida and western Waushara Counties and progressed on mapping in Jefferson County. In addition, Survey geologists initiated new Quaternary mapping in Bayfield County.
Southwest Wisconsin groundwater. In partnership with the USDA, USGS, and county staff the WGNHS participated in the Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology (SWIGG) study, which is sampling private wells in three southwestern counties (Iowa, Lafayette, and Grant) for agricultural contaminants and pathogens in groundwater. This study has fostered additional new work to understand and map the Rountree Formation, a shallow unlithified unit that might help protect groundwater in the region.
Drone investigations of springs and bedrock depth. WGNHS scientists combined drone technology with thermal imaging to successfully locate springs and areas of shallow bedrock.
Bayfield County Groundwater. The thick sands in the central Bayfield Peninsula are considered an important groundwater recharge area, but the remote location and a water table more than 200 ft below the land surface pose challenges to studying the local hydrogeology. In 2020, we installed two groundwater wells and are currently monitoring the groundwater levels to improve our understanding of this unique region.
Central Sands Lakes Study monitoring. As part of a legislatively mandated initiative to evaluate groundwater in Wisconsin’s Central Sands agricultural area, the WGNHS conducted field studies of groundwater-surface water relationships near several lakes in the central part of the state.
Neonicotinoid Study. Working across the Central Sands region, this study seeks to better define the temporal and spatial dynamics of neonicotinoids in stream water and analyze potential linkages between land-use activity and neonicotinoid concentrations in streams.
Other Major Accomplishments
Working with colleagues from UW-Madison, UW-Sea Grant, and others, WGNHS scientists examined bluff failure along the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior shorelines and the impact of lake ice on shoreline erosion along cold climate coasts
As of fall 2020, ten of the Survey’s county-scale maps of surficial geology are now available in the USGS new national standard schema, known as “GeMS” (Geologic Map Schema). Using this national standard will help us collaborate with other agencies.
In 2020, the publications team coordinated the peer-review of 9 newly submitted publications, which are in various stages of production, and the release of 2 geologic maps (Quaternary Geology of Oneida County, Geologic map of the North Freedom 7.5” quadrangle) and a Technical Report (Water Quality Indicators of Human Impacts to the Wetlands of Door County, Wisconsin).
WGNHS continued to play major roles in the collection, management, and preservation of geologic data and samples, including the collection of downhole geophysical logs from 23 wells, participation in the Statewide Groundwater-Level Monitoring Network, management of well construction reports, and maintenance of an online Data Viewer. The WGNHS Research Collections and Education Center maintains thousands of geologic samples and records in its repository and examination space.
During 2020 WGNHS employed 34 professional staff and 12 student workers (see below). We said goodbye to two long-term employees who retired during the year. GIS Specialist Kathy Roushar retired after 34 years of service to the Survey. During her career, Kathy successfully navigated the transition from traditional cartographic technology to modern computer-focused methods. She is known for her beautiful and detailed map layouts that enhance many of the Survey’s publications. Outreach Manager Carol McCartney also retired after 11 years of service to the Survey. Carol created important links between the Survey and the rest of Extension, the University, and the geologic and hydrogeologic community. She raised the public profile of the Survey and helped introduce thousands of Wisconsin’s residents to the geology and water resources of our state. Both Kathy and Carol were awarded Emeritus status by the University in recognition of their years of service.
WGNHS Staff during 2020
- Carsyn Ames, Samples Coordinator
- John Attig, Glacier Geologist (rehired annuitant)
- William “Bill” Batten, Academic Curator (rehired annuitant)
- Amber Boudreau, Geologic Data Technician
- Kenneth Bradbury, Director/State Geologist
- Sarah Bremmer, Project Geoscientist
- Jady Carmichael, Online Content Specialist
- Eric Carson, Quaternary Geologist
- Peter “Pete” Chase, Geotechnicial Specialist
- Linda Deith, Editor and Publications Coordinator
- Anna Fehling, Project Hydrogeologist
- William “Billy” Fitzpatrick, Project Geoscientist
- Bradford “Brad” Gottschalk, Archivist and Administrative Specialist
- Grace Graham, Project Hydrogeologist
- David “Dave” Hart, Hydrogeologist/Geophysicist
- Irene Lippelt, Geologist
- Sushmita Lotlikar, Assistant Director of Administration
- Stephen “Steve” Mauel, GIS Specialist
- M. Carol “Carol” McCartney, Outreach Manager
- Maureen “Moe” Muldoon, Hydrogeologist
- Ian Orland, Geoscience Program Coordinator
- Michael “Mike” Parsen, Hydrogeologist
- Jacob “Jake” Pfund, Research Technician
- Jill Pongetti, Front Office Administrator
- Punwath Prum, Maps Data Specialist
- J. Elmo Rawling III, Quaternary Geologist
- Matthew “Matt” Rehwald, GIS Specialist
- Caroline Rose, GIS Specialist
- Kathleen “Kathy” Roushar, GIS Specialist
- Peter “Pete” Schoephoester, Assistant Director of Technical Operations
- David Sibley, Web Developer
- Esther Stewart, Precambrian Geologist
- Eric Stewart, Bedrock Geologist
- Kacie Stolzman, Project Quaternary Geologist
WGNHS Student Employees during 2020
- Mengze Cai, Geospatial Informatics
- Ellise “Ellie” Callahan, Social Media and Data Preservation
- Sydney Chen, Well Records
- Ahmad Shazwan Bin Abdul Hamid, XRF and Geologic Samples
- Chris Headlee, GIS Assistant
- Elizabeth “Libby” Ives, Project Assistant Quaternary Geology
- Kathleen “Katy” Jurgella, Social Media and Data Preservation
- Aditya Krishnan, Geologic Samples
- Filzah Amin Abdul Latiff, XRF and Geologic Samples
- Shawn Mahoney, Field Assistant
- Joseph Rasmussen, Project Assistant Bedrock Geology
- Kaitlyn Woznick, Data Preservation