G. Burke Maxey

1917 to 1977
Hydrogeology

G. Burke Maxey

George Burke Maxey was born on April 3, 1917, in Bozeman, Montana. He earned his B.A. degree in geology from Montana State University in Missoula in 1939 and his M.S. degree in geology from Utah State Agricultural College in Logan in 1941.

Maxey began his professional career in 1941 with the U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Division in Salt Lake City, Utah. During his eight-year career with the USGS, he worked on the hydrogeology of the Pavant Range and Flowell area south of Salt Lake City, the groundwater resources in the Louisville area in Kentucky, the hydrology of the Las Vegas Valley in Nevada, and the groundwater resources of 13 valleys in eastern Nevada. Through his investigation of these valleys, Maxey improved his methodology for estimating natural groundwater recharge and determining the maximum quantity of groundwater that can be appropriated under Nevada water law.

In 1948, Maxey left the U.S. Geological Survey to complete his academic training, earning his A.M. (1950) and Ph.D. (1951) degrees in geology at Princeton University. Maxey joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut at Storrs in 1949, where he remained until 1955, when he joined the Illinois State Geological Survey as geologist and head of the Groundwater and Geophysical Exploration Section. Dr. John C. Frye, Survey chief at the time, noted this about Maxey: “I consider him one of the best qualified young men in the country to direct our Survey’s work in groundwater geology.” Maxey had a part-time appointment as Professor of Geology with the University of Illinois to teach groundwater geology. Dr. George White, chair of the Department of Geology at the time, understood the relationship between hydrogeology and Quaternary geology. Maxey’s joint appointment with the Survey and the Department of Geology allowed him to establish one of the first centers in the nation for training professional hydrogeologists. This center incorporated geology into groundwater science and combined the rigor and thoroughness of academic scholarship with applied research from his projects at the Illinois State Geological Survey. His exceptional aptitude for teaching was recognized when the American Association of Petroleum Geologists named him a distinguished lecturer in 1959 and 1960. His research allowed him to explore the critical role of geology and hydrostratigraphic units to hydrogeology.

Maxey strongly advocated the importance of research, education, and outreach in hydrogeology so that socioeconomic issues could be addressed with competence and public understanding could be enhanced. Maxey was instrumental in organizing the first Midwest Groundwater Conference in December 1956, which brought together scientists from 12 states. Three years later, Maxey and Philip LaMoreaux founded the Hydrogeology Division of the Geological Society of America at the Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh. Maxey was named acting chair and was elected chair the following year in Denver.

Maxey resigned from his position at the Illinois State Geological Survey in 1962 to accept a position with the Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada. The research program he developed focused on groundwater and emphasized surface-water hydrology, water-resources engineering, water-resources planning, and water chemistry. His contributions to teaching, research, and consulting continued to advance the science of hydrogeology. For example, in 1963 Maxey was a founding editor of the Journal of Hydrology, a water-resources publication with an international reputation. Throughout his career, Maxey’s exceptional contributions to the field of hydrogeology provided a fundamental understanding that formed a solid foundation for subsequent advances in the science. His contributions to the science of hydrogeology were recognized by the Hydrogeology Division of the Geological Society of America. He received the Division’s O.E. Meinzer Award in 1971. This award recognizes scholars who have significantly advanced the science of hydrogeology. The Division established the George Burke Maxey Award in 1984 to honor his contributions to hydrogeology. This award recognizes exemplary service to the profession of hydrogeology and to the Hydrogeology Division.

Honored by: 
David R. Larson
Citation Contributed by: 
David R. Larson