Barbara Lidz Retires after Long Career with the USGS in Florida
Barbara Lidz, Research Geologist and original editor of Sound Waves at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center in Florida, retired in January 2014 after 39 years of service with the USGS. She is now a USGS Scientist Emerita and will continue working on Florida Keys geology with her long-time colleague and friend Gene Shinn, a retired USGS Geologist and currently Courtesy Professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. To mark this transition, Gene compiled a personal account of Barbara’s USGS career, which parallels the early history (and pre-history) of the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program in Florida.
It was 1974, and Barbara Lidz was working for Cesare Emiliani at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, identifying minute shells of planktic foraminifera. These one-celled marine organisms, commonly called “forams,” provide information on the geologic age of the rock or sediment in which they are found. Cesare’s National Science Foundation funding was running on empty, and he was worried about the future of Barbara and the young daughter she was raising on her own after her micropaleontologist husband had succumbed to leukemia.
Cesare had heard about the arrival of a small USGS unit that was looking for a secretary. At the time, we were housed just across the street from the Rosenstiel School in temporary quarters in the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) on Virginia Key. Bob Halley and Harold Hudson were already onboard, and all three of us [Halley, Hudson, and the author, Gene Shinn] were squeezed into a small office, wondering where we might find permanent quarters. Cesare called me about Barbara and told me that besides identifying forams, Barbara was also a secretary. What he meant was that she served as Secretary for the Miami Geological Society. He added, “She went to Smith College, can do most anything, and has a photographic memory for planktic foraminifera.”
Our little fledgling group, newly created within the then USGS Oil and Gas Branch, knew that petroleum geologists had little interest in planktic forams, which drift in the deep waters of the open oceans. They were more interested in benthic forams, which live in and on seafloor sediment and provide information on the water depths and depositional environments in which they lived. We were undecided. For her interview, she brought her portfolio of published papers and microfossil drawings—this was in the days before scanning electron microscopes. Barbara said that she could learn about benthic forams, and besides, “I can serve as secretary, type manuscripts, and prepare graphics.” (At the time, we used typewriters for manuscripts and Zip-a-Tone transfers for scientific illustrating. Lettering was done with Leroy sets—older geologists will remember those.)
But we were concerned. Would hiring a female foram expert who had attended Smith College to do part-time secretarial work become a problem? Cesare had assured us that it would not. Barbara assured us she could handle it all. Pete Rose, then head of the Oil and Gas Branch in Denver, gave us the green light, and Barbara became a key member of our group.
A few weeks later, we found a new home. It was abandoned quarantine-service housing under lease to the University of Miami. The housing was on nearby Fisher Island, created when dredging of the main seaway into the Miami harbor severed and isolated the south end of Miami Beach. The quarantine service had moved its operations to the Miami airport, leaving six Spanish-style houses and a large office building on 14 acres of prime waterfront property. There were also a machine shop, a boathouse, and a laboratory building that had housed a microbiology project. In the large office building was none other than Robert N. Ginsburg, geologist and reigning master of modern carbonate sedimentology. The work of Bob and his many students included research on oil and gas resources, so we felt right at home. A caretaker and his wife lived in the house next to the one in which we set up our offices. The caretaker ran the ferryboat, the only way on or off the island. The ferry was an open pontoon boat with a Bimini top, powered by two outboard motors, and it ran every hour on the hour, rain or shine. It would rule our lives for the next 15 years!
We moved into one of the houses, with Barbara working in what had been the living room. She had a fireplace, a front porch, and a private bathroom. Four former bedrooms served as offices off a fully equipped kitchen. The USGS Fisher Island Station was open for business!
During our 15-year tenure on the island, Barbara did get to exercise her knowledge of planktic foraminifera. She traveled to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands to help Robert F. Dill, director of the then West Indies Laboratory of Fairleigh Dickinson University, determine the ages of some uplifted deepwater sedimentary rocks. As a result of that study, Barbara published five journal papers, one of which described the oldest marine deposits found on the island, with ages of early Eocene to early Miocene (see Geologic Time Scale Bookmark to convert geologic ages into years before present). Those deposits were discovered as a mudball encased by mid-Miocene turbidite layers (turbidites form when sediment mixed with water flows downslope as a density current and spreads out on the seafloor). That paper also demonstrated the importance of examining reworked sediments (older sediments eroded and then re-deposited with younger sediments)—the mudball remains the oldest marine deposit found to this day on St. Croix.
Barbara was later invited, as the USGS expert in planktic biostratigraphy, to aid Bob Ginsburg and his group of international experts in determining the precise ages of Tertiary limestone in two borehole cores they had recovered from the western margin of the Great Bahama Bank. Her analysis of the planktic forams yielded late Neogene ages that spanned approximately 4 million years, from about 5.7 to 1.6 million years ago. This was after other researchers’ efforts to date those cores, using a variety of sophisticated techniques, had failed.
In the process of dating the cores, Barbara found that abundant older (Paleogene) forams had been reworked into the late Neogene host rock. Her discovery completely upended the long-standing theory of the evolution of the western margin of the Great Bahama Bank, which had been envisioned simply as a seaward accumulation of sediments shed from the banktop during high stands of sea level. She amassed evidence to produce a far more complex model involving multiple regional processes, spanning a period of more than 64 million years (approximately 66 to 1.9 million years ago), from which she reconstructed the geologic history of that part of the Caribbean. Once again, reworked microfossils played a major role, enabling those significant ancient events to become “visible” and interpretable from within the narrow confines of the late Neogene window. None of the other studies on the cores could have detected the fossil evidence that led to this breakthrough.
When her eyes were not glued to the microscope, Barbara kept our crew together. In addition to making core logs from oil-well cuttings and identifying and cataloging sediment components in cores and sediment samples, she paid the bills, balanced the books, filled out purchase orders, and answered the phone. Thanks to proximity, an intercom was not needed. It was simply, “Hey Bob, [or Harold, or Gene,] pick up the phone!”
Having served aboard seagoing University of Miami research vessels, Barbara was used to the ocean and never got seasick. She did not scuba dive, and she abhorred giving oral presentations on field trips or at meetings, but she ruled committee meetings with a stern hand. She never put off anything for later if she could do it now! That quality enforced the kind of discipline the rest of us needed. In her spare time, Barbara was elected President of the Miami Geological Society and eventually held every position on its board of directors. And there was the international Society for Sedimentary Geology, then called the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists. (It is still known as SEPM.) The organization needed an editor for papers in its series of Special Publications, a.k.a. “the red books.” She ran for office and was elected. During her two-term 8-year tenure, she edited papers in more than a dozen Special Publications volumes and served on the SEPM Executive Council as chair of the Publications Committee. We benefited from her editing skills as well; she edited all 65 papers that we published during the first 10 years on the island.
During the Fisher Island days, we made cruises to Central America, where we cored and sampled the Belize barrier reef. We also conducted numerous research cruises to the Bahamas and Andros Island tidal flats. For the fieldwork, we chartered a 50-foot trawler and towed our 25-foot research vessel (R/V) Halimeda. A side activity was producing several USGS training films. Barbara starred in one 1994 film in which she sampled bottom sediments using a robotic arm extending from a two-person submersible. The project was a study of effects of exploratory-well drilling on bottom habitats and communities in the Gulf of Mexico (resulting in USGS Open-File Report 94–130).
A more unusual trip was trailering our coring equipment to New Mexico. There, with the help of a local helicopter pilot, we hoisted equipment to the tops of two cactus-encrusted bioherms (mound-like fossil reefs) in the Sacramento Mountains outside Tularosa and Alamogordo. We cored through a famous Permian patch reef, locally called Scorpion Mound, and the much larger Mississippian deepwater reef called Muleshoe Mound. Both were well-known training areas for petroleum geologists, and their origins had not been accurately determined. Barbara did it all, including the daily 45-minute climb to the drill rig situated at the highest points on the mounds.
The inevitable sad day came in 1989. We were leaving Fisher Island. The university was selling the property, and we were being transferred to join other USGS scientists in the newly created Center for Coastal Geology in St. Petersburg, Florida. Why St. Petersburg? The location had been picked by none other than Bob Halley, who had begun his career with us on Fisher Island and had most recently served as Chief of the then Branch of Atlantic Marine Geology in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, before moving to St. Petersburg. He, Abby Sallenger , and Bonnie McGregor, who also had worked with us on Fisher Island and later became associate director of the USGS, had put together an agreement with the nearby University of South Florida (USF) College of Marine Science (CMS). Jack Kindinger, who had replaced Bob at Fisher Island, had paved the way and moved to St. Petersburg a year earlier.
We soon found ourselves in a newly renovated, redbrick, 1925-era building next to the USF St. Petersburg campus. The building had formerly been a Studebaker auto dealership. Once settled in, we were back to doing research in South Florida. At that time, the work was fueled by a major Everglades restoration project that included both coral reef and groundwater research.
Barbara continued to edit papers for us and for new USGS colleagues in the St. Petersburg center. Her major project, however, was the compilation of all USGS research and some classic studies by others into a one-source digital geologic record that showed a fluctuating sea level and shelf-wide evolution of the Florida Keys and reef tract over the past 325,000 years. One of many results was preparation of a huge benthic-habitat map of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which was installed on a long wall at the USF CMS. The project included her leading a one-month cruise to the Keys as principal investigator, collecting (and later interpreting) many kilometers of high-resolution seismic lines, merging of the new data with previously published data, and contouring Holocene reef and sediment thicknesses and the surface of the underlying 80,000-year-old Pleistocene bedrock by hand. Much of the work was done in cooperation with the USF CMS. By then, we had converted to the digital world. Typewriters and Zip-a-Tone were history.
With all this varied background, 39 years of service, and more than 150 papers on her own research published in peer-reviewed journals or as comprehensive stand-alone book chapters, Barbara retired on January 25, 2014, but not to tend her garden. She has taken an Emerita position in that old Studebaker building she knows so well. She did not want a farewell party, and since Barbara has always been a “workaholic,” she looks forward to the work in the Florida Keys that still needs to be done. She has thoroughly enjoyed her lifetime adventures as a Research Geologist.
The many awards that Barbara received during her USGS career include a Blue Pencil Award (Second Place, Internal-Newsletter Category), sponsored by the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC); and the Shoemaker Award for Excellence in Internal Communication. These two honors were bestowed in 2004 for being contributing editor to the highly successful Bureau-wide newsletter Sound Waves.
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