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Dr. M. Lee Allison (1948-2016)

Article Author(s): 

Rowena Davis

Dr. M. Lee Allison (1948-2016)Dr. M. Lee Allison, Arizona State Geologist and Chair of the Arizona Geological Survey, died on August 16 from a critical head injury incurred over the weekend. Lee was a true visionary, dedicated to expanding public access to the geosciences and forging cooperation among diverse groups. A natural leader and mentor, Lee fostered growth in his employees and partnership among his collaborators. He was a passionate advocate for geoinformatics and new ways to share, collect, and use information relating to the geosciences, and held leadership roles in projects of national and international significance.

Lee received his professional education at the University of California, Riverside (B.A.), San Diego State University (M.S.), and the University of Massachusetts (Ph.D.). He worked in the oil industry for 15 years before transitioning to public service. Lee was an incredibly dynamic leader of the Arizona, Kansas, and Utah Geological Surveys. In each case, he sought to increase the impact of the research and outreach of these agencies in the wider world. He never settled for doing things as they were, but always pushed forward to make these agencies more useful and influential.

Lee made transparency and public service a cornerstone of the Arizona Geological Survey. He helped develop the Earth Fissure program, which ensures public access to updated information on earth fissures and land subsidence, and established the AZGS online document repository, which offers free access to 101 years of nearly all AZGS publications. He encouraged his staff to share the same priorities, developing projects for the public good such as the Natural Hazards in Arizona viewer, the Arizona Experience website, and the Great Arizona ShakeOut. He also founded and hosted the first Mining Review e-video magazine in the U.S.

Lee recording an episode of the Arizona Mining Review

Lee was able to exponentially expand AZGS’ operations through collaborations and grants for projects for the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and a myriad of other funding partners. These innovations in funding enabled the AZGS to thrive – nearly doubling their staff during the Great Recession years – and contributed to an international reputation as leaders of cyberinfrastructure. Now, geologic surveys across America are adopting this funding model to maintain services as funding allocations shrink. 

From 2013-2015, Lee served as Co-Chair of the Belmont Forum e-Infrastructure and Data Management Secretariat and Steering Committee during the scoping phase of the project, and at the time of death as PI and Champion of the Belmont Forum e-Infrastructure Coordination, Communication, & Collaboration Office. He was a PI of the Test Governance for NSF’s EarthCube Initiative from 2013-2016. He has been a member of the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure and the North American member of the OneGeology Board of Directors since 2013. Additionally, he was Chair of the National Data Repositories Working Group and served as Chair of the Geoinformatics Division of the Geological Society of America for the 2014-15 term. He marshalled the energy and resources of 48 state surveys to build the National Geothermal Data System and has steered the development of the US Geoscience Information Network.

Lee received the Public Service Award of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 2002, the Tanya Atwater “Encourage” Award from the Association for Women Geoscientists for promoting the role of women in the profession, and the American Institute of Professional Geologists John T. Galey Jr. Award for Public Service in 2008. The Hutchinson (KS) News hailed Lee as a “Shining Light” for his role in helping restore the city to safety after deadly natural gas explosions, which is featured in an episode of the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” documentary series on “Engineering Disasters."

Lee’s ambitions were limitless, as were his expectations for himself and his accomplishments. At the time of his death, Lee had recently navigated the transition of the Arizona Geological Survey from a state agency to a part of the University of Arizona due to a crippling budget cut. Throughout the months of uncertainty, his first priorities were the welfare of this employees and the ability of the agency to continue to fulfill its mission of public service. Lee’s loss will be deeply felt throughout the geoscience community and beyond. 

He is mourned by his wife Ann, his employees at the Survey, to whom he was also a mentor and friend, and by his national and international colleagues who experienced his kindness, dedication, and collaborative spirit. 

AZGS 2015 Holiday Party

Further Reading:

Over the past weeks, dozens of notes of condolences were shared with us here at AZGS. A selection of these notes are shared below.  

Lee was a real leader and visionary in the geoscience community in Arizona and worldwide. I feel so fortunate to have known Lee, to have learned from him, to have appreciated his quick wit, and to have called him my friend. 

It was always a highlight for me to chat with Lee, whether by phone or email related to the two recent Eos news stories about efforts to maintain AZGS’ services in the wake of budget pressures, or whether in person at the AGU fall meetings and other conferences. 

Randy Showstack, American Geophysical Union

Lee was the textbook definition of a gentleman and a scholar. His tireless commitment to open data and community process made a huge impression on me and my career, as I'm sure it did countless others. Such a tragic loss for his family, friends, and the entire geoscience data community.

Jennifer Arrigo, National Association of Professional Women

Lee was a good friend to many of us and a good friend to NBMG. He had a passion and boundless energy that inspired many, including myself. His passing is an incredible loss to the Arizona Geological Survey, the state of Arizona, and the entire scientific community. His countless contributions will live on for many years, as he leaves a lasting legacy of selfless dedication to the community of state geological surveys and beyond. He will be missed.

James E. Faulds, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Director and State Geologist

Deeply saddened by the loss. My sincerest condolences to Lee's Family, but also to the many people who worked with or who were touched by Lee's steady hand in promoting the geosciences in Arizona. We all who knew him to be the tireless advocate for geology, the mining industry, economic development in the state, and all the people who had the privilege of working with him. 

Carl Bowser, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison

On behalf of the American Association of Professional Geologists (AIPG), I would like to offer our sincere condolences to Lee's family, friends and colleagues. He was a friend to our organization, participating in our meetings and hosting our National Board at the spring meeting in Tucson. This is indeed a very sad day for our profession. His enthusiasm, guidance and leadership in the geosciences community will be missed.

Helen Hickman

Lee was a genial and incredibly energetic geoscientist who made enormous contributions to geoscience and to public geoscience literacy. I always enjoyed corresponding and working with him, and am deeply saddened by this abrupt tragedy. Arizona has lost a great man. 

Steven Semken, Professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University

A huge and tragic loss. Rest in Peace, Lee, and forever thanks for your tireless efforts toward improving our world.

Kyle House, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona

I met Lee at the Group on Earth Observations plenary in Mexico City last fall, and was impressed by both the scope of his knowledge and his warm and authentic personality. This is a huge loss for our state.

Osha Gray Davidson

All of his colleagues in the Belmont Forum around the world, including me, will feel Lee's loss profoundly, and greatly admire his leadership, enthusiasm and scientific calmness under pressure.  

Robert James Gurney

Lee was a good mentor to me and brought me in to both EarthCube and Belmont Forum just as I entered the geoinformatics community. He was a strong advocate and worked tirelessly for what he believed in, and truly effected progress. I will certainly miss him, and his leadership and advocacy is a loss to the advancement of geosciences. 

Lindsay Powers, EarthCube Leadership Council


We invite you to share your memories of Dr. Lee Allison in the comments section below.

Rowena Davis

Content Manager, Arizona Experience

M. Lee Allison Memorial Scholarship funds

University of Massachusetts-Amherst Department of Geosciences
Donations can be send to the Scholarship Fund, Dept. of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003. Online donations can be made at Please email with questions.

Association for Women Geoscientists/Salt Lake Chapter
Donations can be made online (, or by check payable to "AWG Foundation"; please write Dr. M. Lee Allison Fund on the memo line.

Checks can be sent to:
Kate Johnson
AWG Foundation Treasurer
652 Glimmerglen Road
Cooperstown, NY 13326
AWG Salt Lake Chapter
P.O. Box 58691
Salt Lake City, UT 84158-0691

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