Cortland F. Eble

Cortland F. Eble
University of Kentucky, Kentucky Geological Survey

2017 Gilbert H. Cady Award

Presented to Cortland F. Eble

Citation by Jim Hower

Cortland was born on April 15, 1959, and grew up in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. He was introduced to, and gained a keen interest in, the field of microscopy by his father, Dr. Albert Eble, a professor of biology at Trenton State College, at an early age. Following graduation from Hunterdon Central High School in the town of Flemington, New Jersey, he attended Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, as a geology major in pursuit of a bachelor of science degree. While at Auburn, he was introduced to, and developed an interest in, the fields of palynology and coal geology.

Following graduation in 1981, Cortland went to West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he earned his master of science degree in 1985 and doctor of philosophy degree in 1988. During his time in Morgantown, he worked in a coal analysis laboratory, gaining experience with the different methods of testing coal. He also developed techniques for extracting spores and pollen from coal and rock, which he still uses today. Perhaps most importantly, he met the woman (Leslie) who would later become his wife in 1989. In 1986, he was invited to accompany a team of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey to examine and sample ombrogenous peat bogs in Indonesia as modern analogs for certain Pennsylvanian age coal beds. After graduation, Cortland was awarded a National Research Council post-doctoral assistantship from 1988 to 1990 at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. There, he continued his study of Appalachian coal palynology as both a biostratigraphic and paleoenvironmental assessment tool.

In 1990, Cortland joined the research staff of the Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS) in Lexington, Kentucky as a coal geologist. Initially, his duties at the KGS involved the collection and testing of coal to develop a better understanding of Kentucky’s coal resources. Among the coals that were studied in detail was the Fire Clay coal, a study which would lay the foundation for his more recent work with rare earth elements in coals. Following the birth of his son, Francis in 1995, he was invited to participate in collaborative research in the Czech Republic, examining age relationships of Czech coal beds and their Appalachian counterparts. This research would expand to include visits to Poland in 2003 and 2006.

In the decade from 2000 to 2010, Cortland participated in a number of projects, including the petrographic examination of coal and organic rich Devonian shale for carbon dioxide sequestration and enhanced petroleum production and the examination of western Kentucky coal beds for potentially economic coal bed methane. More recently, he has participated in an evaluation of Kentucky coal resources for metallurgical use, an organic petrographic examination of the Utica Shale as a new petroleum resource in the northern Appalachian region, and an analysis of Kentucky coal and preparation plant refuse as a potential source of rare earth elements.

Cortland is a member of a number of societies, including the Geological Society of America (GSA, Fellow), the Society for Organic Petrology (TSOP), the Palynological Society (AASP), the Geological Society of Kentucky (GSK), and the Paleontological Society of Kentucky.

top2017 Gilbert H. Cady Award — Response by Cortland F. Eble

Thank you, Jim for that wonderful introduction!

Friends, thank you so very much for your attendance this evening. As I began to construct my response I quickly realized how much I really do not like to talk about myself. But, with that said:

I was born and grew up in NW NJ. Believe it or not, the house I was born into was heated by a coal furnace. Although I was very young I still remember the Reading Coal truck delivering anthracite to our house, so my introduction to “the black rock that burns” happened very early in life. The use of coal in the house doubled as introduction to the use of profanity as my father went to great lengths to keep the fire lit during the winter months. His disdain for it was so great that we had an oil burning furnace installed before my fourth birthday! My father was a marine biologist and very good microscopist, so I learned very early how to use a microscope. I didn’t know it at the time, but these early lessons would pay tremendous dividends in the coming years.

After graduating from high school, I attended Auburn University in Auburn, AL in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Geology. There I met Bob Gastaldo, who introduced me to paleobotany, palynology and coal geology. I know I spent more than one Thanksgiving at the Gastaldo residence, and Bob and Elvira, Bob’s lovely wife, have remained lifelong friends. Some time later, Bob would invite me to participate in collaborative work with paleobotanists and palynologists in the Czech Republic, and also in Poland with Bob, Hermann Pfefferkorn and international colleagues.

In August of 1981, I started graduate school at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV, first under the direction of Francis Ting, and later John Renton, who specialized in coal geochemistry and Alan Donaldson, a sedimentologist and stratigrapher. As my area of interest was coal palynology, Jack and Al quickly introduced me to Bill Gillespie (Ole Bill), who was a forester by profession, but was trained in paleobotany and palynology by Aureal Cross. Another person at WVU who greatly influenced my early career was Bill Grady, who taught me coal petrography, coal analytical techniques, and how to use a darkroom to develop and print photographic pictures. Bill remains a good friend. I was also fortunate to meet Mitch Blake and Nick Fedorko , two coal geologists at the WV Geologic Survey whom I learned a great deal about central Appalachian coal geology.

By far, the most important person I met in Morgantown, was Leslie Adams, whom I met while participating in a faculty/staff bowling league. I seem to recall that our first date was an invitation to collect coal samples from outcrops around Morgantown (very romantic!) in my 1968 VW Beetle. Seeing that I might have some potential, but was in serious need of guidance, she became my wife in 1989. In many respects, she is far more deserving of this award than I am!

Another person I was introduced to while in Morgantown was Blaine Cecil, who was at the USGS in Reston, VA at the time. Blaine took a keen interest in my work and lengthy discussions with him furthered my knowledge of coal, coal formation and coal chemistry greatly. In 1986, Blaine invited me to accompany a team of geoscientists to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia to study and collect peat samples from ombrogenous forest bogs as probable analogs for low ash, low sulfur coal beds in the Appalachian Basin. In addition to being an invaluable learning experience, I was introduced to Jim Cobb, the person who would later offer me a position at the Kentucky Geological Survey.

As I neared completion of my doctorate in 1988, Blaine was instrumental in securing a post-doctoral appointment for me at the USGS. During my 15 months in Reston, I was very fortunate to work with many talented people including Jingle Ruppert, Sandy Neuzil, Frank Dulong, Ken Englund, Lucy Edwards and Peter Warwick, among many others.

In March of 1990, I officially joined the staff of the Kentucky Geological Survey in Lexington, KY where I have been for 27 years. In 1990, Kentucky set a record for coal production (180 MM tons), but has declined steadily since that time. Coincidence? Upon joining the Survey, I was introduced to Kentucky coal geology by Don Chesnut, Steve Greb, Dave Williams and Jim Hower, four of the very finest people I have had the privilege to work with. I credit and thank Jim for nominating me and going to great lengths for me to receive this award. Although I am probably best known as a Carboniferous palynologist, involvement in various projects, including organic petrology of petroleum shales, carbon capture and storage, coal bed methane and rare earth elements in coal and coal byproducts has significantly broadened my perspective. As an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Kentucky I have been able to assist graduate student research and help young geoscientists, like Jen O’Keefe, start their own careers, continue to work with them, and more importantly, learn from them. I also became acquainted with coal geologists at other state survey’s, including John Nelson and Scott Elrick at the ISGS, and Maria Mastalerz and Agnieszka Drobniak at the IGS.

I have been extremely fortunate in my career because of the people I have met, and have had the good fortune to work with. My participation in the Coal Geology (now Energy Geology) Division has been instrumental in this regard. Next year, the annual GSA meeting will be in Indianapolis, IN, the same location where I attended my very first annual GSA meeting in 1983 (35 years ago). It was at the meeting in Indianapolis where I first met Bill DiMichele and Tom Phillips, two people I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with for many years.

In closing, I have always regarded Cady award recipients with a very special sense of respect and deserved admiration. I stand before you this evening completely humbled with the knowledge of having my name added to that list of recipients. Thank you so very much for this prestigious award!