Cornelia C. Cameron
33BA, 35MS, 40PhD

Achievement 1987

Cornelia C. Cameron, 33BA, 35MS, 40PhD, is one of the world's foremost experts on the geology of peat deposits. Her broad academic training at the University of Iowa included serious studies in all the sciences. It is said that when she was to receive her doctorate, she was asked whether she wanted it in geology, botany, or zoology, as she was equally qualified in all disciplines.

Dr. Cameron's passion for learning and the intense energy she brings to her scientific work have earned her respect around the world and particularly from the United States Geological Survey, where she has been employed since 1951. She has accepted assignments in areas ranging from the DMZ of Korea, to Japan, Borneo, and Alaska. Field work has taken her to over 30 countries on five continents.

Early in her career, Dr. Cameron showed her professional courage by daring to disagree with her colleagues. For many years it was generally accepted that there were four major glacial advances during North American's last Ice Age, but, based on her study of modern and paleoenvironmental surface and subsurface data in Iowa, Dr. Cameron was convinced that advances and retreats of the continental glaciers had not been adequately numbered. Although she found little support for her ideas, subsequent findings have since confirmed that she was on the right track.

The same environmental approach used in interpreting glacial deposits applied to the genesis and diagenesis of peat deposits resulted in her ability to construct maps predicting the location and physical characteristics of peat deposits. This information is valued especially by the developing countries of the world, as they try to utilize peat lands as food and energy sources and conserve peat lands as sources of water.

Most recently, Dr. Cameron has been studying the jungles and lowlands of Sumatra for the government of Indonesia. Her goal has been to determine the feasibility of utilizing an immense tract of peat lands as a self-supporting site where people from overcrowded Java may be relocated. The area must permit the growth of cereals, vegetables, and fruits, and it must provide energy for pumping water and electrifying villages.

Dr. Cameron developed the concept of peat as a mineral resource and has been at the forefront of renewed interest in peat as a soil additive and energy source. She was instrumental in establishing a much-needed standard classification for commercial peat and wrote one of the first textbooks in this country that relates geology to society (The Earth in Human Affairs, 1945).

In 1977, Dr. Cameron received the Meritorious Service Award from the United States Geological Survey, the legislature of the State of Maine honored her with a special commendation in 1984, and the U.S. Department of the Interior presented her the Distinguished Service Award in 1986 in recognition of her 35-year career in military and engineering geology and in mineral resources.