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January 01, 1995

David White was a model for excellence in the geological profession. From his early years with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) under the paleobotanist Lester Ward to his rise to chief geologist of the USGS and chairman of the Division of Geology and Geography of the National Research Council, he displayed a gift for paleobotanical and fossil-fuel research and the ability to combine it with administrative service. His research in paleobotany was focused on the Paleozoic, although his investigations extended into the Cretaceous and the Precambrian. He guided the USGS’s geological research program during World War I and directed activity into oil-shale research and geophysical methods in oil exploration. His carbon-ratio theory led to his recognition as an expert on coalification and petroleum geology. He conducted a longtime study of Pottsville floras and was the foremost expert on correlations of coal beds in the basins of the eastern United States. Notably, he discovered seeds attached to the genus Aneimites. He also established the early Permian age of the Hermit Shale of the Grand Canyon and was the first to identify and recognize the significance of Gigantopteris Schenk in North America.

White’s enthusiasm for research was contagious, and he inspired a new breed of paleobotanist, coal geologist, and petroleum geologist. His prolific research activity led to his presidency of several scientific societies, membership in the National Academy of Science, honorary membership in foreign societies, and three honorary Doctor of Science degrees. For his research he received several medals from national and international scientific organizations. White, who served under four USGS directors, made an indelible mark as a U.S. government scientist, and his contributions continue to influence the fields of paleobotany, coal geology, and petroleum geology.

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Figures & Tables


GSA Memoirs

Historical Perspective of Early Twentieth Century Carboniferous Paleobotany in North America

Paul C. Lyons
Paul C. Lyons
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Elsie Darrah Morey
Elsie Darrah Morey
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Robert H. Wagner
Robert H. Wagner
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Geological Society of America
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January 01, 1995




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