National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program

Spotlight: USGS Shoemaker Collection - Data Rescue and Preservation

The National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program (NGGDPP) is supporting USGS Astrogeology Science Center’s (ASC) data rescue, preservation, and inventory project to move samples collected and studied by Dr. Eugene Shoemaker into long-term appropriate storage facilities and compile a detailed database of the geologic materials for use by the scientific community.

The USGS Shoemaker Collection is an essential part of the legacy of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, whose pioneering work in the 1960s established the new field of astrogeology, including shock metamorphism studies, impact crater modeling, and stratigraphic relations on other planetary bodies. Among his many other scientific accomplishments were the development of dating planetary surfaces using impact crater size distributions, training Apollo astronauts in geologic field methods at Meteor Crater, and co-discovering Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which impacted Jupiter in 1994.

The USGS Shoemaker Collection consists of unique and irreplaceable geologic hand samples, rock powders, thin sections and billets, and associated documentation, from locations of scientific interest around the world. These materials are currently housed in a variety of locations on the USGS Flagstaff Science Campus. Since Dr. Shoemaker’s passing in 1997, these materials have been moved, separated from each other and their documentation, and stored in less than ideal conditions in metal shipping containers. A preliminary assessment of the volume and sources of the collection has been performed. There are approximately 200 boxes and canvas bags of rock hand samples, rock chips and powders, and thin section billets. The samples are from a variety of locations. Impact crater rocks are from Meteor Crater (AZ), Flynn Creek Crater (AZ), Sierra Madera Crater (TX), Steinheim Crater (Germany), and several craters in Australia. Of special interest to planetary science are nine bags of fallback ejecta from the Meteor Crater interior. Also in the collection are igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks from the San Francisco Volcanic Field, the Colorado Plateau, Alabama, and other locations throughout the U.S.

For the past 50 years, the ASC has been at the forefront of the integration of planetary geoscience, cartography, and remote sensing and the preservation of the Shoemaker materials will add to that legacy. The ASC currently holds two voluminous sample collections that provide terrestrial analog samples for planetary geologic studies: a collection of rotary drill cuttings from Meteor Crater (in Arizona) and a collection of drill cores from Flynn Creek Crater (in Tennessee). These collections were also data rescue and preservation projects, and the experience gained through these projects make preservation of the Shoemaker Collection the next step. The Shoemaker Collection meets all four of the evaluation criteria for preservation established by the USGS Geologic Collections Management System (Adrian et al., 2014), and therefore the development of descriptive information and increased accessibility to scientists is mandated.