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The History of the Stanford Hydrogeology Program (1912-1994)

By Irwin Remson  (1923-2013)

Professor Cyrus F. Toman

Professor Cyrus F. Toman

Between 1920 and 1940, O.E. Meinzer and his U.S. Geological Survey colleagues welded togetherthe pertinent facets of subsurface hydraulics and geology into the new scienceof Hydrogeology. During that same period, Cyrus F. Tolman initiated a program in "ground water" at Stanford University. His course and 1937 textbook on "Ground Water" became the standard for courses in the new science. 

Tolman's earliest work was with the geology of ore deposits, and he knew much about the practical side of mining. In 1912, he joined the Stanford faculty. Over the next 26 years, he taught courses on the geology of ore deposits, nonmetallic mineral deposits, groundwater, and petroleum geology. He becameaffectionately known as "Chief" because he was director of the summer field courses.

Professor Tolman was involved in many consulting studies, largely devoted to ground water. Among his important clients and projects were the U.S. Government (Elks Hills oil field), Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District, State of California (salt water barrier proposed for upper San Francisco Bay), Santa Clara County (damsites), Pacific Gas and Electric Company (damsites), Idaho-Maryland Mines Corporation, Six Companies of California (Broadway and Caldecott Tunnels), and HenryJ. Kaiser Company and Affiliates (Permanente limestone, Natividad dolomite, Eagle Mountain iron ore). Inaddition, he worked on wells, water supplies, groundwater inventories and conservation for many groundwater clients.


Tolman's course in ground water was unique at the time. The syllabus that accompanied it evolved into a comprehensive treatisethat eventually became the famous book titled Ground Water, published by McGraw Hill in 1937 and subsequently reprinted several times.

As a result of his consulting activities, "Chief" was able to find employment for a large number of his students when they graduated, even during the Great Depression of the 1930's. One of his students, Joseph F. Poland, began his seminal work on subsidence due to depletion of pressure in deep artesianaquifers. Tolman and Poland published journal articles dealing with this and other groundwater phenomena. Later, Poland became a world leader in developing an understanding of such subsidence.

Professor Tolman's course and program have continued to the present and set the framework for Hydrogeology at Stanford University. It combined both scholarly research and engineering applications. It emphasizes the need for geologic investigation and engineering analysis to solve hydrogeologicproblems. Thus, the analytic methods developed in the Hydrogeology Program at Stanford have always been used within a geological framework.

Professor Stan Davis

Professor Stan Davis

Stanley N. Davis continued the program during the post-World War II era until 1966. He continued to emphasize the need for both geologic investigation and engineering analysis and expanded the use of groundwater chemistry. His 1966 textbook with R.J.M. De Wiest entitled Hydrogeology became the standard for hydrogeology courses.

Professor Davis was much concerned with the history and philosophy of Hydrogeology. He and his students developed research on isolation of hazardous wastes, groundwater dating, geologic strains induced by groundwater movement, chemistry of groundwater and radionuclides in groundwater. Among his former students is FrankL. Peterson, Chairman of the Geology Department at the University of Hawaii.

Dr. M. King Hubbert

Dr. M. King Hubbert

M. King Hubbert became a joint research geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and Professor of Geology andGeophysics at Stanford for the period from 1963 to1968. This is one example of the close ties that have always existed with the U.S. Geological Survey as well as with the Stanford Departments of Civil Engineering, Petroleum Engineering, and Geophysics.

M. King Hubbert is best known in the greater earth-science community for having predicted oil shortage some twenty years before it actually occurred. He is well known in hydrogeology for his contributions to the hydrodynamics of groundwater and the application of hydrodynamics to the exploration for petroleum. He derived Darcy's law from the Navier-Stokes equation and introduced the concept of force potential in his derivation. Equally importantly, he explained the role of fluid pressures in the mechanics of overthrust faulting.History of the Stanford Hydrogeology Program

Irwin Remson

Irwin Remson

Irwin Remson joined the Stanford faculty in 1968 after extensive experience as Geologist and Hydraulic Engineer with the U.S. Geological Survey, Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Drexel Institute of Technology, and a consultant to industry and government agencies. He remained active until 1995. 

Professor Remson helped develop the use of numerical modeling for both unsaturated and saturatedsubsurface studies. His 1971 book with Hornberger and Molz on Numerical Methods in Subsurface Hydrology paved the way for the current extensive use of computer modeling. His later work involved the development of computer optimization models for groundwater management.History of the Stanford Hydrogeology Program.

The Remson "mafia" as they are known, have gone on to research, consulting, and teaching in government, industry, and academia. Professor Remson points out that the flexibility at Stanford permitted him to be the catalyst enlisting the aid of others in developing student research. In the nearby U.S. Geological Survey, distinguished scientists such asJacob Rubin and John Bredehoeft supervised theses. Distinguished colleagues in the Civil Engineering Department such as Joseph Franzini, Robert Street, and David Freyberg helped supervise doctoral students. This permitted the extension of traditional groundwater technology into other areas. An example at the end of Remson's career was interaction with David E. Rumelhart, the eminent psychologist, in support of Leah Rogers' thesis applying the theory of Applied Neural Networks to groundwater remediation. Stanford hydrogeology graduates have been faculty at many universities, including Dartmouth, Harvard, Connecticut, Virginia, Duke, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oregon State, the University of California at Berkeley and at Santa Cruz, and the University of British Columbia.

In addition to the graduate program in Hydrogeology at Stanford, Professor Remson supervised the undergraduate program in Environmental Earth Sciences. This is a natural association because Hydrogeologists are intimately involved with a great variety of environmental problems. It is gratifying to note that undergraduates such as Jean Cho, now on the Northwestern faculty, eventually moved into hydrogeology research. Professor Remson's environmental approach was demonstrated in the textbook with A.D. Howard on Geology in Environmental Planning.

Steven M. Gorelick joined the Stanford Hydrogeology program as a student in 1975. His doctoral thesis involved the application of computer optimization techniques to the management of groundwater pollution. After a distinguished research career in the U.S. Geological Survey, he joined the Stanford faculty and has supervised the Hydrogeology program since 1988. He has pioneered new areas of pollution management, aquifer remediation, the effects of data uncertainty and heterogeneity, and the incorporation of geologic information into computer models. Professor Gorelick has co-authored two books, Consequences of Spatial Variability in Aquifer Properties and Data Limitations for Groundwater Modelling Practice and Groundwater Contamination: Optimal Capture and Containment. History of the Stanford Hydrogeolgy Program Professor Gorelick has been President of the International Commission on Groundwater, and is a Fellow of both the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union. He is a recipient of the O.E. Meinzer and J.B. Macelwane awards.

Keith Loague joined the Stanford Hydrogeology faculty in 1994 and moved toward retirement in 2016. His specialties include unsaturated flow and pollution, soil science, hydrogeologic aspects of geomorphology and near-surface processes. He has published extensively in these areas.

The above discussion is reproduced with permission and appears originally as: Remson, I., 2002, The History of Hydrology at Stanford University, Ground Water 40 (2), 205-206.  (

Steven Gorelick received the Cyrus F. Tolman Chaired Professorship in 2005. 

Click on the Piece of History below to see the Remson Academic Family Tree.

Remson Student Family Tree