C. Leland Horberg

1910 to 1955
Hydrogeology

C. Leland HorbergCarl Leland Horberg was born on May 7, 1910, in Cambridge, Illinois, to John August and Laura Amelia Horberg. He graduated cum laude, ranked second in his class, from Augustana College in 1932, receiving his bachelor's degree in economics and geology. Immediately after graduation, Horberg accepted a fellowship for graduate study at the University of Chicago, where he studied under E.S. Bastin, Harlan Bretz, R.T. Chamberlin, Everett Olson, and Francis Pettijohn. While working on his dissertation, he taught geolgy at Augustana College from 1935 to 1937.

Horberg's dissertation addressed the structure of the Teton Pass area of the Teton Range in Wyoming, incorporating the area's glacial geology and geomorphology as well. He was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Chicago in June 1938 and became an instructor at the University of Illinois that fall. He joined the staff of the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) in 1942 Assistant Geologist, quickly advanced to Associate Geologist, and worked to develop groundwater supplies for essential wartime industries in Illinois, a program that required he develop a comprehensive understanding of the origin and distribution of water-bearing outwash deposits. This program resulted in the discovery of the Mahomet Bedrock Valley drainage system and led him to pursue general scientific questions relating to buried river valleys, preglacial erosion surfaces, Pleistocene chronology, and bedrock topography.

He published definitive reports on these subjects, reports that today are solid reference documents for Survey researchers and others. Among these were papers dealing with the Sankoty aquifer in the Peoria region, the Mahomet aquifer from which Champaign-Urbana and many of the cities in central Illinois draw their water supply, and a report differentiating the glacial deposits beneath the Wisconsin drift of northeastern Illinois. Horberg's map, Bedrock Topography of Illinois, published in 1950 as ISGS Bulletin 73, was the result of his remarkable compilation, synthesis, and insightful interpretation of a huge volume of data from thousands of borehole and outcrop observations. This was was the first statewide map of the preglacial surface of Illinois.

In 1946, Horberg joined the faculty at the University of Chicago, maintaining his connection with the Survey. Glacial geology and geomorphology were now his principal interests. His research continued, and his collaborators were top researchers of the day: J. Harlan Bretz, Richard Foster Flint, and Robert P. Sharp, for example. In 1952, at the age of 42, he was appointed to the prestigious position of Editor of Journal of Geology. In April 1953, he became seriously ill and, while awaiting major surgery, carried out field study of the pre-Illinoian Pleistocene deposits of western Illinois. When surgery failed to cure, he continued his work, and, even after becoming physically incapacitated, he completed five manuscripts for publication. Horberg died at the age of 45 on August 18, 1955, in the prime of his productive life.

Horberg was a Fellow of the Geological Society of America; Secretary of the Geography and Geology Section and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; member and scientific advisor of the Chicago Academy of Science; member of the American Geophysical Union, Illinois Academy of Science, and Sigma Xi; and member and President of the National Association of Geology Teachers.

Horberg's many ISGS publications on Illinois glacial and groundwater geology remain important reference works for professional scientists, educators, and students. This body of work, in which his insightful interpretations of voluminous basic observations are thoroughly documented, stands as an outstanding example of sound geologic observation, interpretation, and communication on topics of vital relevance to society.

Honored by: 
E. Donald McKay III
Citation Contributed by: 
E. Donald McKay III
Acknowledgments: 
In large part a summary of a GSA memorial by Fritiof Fryxell, Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, v. 73, 1962