Preserving Geologic Samples from Public Works Projects

Don Mikulic presented a paper at the Geoscience Data Preservation Workshop sponsored by the Association of American State Geologists and the U.S. Geological Survey. The meeting was held in Bloomington, Indiana, on July 14-15, 2009. Mikulic's paper addressed difficulties in preserving geologic samples generated through government-funded public works projects.

In recent years, large-scale water treatment systems have been constructed in the Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago started work on its system in the late 1960s, and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District project got under way in the 1970s. Planning for these publicly funded projects included extensive geotechnical studies by private consultants, which generated large volumes of samples, unpublished data, and published reports. These unique projects were the first comprehensive and systematic geologic studies undertaken in the largest metropolitan areas of Illinois and Wisconsin. Both districts have been cooperative in allowing scientific use of their geologic information and have donated samples to their state geological surveys. However, issues concerning the long-term scientific access, use, and preservation of these materials remain unresolved despite decades of effort. For example, thousands of feet of core have been produced, creating long-term storage problems. Attempts to reduce this volume of samples by discarding "redundant" cores and other materials have resulted in the loss of critical information. It has become apparent that substituting existing stratigraphic interpretations, lithologic descriptions, or photographs could not provide the detail needed for modern stratigraphic interpretation of these rocks, but, rather, that the original cores had to be restudied with this new perspective in mind. These and other issues demonstrate the need to require a portion of the costs in future large-scale, publicly funded projects to be directed toward the long-term scientific study and preservation of all samples and data generated.