The “Glad You Asked” article, What is the correct name of…?, in a previous issue of Survey Notes addressed how to find the correct names of Utah’s geographic features using the U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).

This article addresses how to propose a new name or change an existing geographic feature name.

Policies for naming geographic features have been established by the Domestic Names Committee (DNC) of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Want to name a geographic feature after your boss or favorite geologist? First, wait until they have been deceased five years as features cannot be named after the living or recently deceased.

Additionally, they need to have had a direct and long-term association with the feature (tragic death at a site does not normally qualify). Exceptions are made for those who have made a significant contribution to the area or state and those “with an outstanding national or international reputation.”


Plants can enlighten geologists as to the rock beneath. Geobotany, also called phytogeography, is the scientific study of the distribution of plants.

Climate is considered the primary control on plant life, but within a particular climatic region the rock beneath soil—known as the parent material of soil—is typically the key factor influencing the vegetation growing above. Rock ultimately determines soil moisture characteristics, nutrient availability, and concentrations of essential elements.

Therefore, certain plants are associated with specific rock types. Limestone, dolomite, shale, gypsum, chert, gabbro, rock salt, and ultramafic rocks (e.g., dunite, peridotite, serpentinite), for example, are known for their distinctive floras. Since before the advent of agriculture humans have used plants as a guide to find sought-after rocks and minerals. Today, the methodologies of geobotany are still applicable, practical, and even cost-effective to the geologist.

Dramatic changes in vegetation can occur with changes in geology. In mountain ranges of the Great Basin, big sagebrush growing on sandstone abruptly transitions to bristlecone pine on dolomite. The distribution of the California poppy in Arizona closely correlates with copper mineralization, which in turn corresponds with fault lines.








Among the more commonly asked questions we receive at the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) are those dealing with the correct names of Utah’s geographic features.

Perhaps the best tool for answering these questions is a searchable database established and maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which is part of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This database, called the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), is available online at geonames.usgs. gov.

Following the American Civil War, a surge of exploration, mining, and settlement of western territories created many inconsistencies and contradictions in geographic names, which became a serious problem for surveyors, map makers, and scientists.

To address this problem, President Benjamin Harrison signed an executive order that created the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in 1890 (the current form of the board was established by a 1947 law). Technology, such as geographic information systems, global positioning systems, and the Internet increases the need for standardized data on geographic names, but it also makes accessing that data quick and easy through the GNIS.


What is an ice age? An ice age is a long interval of time (millions to tens of millions of years) when global temperatures are relatively cold and large areas of the Earth are covered by continental ice sheets and alpine glaciers. Within an ice age are multiple shorter-term periods of warmer temperatures when glaciers retreat (called interglacials or interglacial cycles) and colder temperatures when glaciers advance (called glacials or glacial cycles).

At least five major ice ages have occurred throughout Earth’s history: the earliest was over 2 billion years ago, and the most recent one began approximately 3 million years ago and continues today (yes, we live in an ice age!).

Currently, we are in a warm interglacial that began about 11,000 years ago. The last period of glaciation, which is often informally called the “Ice Age,” peaked about 20,000 years ago. At that time, the world was on average probably about 10°F (5°C) colder than today, and locally as much as 40°F (22°C) colder.



Great Salt Lake has islands from small to large, from one corner of the lake to the other. But how many islands are there? The question is not as straightforward as one might think. Although there are 17 officially named islands, answers to the question typically range from zero to 15.

It All Depends. . .

Great Salt Lake is in a closed basin, an area without any drainage outlet. The elevation of the lake’s surface changes continually, reflecting changes in weather and climate; heavy precipitation and low evaporation rates cause the lake level to rise, whereas drought and heat will result in a declining lake level. The lake level can change 2-plus feet a year, and because the basin floor slopes very gently, the shoreline advance or retreat can be a mile or more in certain areas.

Great Salt Lake’s ups and downs have exceeded a 20-foot range in historical times. At high lake levels some islands submerge and new ones are created by the water enclosing higher topography. At low lake levels new islands emerge and some adjacent islands merge with each other or with the mainland.


Digging in the dirt does not sound like a glamorous job, but it caught the attention of the cable television network’s Discovery Channel.  The show, DIRTY JOBS recently went on a dinosaur dig with some paleontologists from the Utah Geological Survey (UGS).  The show is set to air on Tuesday, December 20.

According to the show’s website:  “DIRTY JOBS profiles the unsung American laborers who make their living in the most unthinkable — yet vital — ways. Our brave host and apprentice Mike Rowe introduces you to a hardworking group of men and women who overcome fear, danger and sometimes stench and overall ickiness to accomplish their daily tasks.”

State Paleontologist Jim Kirkland and UGS paleontologist Don DeBlieux traveled with the cast and crew of the show to an undisclosed location in eastern Utah for the one day shoot to look for and dig dinosaur bones out of the side of a steep hill.  “We picked that site because it is such a spectacular location, but it is a difficult location and one which requires lots of hard and strenuous work,” says DeBlieux.

In fact, the weather was very uncooperative as they were driving to the site.  “It rained for a couple of hours in the morning and we were afraid that we weren’t going to be able to film, and they only had one day to shoot.  But luckily, the skies cleared and it turned out to be a nice day.”  The show points out that you have to have patience, strength and a love of playing in the dirt in order to be a paleontologist.

“We are excited to see the show because we have only seen the trailers,” said DeBlieux.  “But based on the trailers, it should be pretty amusing!”

Some of the episode’s trailers can be seen at:

The Utah Geological Survey provides timely scientific information about Utah’s geologic environment, resources, and hazards.

The Utah Geological Survey (UGS) has released a new full-color preliminary geologic map covering about 1800 square miles of diverse geology and landscape in parts of Utah, Wasatch, and Salt Lake Counties. The map encompasses large tracts of Forest Service, BLM, and state public lands, important watersheds and wilderness areas, and densely populated cities and towns.

Within the map area are Deer Creek Reservoir, Wasatch Mountain State Park, Utah Lake, American Fork Canyon and Timpanogos Cave National Monument, and Provo Canyon and Sundance Resort. The Traverse Mountains and Heber City lie on the map’s northern border, Payson City and Spanish Fork Canyon mark the southern border, the Lake Mountains and Utah Lake are to the west, and Strawberry and Currant Creek Reservoirs are on the eastern border.

The map with accompanying information depicts the geology in unprecedented detail and is available as a GIS database or color plot. It will be useful to consultants and land-use managers to address geologic hazard and resource issues, as well as to educators and others interested in learning about the varied geology of the area.



Heads up, map geeks! (We know you’re out there.)

The Utah Geological Survey has released a full-color geological map of unprecedented detail of 1,800 square miles of the central Wasatch, which includes wilderness areas and public lands along with human-infested areas, including Heber and Payson.



The Utah Geological Survey has released its 2012 Calendar of Utah Geology. Of the more than 300 photos that were submitted, 33 were selected for the 2012 calendar.