William Thomas Pecora

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William Thomas Pecora
William Thomas Pecora.jpg
8th Director of the United States Geological Survey
In office
1965 (1965) – 1971 (1971)
Preceded by Thomas Brennan Nolan
Succeeded by Vincent Ellis McKelvey
Personal details
Born (1913-02-01)February 1, 1913
Belleville, New Jersey, USA
Died July 19, 1972(1972-07-19) (aged 59)
Washington, D.C., USA
Nationality United States
Alma mater Harvard University and Princeton University
Scientific career
Fields Petrology, Geology
Institutions US Geological Survey
Thesis Petrology and mineralogy of the western Bearpaw Mountains, Montana (1940)

William Thomas Pecora (February 1, 1913 – July 19, 1972) was an American geologist.

Life and career

Willam Thomas Pecora was born on February 1, 1913, in Belleville, New Jersey, son of Cono and Anna (Amabile) Pecora. Both parents were born in southern Italy, in the village of Sant'Arsenio. Pecora was the ninth of 10 children, four boys and six girls. His family was in the wholesale import business. In 1929, Pecora was awarded the Charles H. K. Halsey Scholarship that provided a $1,000 annual scholarship at Princeton University, where he majored in geology and geologic engineering; he was awarded a bachelor's degree in 1933.[1] After graduation, he stayed on at Princeton as a geology tutor.[2]

In the summer of 1934, he was a field assistant to Erling Dorf, working in Montana on Paleozoic stratigraphy. Pecora started graduate studies at Harvard University in 1935, concentrating on optical mineralogy and petrography. Pecora received a grant form the Holden Fund to finance fieldwork in 1937–1939 in the western fringe of the Bear Paw Mountains. His doctoral thesis was a petrologic study of the Boxelder laccolith. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1940.[3]

Pecora was the United States intercollegiate fencing champion in 1933 and went to Germany at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin as a member of the United States Olympic fencing team.[2][4][5] He married Ethelwyn Elizabeth Carter from Franklin County, Kentucky on April 7, 1947. They had two children, William Carter Pecora born in 1949 and Ann Stewart Pecora born in 1953.

In 1949, he started a large-scale geologic mapping program of eight fifteen-minute quadrangles in the Bearpaw Mountains. The first four of these maps was published in 1957 as Miscellaneous Geologic Investigation Maps and the other four were published in bulletins starting in 1960 and ending in 1963. In 1956, Pecora published a review paper on carbonatites which are carbonate-silicate rocks containing a variety of minerals, including impressive reserve of rare commodities such as titanium, zirconium, and uranium. In a 1962 paper, Pecora concentrated on the carbonatite deposits in the Bearpaw Mountains.

In 1957, Pecora was selected as Chief of the Branch of Geochemistry and Petrology within the United States Geological Survey. He established programs in geochronology, experimental petrology, and mineralogy. In 1961, he returned to research. He was named Chief Geologist in 1964 and a year later was appointed Director of the United States Geological Survey by President Lyndon B. Johnson. As Director, he pressed for programs that would be responsive to emerging national problems, such as investigations of gold resources and off-shore oil and gas exploration. He established the National Center of Earthquake Research in response to problems revealed by the 1964 Alaska earthquake. As Director, he advocated for the creation of a remote sensing satellite that would be used to gather information about the surface of the Earth, which became the Landsat program, the longest-running project for gathering images of Earth from space.[6] Pecora was director of the USGS when the Astrogeology Research Program began in 1963.[7]

Pecora also addressed the discovery of large oil reserves of oil and gas on the north coast of Alaska in 1968. Under his Direction, the U.S. Geological Survey made a careful study of the geologic aspects of the proposed pipeline route. From 1947 to 1967 he was a member of the United States Civil Service Commission's Board of Examiners for Geology, concerned with the development and maintenance of standards in the selection of geologists for federal employment. He was an active member of the Survey's Pick and Hammer shows, which were presented annually to make fun of top Survey managers. In 1970, Pecora expressed his opposition to burying the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, as it would be unsafe to place an underground pipeline in Arctic land He was appointed to serve as Undersecretary of the United States Department of Interior by President Richard Nixon on April 1, 1971.[4]

He died at age 59 on July 19, 1972 at George Washington University Hospital after having surgery for diverticulitis the previous month. A statement from President Nixon called him "a remarkable civil servant and an internationally respected figure in the scientific community".[4]

The mineral pecoraite was named for him, as was the Pecora Escarpment in Antarctica.[4]

William T. Pecora Award

The William T. Pecora Award was established in 1974 to honor Pecora, and is sponsored jointly by the Department of the Interior and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It is presented annually to individuals or groups that make outstanding contributions toward understanding the Earth by means of remote sensing.[8]

In 2017 it was awarded to the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters.[9]

Awards and honors


  • Pecora, William T. "Structure and Petrology of the Boxelder laccolith, Bearpaw Mountains, Montana" Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol.52, no.6, pp. 817–853, Jun 1941
  • Pecora, William T. and S.W. Hobbs, "Nickel-gold deposit near Mount Vernon, Skagit County, Washington" US Geological Survey Bulletin No. 931-D, pp. 57–78 (1941)
  • Pecora, William T. and S.W. Hobbs, "Nickel deposit near Riddle, Douglas County, Oregon" " US Geological Survey Bulletin No. 931-I, pp. 205–226 (1942)
  • Pecora, William Thomas "Nepheline-syenite pegmatites in the Bearpaw Mountains of Montana" American Mineralogist, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 191, Mar 1939
  • Pecora, William Thomas and Bernard Fisher, "Cenozoic geologic history of the Bearpaw Mountains, Montana" Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol.52, no.12, Part 2, pp. 1926–1927, Dec 1941
  • Pecora, William T, "Nickel-silicate and associated nickel- cobalt-manganese-oxide deposits near Sao Jose do Tocantins, Goiaz, Brazil" US Geological Survey Bulletin, No. 0935-E, pp. 247–305, 1944
  • Brown, Roland Wilbur and William Thomas Pecora, "Paleocene and Eocene strata in the Bearpaw Mountains, Montana" Science, vol.109, no.2837, pp. 487–489, May 1949
  • Pecora, William T; Barbosa, Aluizio Licinio de M; Klepper, M R, "Mica deposits in Minas Gerais, Brazil" US Geological Survey Bulletin, No. 0964-C, pp. 205–305, 1950
  • Bannerman, Harold MacColl; Pecora, William Thomas "Training geologists; a United States Geological Survey viewpoint" US Geological Survey Circular, No. 73, 6 pp., 1950
  • Lindberg, Marie Louise; Pecora, W T, "Tavorite and barbosalite; two new phosphate minerals from Minas Gerais, Brazil" Science, vol.119, no.3099, pp. 739, 1954
  • Lindberg, Marie Louise; Pecora, W T, "Avelinoite, a new hydrous sodium ferric phosphate mineral from Minas Gerais, Brazil" Science, vol.120, no.3130, pp. 1074–1075, 1954
  • Pecora, William Thomas, "Carbonatites; a review" Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol.67, no.11, pp. 1537–1555, Nov 1956
  • Pecora, William Thomas, "Coesite craters and space geology" Geotimes, vol.5, no.2, pp. 16–19, 1960
  • Schmidt, Robert George; Pecora, W T; Hearn, B C, Jr, "Geology of the Cleveland Quadrangle, Bearpaw Mountains, Blaine County, Montana" US Geological Survey Bulletin, No. 1141-P, pp. P1–P26, 1964
  • Pecora, William T, "Surveying the Earth's resources from space" Surveying and Mapping, vol.27, no.4, pp. 639–643, 1967
  • Pecora, William T, "Geologic applications of earth orbital satellites " Contained in "Space exploration and applications; Vol. 1" from the United Nations Conference on The Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Vienna, Austria, 1968. pp. 634–644. 1969


  1. ^ Pecora, William Thomas (1933). The problem of the Susquehanna Complex : with special reference to specific gravity variations (B.S.). Princeton University. OCLC 281578560.
  2. ^ a b Benson, William E. "Memorial of William Thomas Pecora: February 1, 1913 – July 19, 1972", American Mineralogist, Volume 59, pages 420–423, 1974. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  3. ^ Pecora, William Thomas (1940). Petrology and mineralogy of the western Bearpaw Mountains, Montana (Ph.D.). Harvard University. OCLC 41699702 – via ProQuest.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Staff. "Dr. William T. Pecora, 59, Dies; Under Secretary of the Interior; Department's No. 2 Man Led Geological Survey 1939–65 — Praised by Nixon", The New York Times, July 20, 1972. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  5. ^ "William Thomas Pecora Olympic Results". sports-reference.com. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  6. ^ Staff. "Mark Myers: Director, U.S. Geological Survey", Federal Times, September 3, 2007. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  7. ^ Don E. Wilhelms, 1993. To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration, Chapter 4
  8. ^ William T. Pecora Award, United States Geological Survey. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  9. ^ "International Charter wins prestigious Pecora Award". International Charter on Space and Major Disasters. 2017-11-22. Retrieved 2017-12-12.

Additional sources

  • Memorial of William Thomas Pecora February 1, 1913–July 19, 1972
  • Biographical Memoirs by National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) pp. 371–392 accessed in Google Books, January 9, 2009

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Thomas Brennan Nolan
Director of the United States Geological Survey
Succeeded by
Vincent Ellis McKelvey
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