Geomorphologist Arthur Bloom dies at 88

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Joe Schwartz

Arthur L. Bloom, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, who 26 years ago wrote what is considered the last comprehensive textbook on geomorphology, died May 31 at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca. He was 88.

Bloom is internationally known for his pioneering work establishing the history of sea levels during the last 125,000 years. His research in the field of geomorphology – the study of the origin of the Earth’s topographic features – took him from Maine to the western Pacific to the coast of South America.

Bloom was born Sept. 2, 1928, in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. He received his bachelor’s in geology (Phi Beta Kappa) from Miami University of Ohio in 1950; his master’s on a Fulbright scholarship from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1952; and, after serving five years as an officer in the U.S. Navy, his doctorate from Yale in 1959.

It was during his years as a naval officer stationed in the Pacific when he first became interested in geomorphology.

After a year as a teaching assistant at Yale, Bloom joined the Cornell faculty in 1960 as an assistant professor in the geology department, then part of the College of Arts and Sciences. In addition to his geomorphology research, Bloom engaged in cross-university collaborations with planetary scientists, archaeologists and soil scientists. In the 1980s he was training to be a special observer on a space shuttle mission; that opportunity ended following the 1986 Challenger disaster.

He wrote “The Surface of the Earth” (1969), which was translated into German, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. His later work, “Geomorphology: A Systematic Analysis of Late Cenozoic Landforms” (1991), is considered the last comprehensive textbook on the subject, as subsequent works have focused on subsets of the field.

Sabbatical and other leaves from the university took Bloom to Australia, Japan, Korea and China. Research areas included Micronesia and New Guinea, and when the focus of his department shifted to South America, his research expanded to Argentina.

He retired in 1996, and in 2014 Bloom’s son, Jay, established the Arthur L. Bloom Fund for Geological Sciences Research in the Pacific Region. Its goal is to allow geological scientists and students to use the latest technologies while conducting research in the Pacific region.

During his doctoral work, he studied the coast of Maine and its glacial soils, which can cause landslides, the settling of buildings and challenges for builders. He named the soil unit the Presumpscot Formation in his 1959 dissertation, “Late Pleistocene changes of sea level in southwestern Maine.” For his work, the University of Maine awarded Bloom an honorary doctorate in 1996.

William Bassett, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, remembered Bloom as a dedicated and generous expert on local topography. Upon his arrival from the University of Rochester in 1978, Bassett was asked by a group of friends from Rochester if they could come down and learn about the geology of the area.

Bassett asked Bloom for some assistance, which he readily provided.

“He presented such a fascinating tour,” Bassett said, “that my Rochester visitors were very pleased and thoroughly convinced they had made a great decision to come to Ithaca.

“I am forever grateful to Art for passing along his wonderful descriptions and enthusiasm,” he said, “so I could follow his lead and enjoy taking similar tours for friends, relatives and visiting scientists attending conferences at Cornell.”

Professor Emeritus Muawia Barazangi, another departmental colleague, described Bloom as “the complete professor.”

“He really paid attention to research, teaching and outreach, and was really the authority on the local and regional geology of the Finger Lakes,” Barazangi said, noting that Bloom left an unfinished manuscript on the geomorphology of the region, one that a group of professors – working with the Paleontological Research Institution – plan to publish.

Bloom is survived by his wife of 64 years, Donna, and three sons.

A memorial service is planned for Monday, July 3, at 4 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 309 Highland Road, Ithaca. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the Arthur L. Bloom Fund for Geological Sciences Research in the Pacific Region.

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