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History of the Czech Geological Survey

From its foundation in 1919 the Czech Geological Survey rapidly developed to become a highly regarded member of the network of state geological surveys established in the different countries of the world. The Survey has survived many political and economic events in its history, some happy and some quite difficult. Periods of turbulence have alternated with periods of quieter evolution, periods during which basic geological research and regional studies prevailed have alternated with periods when intensive prospecting for mineral resources and geological services were emphasized. The Survey underwent numerous reorganizations and changes of its supervisory bodies but, like the state geological surveys of other developed countries, it has always fulfilled its statutory tasks by continuing to provide the geological services and information required under the different political circumstances that affected Czechoslovakia and, later, the Czech Republic.

In December 1918 the Czechoslovak Ministry of Public Works received a letter of memorandum formulated and signed by four renowned Czech geologists proposing the foundation of a state geological survey. This document set out the programme, the budget and the staff required for this institute. The proposal was accepted by the Cabinet and, on 7.7. 1919, the Geological Survey of the Czechoslovak Republic was established. The work of the Geological Survey started with a staff of only 8 employees, the director and his assistant, a secretary, one chemist, a custodian and a few administrators. Numerous individuals, such as university professors and volunteers, gave their support to the Survey by helping to carry out systematic geological investigations of the Czechoslovak Republic. The scope of their work embraced regional geology with geological mapping, assessments of mineral resources, surveys and documentation for various technical projects and construction, and a short time later publication of geoscience literature also began. By 1921, the Survey was already publishing a Bulletin, and a number of books and maps had appeared. A library, together with archives of documentation relating to collections and a centre for quarries and drilling were founded. Without donations from private persons and organizations the library and archives could not have been established.

Soon, the chemical laboratory had also started to operate and new methods of mineral and rock analyses were introduced step by step.

In 1931 the 3rd Congress of the Carpathian Geological Association was chaired by the director of the Czech Survey. This was the first of many important international activities organized by the Survey.

The number of members of staff increased progressively until the German occupation in 1939. During the war years, the activities of the Geological Survey were limited, and a restrictive editorial policy was enforced. Despite these obstacles, geological mapping and soil investigation, surveying of mineral deposits with the establishment of a database of mines and quarries took place. A fter the end of World War II the former activities of the Survey were revived. By 1950, the number of employees had increased dramatically. In 1950, the geological surveys in Prague and Bratislava (Slovakia) were united to create a single organization, and the Brno Branch was established. The new Brno Branch focused on the investigation of Moravian geology, as well as on the search for oil and gas. Later, the laboratory for organic geochemistry was opened and modernized. In 1952, the Survey became part of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences and simultaneously, the Geofond was established as a centre for documentation. In 1953, the Geological Survey, as a Central Authority, was promoted to be an organ of government under the direction of the Prime Minister.

The organization of the International Geological Congress in 1968 was an important milestone in the activities of the Geological Survey, even though the programme of the Congress had to be ended prematurely because of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the armies of the Warsaw Pact.

The 3rd Congress of the Carpathian Geological Association took place in former Czechoslovakia in 1931.

The 3rd Congress of the Carpathian Geological Association took place in former Czechoslovakia in 1931. A field trip was organized and a comprehensive Field Guide was published for the participants. (Author: J. Svoboda)

The scope of the activities of the Geological Survey

The Survey has progressively developed a comprehensive programme of research based on the core activities of geological mapping and surveys for special applications including soils, engineering and hydrogeology. Evaluation and assessment of all types of mineral resources and ground waters are economically and strategically important themes, and all field-based research is supported by specialist studies of mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry and geophysics.

Periods of more basic geological investigation have alternated with periods of applied research, the results of which have been compiled in hundreds of expert reports, many of great economic importance. By 1965 the mapping of the republic at a scale of 1 : 200,000 was completed. During the seventies, a series of maps at a scale of 1 : 100,000 were published, together with monographs.

The deep drilling programme and geophysical research provided insights into the structure of the Earth’s crust and upper mantle. The rock formations beneath the Cretaceous cover of the Bohemian Massif were studied, and new oil and gas reserves were discovered in the Carpathian Foredeep, coal deposits were located beneath the Cretaceous cover of the Bohemian Massif and surveys of non- traditional industrial minerals were also carried out.

After 1990, new environmental projects were started and new programmes of international cooperation were begun. Soon, nearly 50 per cent of the scientific activity of the Geological Survey was devoted to environmental problems, and the chemical laboratories obtained international accreditation for the quality of chemical and other special analyses of geological materials and waters. A major project to model the structure of Western Bohemia based on the results from the KTB (the Continental Deep Borehole) borehole in Germany not far from the Czech border was successfully completed.

In 1994 the Geological Survey established a GIS department and the use of computer graphics for map printing began. In 1996 the geological and applied mapping of the Czech Republic at a scale of 1 : 50,000 were completed, making it the first country in the world to be comprehensively covered by a series of maps at this scale. Basic and applied research projects have been progressively incorporated into national and international scientific programmes funded through dedicated grants.

The changes in the supervisory bodies responsible for the Geological Survey

The Survey was established by decree of the Ministry of Public Works and remained its supervisory body up to World War II. During the German occupation, the Survey was placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Labour and, after the war, the Survey was placed under the Ministry of Industry for a short period. From 1948, and during the following years of political turbulence the authorities responsible for supervising the Survey changed rapidly from the State Planning Bureau to the Centre for Scientific Research and, finally to a special committee of the Office of the Prime Minister. In 1958 the Central Geological Office was established as the prime organ of ‘United Geology’ which operated under the mandate of the ministries in many socialist countries, in most cases the Ministry of Geology. Under this system, the Geological Survey was reduced to the level of a subsidiary institute.

The Central (later Czech) Geological Office was abolished soon after the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in November 1989 and the Czech Geological Survey was placed under the authority of the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic. The Survey reclaimed and stressed its role in the research, objective service and education and firmly joined the European and world network of the state geological surveys.

The directors of the Geological Survey

Fourteen geologists, together with one expert in mining history, have occupied the position of director of the Geological Survey. The first director was the university professor, Cyril Purkyně, who was renowned not only as a palaeontologist, but also as an expert in regional and applied geology. Before World War II, the directors were mostly specialists in applied geology, as the political and economic situation dictated. A fter the war, three Quaternary geologists were among the appointed directors of the Survey, a fact which undoubtedly reflects the high standard of Quaternary research in the Czech Republic. The other directors have all ranked among leading specialists in economic geology, regional geology, oil and gas geology, stratigraphy, petrology and sedimentology.

The changes in the name of the Geological Survey

The name of the Czech Geological Survey has been changed six times during its history. It was established as the ‘State Geological Survey of the Republic of Czechoslovakia’. During the German occupation (1939–1945) it was renamed the ‘Bureau for soil investigation in Bohemia and Moravia’ (the term ‘soil’ was a misunderstanding in literal translation because, in geology, the German term ‘der Boden’ is also used to describe the ‘soil with rocks, i.e. earth’). In 1945, the Survey regained its original pre-war name. In 1952, however, it was renamed the ‘Central Geological Institute’ and for a short period it bore the title ‘The Central Geological Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences’.

Finally, soon after 1989, the Survey was given its present name, ‘The Czech Geological Survey’ which corresponds to the format used in naming the state geological surveys of other developed countries.

Some other important milestones in the history of the Geological Survey

At the end of World War II, the Slovak Geological Institute in Bratislava became part of the Central Geological Institute. This lasted until 1965, when the Slovak Institute of Dionýz Štúr became a fully independent institute, responsible for the geological investigation of Slovakia. This circumstance was quite fortunate in view of the subsequent partitition of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. The two institutes now continue to cooperate in many branches of geological research.

The branch of the Survey in the City of Brno was established in 1950. It focused on the investigation of Moravian geology, as well as on oil and gas research. Later, the laboratory of organic geochemistry was opened and subsequently modernized to make this branch one of the most important centres for environmental studies.

he Geofond was established as an integral part of the Survey in 1952 to fulfil the task of gathering and storing documentation and providing an information service. This union functioned until 1975, when the Geofond became a fully independent organization. The incorporation of the so-called Technical Department, later renamed the Drilling Enterprise, into the structure of the Geological Survey in the 1950s is also a notable event. This resulted in an enormous increase in personnel and the predominance of technical over scientific staff. Fortunately, this situation lasted only for a few years.

After 1990, important changes took place. Some geologists left for the universities, some for the ministries. Four researchers from the Survey became cabinet members: One of them even became vice premier of the Government of the Czech Republic, another two became Ministers of the Environment and the last was appointed Minister of Defence. Four of the Survey geologists joined the diplomatic service and two of them were appointed Czech ambassadors, one in Morocco and one in Chile. About fifteen geologists abandoned geology completely for the market economy and three founded private geological consulting companies.

The headquarters of the Geological Survey and its other branches

In 2003, the headquarters of the Geological Survey was relocated to the Klar Palace in the Malá Strana quarter of Prague. Most of the scientific and administrative staff with the library, archives and the publishing department is now based there. The laboratories, with the departments of mineral resources and environment geochemistry, are located in the southwestern suburbs of Prague at Barrandov. The Brno Branch is situated in the very centre of the city of Brno. There is also a small Survey office in the town of Jeseník in Northern Moravia.

The headquarters of the Czech Geological Survey in Praha-Klárov

The headquarters of the Czech Geological Survey in Praha-Klárov. (Author: Petr Neubert)

icon of contactsContacts

Czech Geological Survey
Klárov 131/3
118 21 Praha 1
phone: +420257089433