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George Gryc —USGS Geologist, Leader, and Alaska Expert, 1919 - 2008
Released: 5/8/2008 8:45:22 AM

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Leslie C. Gordon 1-click interview
Phone: 650-329-4006

After a long and distinguished career with the U. S. Geological Survey, George Gryc, 88, passed away on April 27 in Sunnyvale, California. Well known from the smallest bush settlement on the Yukon to Capital Hill in Washington, Gryc was the preeminent Alaskan geologist of his day. His work bore directly on the outcome of all the major issues of consequence to Alaska in the 20th century.

photo of George GrycGeorge Gryc was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1919. He attended the University of Minnesota from 1937 to 1943, earning both B.A. and M.S. degrees in geology and winning the hand of coed Jean Funk, his beloved wife for 66 years. He is survived by Jean and by five children -James, Stephen, Christina, Paula Jean, and Georgina- as well as nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Gryc joined the Geological Survey in 1943 in time for a summer field season evaluating the mercury deposits of Southwest Alaska. Mercury, a strategic mineral for the manufacture of munitions, was a high priority of the WW II Strategic Mineral Program. Gryc continued his graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University, and in 1944 Gryc began studies on the petroleum geology and hydrocarbon resources of Alaska's North Slope, then a region largely unmapped and unexplored.

Gryc's pioneering expeditions to the North Slope provided the grist for a lifetime of raconteuring. The dangerous river traverses began with white-knuckle bush plane landings on gravel bars in May followed by headlong dashes down uncharted streams in canvas boats, hoping to reach the Arctic coast before winter began. One tense September saw Gryc's party stranded for three weeks without supplies because the air service fired the only pilot knowing the pick up time and place. In other years he made the first geologic explorations of the Sagvanirktok and Shaviovik Rivers, ending in Prudhoe Bay.

From 1950 to 1960 Mr. Gryc was Chief of the Survey's Navy Oil Unit that was providing the scientific support to the petroleum exploration and drilling being carried out in Naval Petroleum Reserve No 4. Landmark reports resulting from the ‘Pet 4' studies were crucial clues in the 1969 discovery of the oil field at Prudhoe Bay, one of the nations largest deposits of oil and gas.

After serving as Staff Geologist to the Chief Geologist at USGS Headquarters in Washington, Gryc relocated to Menlo Park in 1963 where he served as Chief of the Branch of Alaskan Geology until 1976.

In 1964 the second largest earthquake of the century devastated south-central Alaska and sent a tsunami that caused death and destruction as far away as California. George Gryc immediately took the lead in organizing the USGS field response to the effects of the quake on the works of man and the ecosystem. The resulting studies were instrumental in land use decisions and reconstruction designs, formed a model for post-quake investigations, and established the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program

Early in the 1970s Gryc found himself embroiled in the Alaska Pipeline, a highly contested proposal to pump Prudhoe Bay crude to the lower 48 states through an 800-mile-long hot oil pipeline buried in icy permafrost. As Chairman of the Menlo Park Working Group on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, Gryc and his colleagues measured such geotechnical problems as melting permafrost and giant earthquakes against proposals for mitigations. Time and time again when the numerous high-pressure meetings and hearings threatened to explode, George Gryc's courteous style and open personality would restore calm and order. His contribution to the safe and profitable Trans Alaska Pipeline is widely recognized among earth scientists.

In January 1976, Mr. Gryc was appointed Regional Geologist for the Western Region, representing the Chief Geologist in coordinating geologic studies in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the Pacific Trust Territories. The assignment was interrupted within the year when USGS Director Vincent McKelvey asked him to plan and carry out a program for the exploration and resource assessment of the new National Petroleum Reserve (NPRA) on Alaska's North Slope. The NPRA study was massive in scope, involving drilling stratigraphic test wells on the North Slope from winter camps. Some years the NPRA budget exceeded that of the entire 10,000-person Geological Survey. In January 1982 Gryc was appointed Assistant Director for the USGS Western Region, a role in which he remained until his retirement in 1995; while in this position, he continued publishing the results of the NPRA program.

In 1974 Mr.Gryc began active work with the Circum-Pacific Map Project (CPMP), an international compilation of geologic and resource information of the Pacific realm. In 1986 he was elected General Chairman of the CPMP and thereafter guided the design and production of 60 new synoptic maps of mineral- and petroleum resources, earthquake- and volcano hazards, and geologic structure and tectonics. After formally retiring in 1995, he received a prestigious Pecora fellowship to continue his scientific studies and served as a Scientist Emeritus with the USGS until his death.

Gryc was active in many scientific committees, symposia, and workshops including the Permafrost Committee of the National Academy of Sciences Polar Research Board. His other professional memberships include Fellow of the Geological Society of America; the Paleontological Society; the Arctic Institute of North America, serving on its Board of Governors from 1965 to 1971; the American Association of Petroleum Geologists; the Alaskan Geological Society; Director and Officer of the Circum Pacific Council; the Geological Society of Washington; the Northern California Geological Society; Fellow of Sigma Xi; and the Cosmos Club of Washington, D.C. He was awarded the Meritorious and the Distinguished Service Awards, the two highest honors of the Department of Interior, as well as several Senior Executive Service Awards.

Mr. Gryc's career exemplifies the motto, "Earth science in the public service." Throughout his professional life, he was dedicated to the nourishing of objective scientific inquiry and to the effective application of the results of this science to help people around the world. His commitment to fostering international cooperation in science was a hallmark of his many accomplishments. On a more personal level, he will be remembered for his knowledge of natural history outside of geology, for mentoring young scientists, and for his profound equanimity and great sense of humor.

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