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In Memoriam: Robert E. Garrison (1932–2021) 


One of the greats of California geology is gone. Professor Robert E. (Bob) Garrison passed away on Friday, November 26, 2021, at his home in Santa Cruz, in the presence of his wife Jan, son James, and daughter-in-law Alma.  


Bob Garrison was one of the original group of six faculty members that established and developed the Earth Sciences Board at UC Santa Cruz and brought it to international prominence. He was an extraordinarily kind and giving person in his encouragement and influence on the development of a large number of UCSC graduate and undergraduate students, researchers, faculty members, and colleagues who have, in turn, gone on to make their own contributions and impacts. Bob and Jan graciously opened their home and hearts and made a long stream of students and visitors feel welcome and appreciated. 


Bob was born in Texas in 1932 during the Great Depression when many people, including his parents, were struggling because of the harsh economic conditions and lack of jobs. Searching for a brighter future, his family had migrated from Indiana to Texas because they had heard of jobs in the oil fields. His father did get a job working for the Texas Oil Company (Texaco) in Saudi Arabia, and after his return the entire family moved to San Francisco, when Bob was still a teenager. He enrolled at Stanford University and graduated in 1955 with a B.S., supporting himself by serving food in a campus dormitory. 


It was in a field geology course to the Santa Lucias that Bob first was exposed to the sedimentary rocks of the Monterey Formation, which was to become the cornerstone of much of his subsequent research career. He stayed on and received a M.S. degree at Stanford in 1958, which was followed by a Fulbright Fellowship to study at the University of Innsbruck in Austria for a year, where he developed an interest in limestones. The year in Europe marked another important point in Bob’s life when he met his lifelong partner, Jan. 


After the Fulbright, he returned to the states and worked for two years for Sunray DX Oil Company in Wyoming, where he developed an appreciation of the commercial applications of geology. 


From 1961-65 he studied for his Ph.D. at Princeton University under the mentorship of Alfred Fischer, returning for two years of fieldwork in the Austrian Alps and making seminal contributions to our understanding of the Jurassic pelagic limestones and radiolarites there. Bob and Jan were married in 1963.  He spent a year at UC Santa Barbara as an assistant professor in 1965-66, moved north to join the faculty at the University of British Columbia from 1966 to 1968, and returned to California as an associate professor in the new Earth sciences program at UC Santa Cruz.  


In 1966, Bob participated in geologic field training of Apollo astronauts in Oregon, including three who would later walk on the lunar surface. He sailed on numerous legs of the Deep Sea Drilling Project and Ocean Drilling Program, including the expedition that discovered that the entire Mediterranean Sea had dried up and became a vast desert about 5 million years ago!  


Bob Garrison was an outstanding sedimentologist who made critical contributions to the science through his research, publications, influence on colleagues, and shaping of his many students. He fundamentally changed our understanding of the origin, distribution, and diagenesis of fine-grained marine sediments, most notably the siliceous, calcareous, and phosphatic rocks that typify the Monterey Formation. Garrison was a motivating force in bringing together American, Japanese, Korean and Russian geologists to synthesize their studies of Miocene Monterey-type facies on opposite sides of the Pacific Rim. He generated enormous international goodwill, cooperation, integration, and scientific progress with his tireless efforts to involve scientists from all institutions, regions, and countries in the understanding of the sedimentary deposits of the deep sea and continental shelves. Bob was a Past-President of the Pacific Section and contributed tor edited many guidebooks and proceeding volumes. His accomplishments and impact were recognized by the Pacific Section SEPM with Honorary Lifetime Membership and the Lifetime Achievement Award. There were two PS-SEPM-sponsored conferences in his honor in 2013 and 2018. 


Throughout his career, Bob consistently addressed fundamental sedimentologic problems in fields that had previously been inadequately addressed because of the lack of appropriate methodology or due to being outside of popular trends in research. His scientific curiosity was guided by his concern for the human condition, and much of his research focused on the origin of the sedimentologic resources of energy and fertilizer necessary for our communal well-being. 


Bob was also a superb and thoughtful teacher at all levels. He helped students develop a broad understanding of the world's geologic and cultural diversity by bringing his extensive international experience (and never-ending stream of visiting colleagues) into many classes, seminars, and field trips. He was committed to providing opportunities in academia to people who were outside of the traditional pathways, long before it was an explicit goal of the university.  


Bob retired from UCSC in 1994, but continued to travel, carry out research, write, advise students, and organize conferences. His influence on an entire generation of students, collaborations with many national and international colleagues, generosity with his time, and modesty regarding his own accomplishments are hallmarks of Bob Garrison’s life and career. 

 Rick Behl

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Society for Sedimentary Geology


A Society providing publications, field trips, research, and teaching of sedimentary geology, stratigraphy, and paleontology for the greater geologic community in the Pacific Region and Worldwide

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SEPM, the Society for Sedimentary Geology, is an international, not-for-profit organization of geoscientists based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Known formerly as the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, the SEPM acronym remains, and the new shortened name, Society for Sedimentary Geology, still reflects a mission of and dedication to disseminating information on sedimentology, stratigraphy, paleontology, hydrogeology, subsurface exploration, sedimentary tectonics, and geologic disasters of the terrestrial and marine realms.


SEPM is subdivided into eight regional sections in North  America. The Pacific Section SEPM, based in southern California, is one of the premier geological societies of western North America. It encompasses the Pacific states: California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii, and overlaps with the Rocky Mountain Section SEPM in parts of the Arizona and Nevada. It has grown to become an international society, attracting students and working professionals from Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America.


Please support the Pacific Section, SEPM with a new or renewed membership. Recruit new members by distributing copies of the Membership Form to all who share an interest in sedimentary geology and related fields. The Membership Form is available on this website and is attached to every Society newsletter. Members benefit from discounts on superbly done field-trip guidebooks and special publications that address sedimentologic and stratigraphic aspects of the Pacific region of the United States. The Society Newsletter, Pacific Sedimentologist, highlights Society field trips, publications, conferences, and other news for the calendar year. Digital versions of the newsletter are distributed to members by email only.

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