Geological Survey of Alabama

Geological Survey of Alabama Seal The Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA) is the state agency that examines, catalogs, maps, and reports on the mineral, energy, water, coastal, and biological resources in Alabama in support of the management, economic development, and conservation of these resources. Founded in 1848, the GSA is headed by the State Geologist and reports to the Alabama Legislature and the Office of the Governor and is headquartered on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County.


Michael Tuomey In late 1847, the State Legislature created the position of State Geologist and appointed Michael Tuomey, the University of Alabama’s mineralogy professor, to document the state’s geological resources. On January 2, 1848, Tuomey started his position as the first State Geologist, thus launching the GSA. Other notable leaders who helped shape the agency include Eugene Allen Smith, Walter B. Jones, and Philip LaMoreaux. Smith, who revived the position of State Geologist after the Civil War and served from 1873-1911, produced the first state geologic map, created the GSA library, and organized the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Under Jones, appointed in 1927, GSA expanded its focus to include archaeology at the Mississippian site of Moundville; Jones would lead the effort to establish the site that is now Moundville Archaeological Park. After Jones retired in 1961, geologist Philip LaMoreaux became State Geologist. During his 15-year tenure, he oversaw the establishment of the Alabama Museum of Natural History as an entity separate from GSA, the completion of a topographic map series of the state, a new revision of the state geologic map, and a new environmental atlas.

The current state geologist, Alabama native Berry H. “Nick” Tew Jr., was appointed in 2002. He serves on many state and national committees and councils, including the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group, the Alabama Permanent Oil and Gas Study Committee, the Water Resources Council, the Coastal Resources Advisory Committee, and the University of Alabama Museums Board of Regents. The State Geologist is also an ex officio member of the University of Alabama Department of Geological Sciences Advisory Board, and serves as State Oil and Gas Supervisor and ex-officio Secretary for the State Oil and Gas Board (est. 1945).

The main GSA office, publications office, library, the office of the State Geologist, and most scientific and support staff are housed in Walter B. Jones Hall on the University of Alabama campus. The GSA provides a variety of services to the citizens of Alabama. Many of the maps and research products (online databases, GIS data, reports, and publications) produced by GSA are available to the public. The publications office and library are open to the public and can provide helpful maps and books on Alabama geology, topographic maps, and research materials. The core warehouse contains boxes of drilled rock from around the state that can be used by visitors researching or searching for mineral resources. And the GSA fossil collection can be accessed by paleontologists researching fossils and ancient environments.

Programs and Divisions

Geologic Map of Alabama, 1878 The GSA is organized into four main programs that focus on the geological, energy, water, and biological resources of the state to determine their quality, characteristics, and environmental significance. GSA staff in these programs collect and analyze resource data and provide information and scientific reports to state and federal agencies to aid and inform governmental decision makers; to industries interested in developing mineral and energy resources; and to nongovernmental organizations, academics, and the general public. The programs maintain comprehensive databases of Alabama’s mineral, energy, water, coastal, paleontological, and biological resources of the state, as well as natural hazards, and make them available to the public.

The Geologic Investigations Program (GIP) maps rock types and structures in Alabama, monitors and investigates natural hazards in the state and region, documents nonfuel mineral resources and production trends in Alabama, and maintains a fossil collection for scholarly and professional research. The program’s Geologic Mapping and Hazards Section plays an important role in producing maps that show locations, thickness, and depth of different types of rocks and minerals as well as geological hazards such as earthquakes and sinkholes in Alabama.

The Groundwater Assessment Program (GAP) is involved in a wide variety of hydrogeologic and geochemical assessments throughout the state that are used by government entities, researchers, and private citizens to develop water resources for industrial, agricultural, and home use, to protect and document current sources, and to develop scientific and comprehensive understanding of groundwater resources and surface water data that aid the state government in developing water policies. The Coastal Resources Section of the GAP conducts research in coastal counties on beach and shoreline change and environmental quality.

Crayfish Survey The Energy Investigations Program (EIP) consists of the Coal Systems and Technology and Petroleum Systems and Technology. Staff in these two sections conduct research on Alabama’s diverse energy resources, which include conventional oil and gas, coalbed methane, oil sand, shale gas, and coal. Coal is a significant economic driver for Alabama, and to support this resource interest, the EIP evaluates the distribution and quality of coal and coalbed methane reserves and shares the corresponding data in a national catalog of coal resources. EIP geologists also evaluate reservoirs found deep in the Earth below Alabama that may contain undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

The Ecosystems Investigations Program staff biologists conduct studies and surveys on the health of Alabama’s aquatic environments and fauna to monitor and manage Alabama’s water resources effectively and efficiently. The program has three basic research functions: surveys aquatic fauna, monitors and assesses water quality, and conducts watershed research. Program staff conduct studies in aquatic biology, status surveys of federally threatened and endangered species, and investigations of fish movements in large rivers.

Further Reading

  • Dean, Lewis S. “Michael Tuomey and the Pursuit of a Geological Survey of Alabama, 1847-1857.” Alabama Review 44 (April 1991): 101-11.
  • Henderson, Aileen Kilgore. Eugene Allen Smith’s Alabama: How a Geologist Shaped a State. Montgomery, Ala.: NewSouth Books, 2011.
  • Jones, Walter B., and Roland M. Harper. History and Work of Geological Surveys and Industrial Development in Alabama. Wetumpka, Ala.: Wetumpka Printing Company, 1935.
  • Wilson, Betty M. “The Geological Survey of Alabama and the University of Alabama: A Coordinate History.” Earth Science History 4 (1, 1985): 59-62.

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