USGS Loses a Dear Friend and Colleague, Barbara Lidz

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The USGS recently lost a dear friend and colleague, Barbara Lidz, who passed away Thursday, September 26, 2019.

A woman and a man stand in front of a body of water on a sunny day

Barbara Lidz and Gene Shinn at the Fisher Island Station, circa 1976. (Public domain.)

This article is part of the October-December 2019 issue of the Sound Waves newsletter.

Barbara retired from USGS in 2014 after 39 years of service and subsequent continued involvement in research as a USGS Scientist Emerita. Barbara experienced a lifetime full of scientific escapades. Her hard work, dedication, and sense of adventure will be remembered by all who were fortunate enough to know her.

Barbara was born in 1940 and spent her childhood summers vacationing with her family on Nantucket Island. The family had a 15-foot boat on which they would fish and explore. Her sister Darcy remembers a story of “Barbie” leading a girl’s fishing trip out on this boat during which they caught and dissected a sand shark! Her curiosity for marine science obviously shone even as a young girl.

Soon after graduating from Smith College, Barbara began her professional geology career working in a laboratory for Cesare Emiliani at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key. Across the street from the Rosenstiel School, a new USGS field station (run by accomplished USGS geologists Gene Shinn, Bob Halley, and Harold Hudson) had taken up temporary residency in another government building. As Emiliani’s National Science Foundation funding was running out, and knowing that the new fledgling USGS group needed a secretary, Emiliani recommended Barbara for the job. As Gene Shinn recalls, “Cesare called me about Barbara and told me that besides identifying forams, Barbara was also a secretary. What he meant was that she served as Secretary for the Miami Geological Society. Cesare added, ‘She went to Smith College, can do most anything, and has a photographic memory for planktic foraminifera.’”

Barbara Lidz aboard the trawler Sea Angel

Barbara Lidz works on a manuscript while underway in the Florida Keys aboard the trawler Sea Angel. The Sea Angel is towing a rubber Zodiac raft and the 25-foot USGS work boat R/V Halimeda, barely visible out the back door to the right. (Credit: Gene Shinn, USGS. Public domain.)

Barbara joined the group and they soon moved to a property on Fisher Island and remained there for 15 years. In 1989, the USGS transferred the group to the west coast of Florida and into the newly created USGS Center for Coastal Geology in St. Petersburg. This would eventually become the St. Peterburg Coastal and Marine Science Center.

Barbara’s research interests commenced with planktic foraminifera (small, one-celled organisms that live in open water) identification and eventually expanded to benthic forams (those that live on the bottom) while working for the USGS. She further extended her expertise from micropaleontology (the study of tiny fossils) to coral reef formation and sclerochronology (the study of chemical changes preserved in an organism across time). She spent many days at sea on research vessels both large and small, and even did some work in terrestrial environments. Barbara travelled to many places for her research including the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Belize, and the deserts of New Mexico.

Barbara Lidz exits the two-person submersible Delta

Barbara Lidz exits the two-person submersible Delta after diving to 200 feet below sea level to collects bottom sediment from around exploratory-well sites drilled along the shelf off the west coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. (Public domain.)

Due to her extensive work studying forams, Barbara had become an expert in planktic biostratigraphy, which uses forams found within the rock to date the rock and develop the geologic history of the area. Because of this expertise, she was invited to help determine the precise ages of limestone from cores collected from the Great Bahama Bank. This limestone is carbonate sedimentary rock, composed of terrestrial sediments eroded during high stands of sea level as well as marine organisms’ skeletal fragments—including forams. Barbara discovered that a significant amount of sediment containing older forams had been reworked into newer parts of the sediment. Formerly envisioned as a simple depositional environment, Barbara was able to reconstruct a far more complex geologic history of this part of the Caribbean. The finding completely redefined our understanding of the formation of Great Bahama Bank.

Barbara wore many hats throughout her tenure. She served as President of the Miami Geological Society and spent some time in every position on its board of directors. She also served as the editor for the International Society for Sedimentary Geology, then called the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists (SEPM). These positions attest to Barbara’s exceptional writing and editing skills. During her 8 years in office with the Society for Sedimentary Geology, she edited papers in more than a dozen volumes of Special Publications called “the red books,” and served on the Executive Council as chair of the Publications Committee.

As part of her colorful career, Barbara once had the opportunity to “star” in a 1994 USGS training film for sampling bottom sediments from the submersible, Delta. The submersible allowed Barbara to travel to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico (~70m depth) to sample sediments from previous oil drilling locations to investigate the effects of oil drilling on benthic habitats. Barbara’s beaming smile in candid photos during the field work shows her obvious enthusiasm for excursions such as this.

Barbara received many awards for her work and service during her USGS career. Her collection includes a Blue Pencil Award (Second Place, Internal-Newsletter Category), sponsored by the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC); and the Shoemaker Award for Excellence in Internal Communication. These two honors were bestowed in 2004 for her role as contributing editor to the USGS coastal and marine newsletter Sound Waves (the newsletter you’re reading now!). Barbara served as Editor for Sound Waves from 1999-2001, and Contributing Editor from 2002-2013.

Throughout her career, Barbara published over 150 papers in peer-reviewed journals, including Science, Nature, and Geology. She has also written several comprehensive book chapters. In recent years, she partnered with long-time friend Eugene Shinn to compose the book, The Geology of the Florida Keys, a comprehensive guide to the formation, deterioration, and future fate of the Keys. The book was published in 2018, and even includes a three-day, hands-on itinerary for visitors seeking to explore the geologic history of the Florida Keys reef tract.