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Released: 10/2/1995

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Pat Jorgenson 1-click interview
Phone: 415-329-4000

Joseph F. Poland, whose memory will be honored with a special symposium at this year’s annual meeting of the Association of Engineering Geologists and the Groundwater Resources Association of California in Sacramento, Calif., Oct. 2-8, was a pioneer in the field of engineering geology and one of the world’s leading scientists associated with the United States Geological Survey.

Poland, who died in Sacramento in 1991, was known by Italians as the "savior of Venice" for his role in determining what was causing that city to sink. In California, he played a similar pivotal role in explaining the subsidence of the Santa Clara Valley, and in helping to draft the groundwater segment of the California Water Plan.

Poland, who was born and raised in Boston, Mass., was educated at Harvard and Stanford. After working as a petroleum geologist during the 1930s, he joined the USGS in 1940. When the USGS opened a regional office in Sacramento in 1949, Poland headed up that office, supervising statewide hydrogeology investigations and related research programs. His leadership during those years led to the delineation of the major aquifer systems of California and their storage capacity, which proved to be so essential to development of the California Water Plan.

From 1956 to his retirement in 1974, he served as research geologist in charge of a multimillion-dollar state-federal cooperative research program on land subsidence and a federal research program on the mechanics of aquifer systems. Over several years of observation, Poland determined that the Santa Clara Valley was sinking at an average rate of four inches per year due to extensive groundwater pumping. In 1977 he showed that areas of the San Joaquin Valley had sunk as much as 30 feet in 50 years, due to aquifer compaction caused by groundwater pumping.

In addition to directing research in California, he investigated land subsidence in other parts of the United States and areas of the world, through the auspices of the United Nations, UNESCO and the World Bank.



Poland was a founding member of the Association of Engineering Geologists and a "fellow" of the Geological Society of America. Nationwide, he was "number seven" in engineering geologist certification and "number 22" as a California registered geologist.

Poland was honored by the GSA at its 1980 annual meeting; by the America Water Resources Association in 1985; the American Geophysical Union in 1987; and the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1980.

Poland died in Sacramento in 1991, at the age of 83, following a long battle against Parkinson’s disease.

(Editors: Many of Joe Poland’s former students and professional associates will be present at the Joseph F. Poland Symposium on Land Subsidence at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Sacramento, Calif., Oct. 4-5, 1995.)

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