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During World War I the combatants committed the total resources of their nations in this first great total war. This came to include geological expertise. The original use of geologists on the battlefield was to locate potable water supplies; later employments were an outgrowth of the stalemate on the battlefield. Mine warfare quickly developed as the belligerents tried to tunnel under the formidable trench systems. Geologists in uniform provided assistance for these efforts and came to be valued for their professional advice.

More uses were quickly found for geologists. Trafficability studies of terrain, predictions of stream and river heights, sources of construction materials, and location of water supplies were important missions. Later, as both sides learned to communicate through ground-loop telephony, ground-conductivity studies became important.

By the time the United States entered the war in 1917, mine warfare had been neutralized by countermining, and no further active mine operations were undertaken. The U.S. Army sent 10 geologists (three more were en route on November 11, 1918), a mining regiment, and a water supply regiment of engineers to support the American Expeditionary Force. Most geologic work was in terrain studies and in mapping, water supply, and soil trafficability studies. In the United States, other geologists worked to discover sources of scarce raw materials. American geologists generally were disappointed, however, at the contributions they were able to make to the war effort, whether in France or America.

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