Robert (Bob) Diffendal

Robert (Bob) Diffendal

  • Contact Information
  • My Story
  • Publications
  • Background
  • Interests

Contact Information

TitleEmeritus - Research Geologist
Faculty RankProfessor Emeritus
Address605 South Hardin Hall
3310 Holdrege Street
Lincoln NE
  • office: 402-472-7546
  • fax: 402-472-2946
  • secondary office: 402-472-5618
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My Story

Bob Diffendal is a geologist and professor emeritus in the School of Natural Resources.

While he formally retired in September of 2003, he remains quite active in the School and University, particularly in writing and public speaking about Earth science.

He sees many benefits to a career in geology: "This discipline gets you outside, looking at a major component of natural resources," he said. "If you stop and consider, almost everything in this building is constructed out of stuff that people dug out of the ground and transformed. In terms of our civilization, it's extremely important that people are trained to go out and find resources that all of us can use in our daily lives."

He added that it's also essential for practicing geologists to have a general understanding of other natural sciences, as well as a background in humanities and social science. They need to be able to write, to speak to groups of people and to understand what goes on in government agencies.

How it all began

Bob's interest in geology started early in life. When he was 10 years old, growing up in Hagerstown, MD, Bob and his friends used to pass the Porter Chemical Company, a maker of children's science sets, on their way to school. After school, they scavenged in the dump behind the factory for items discarded by the plant manager. One day Bob found a pile of mineral specimens and took them home. He bought a book on mineral identification and from then on he knew he wanted to be a geologist.

After high school, Bob attended Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. It was around then that a stroke of what Bob calls "luck", a life-changing casual encounter, occurred. As a senior in college, walking through a field to show the chair of his department the site that he had mapped for his thesis project, the chair asked Bob about his plans after graduation. Bob said he planned to get a certificate and become a high school teacher. The professor said, "No, you don't want to do that. You want to go to graduate school." Bob wonders how his life would have turned out if that conversation hadn't happened.

Bob had read an article on paleontology by Al Fagerstrom at Nebraska, so he applied here. He received his M.S. degree at the University of Nebraska in 1964 and started work on his Ph.D. In 1966, he had a chance to teach geology at a college in Illinois, and took the job while continuing to work on his doctorate. While there, he met his wife Anne and they married in 1967.

The college in Illinois closed in 1970, and Bob took a job at Doane College in Crete, NE, completing his Ph.D. in December 1971. Bob was awarded tenure at Doane in 1974 and was science division chair and associate academic dean there in the late 1970s.

In 1975, Bob asked Ray Burchett if there was any summer work at the Conservation Survey Division (CSD), which is now part of the School of Natural Resources. Ray said he needed someone to prepare geologic maps. Bob assumed the mapping would be in southeast Nebraska where he had studied the stratigraphy and paleontology for his M.S. thesis work, but he didn't ask. After he accepted the job, Ray asked him to begin mapping in the Ogallala area, which was "not a spot I would have picked on my own," Bob said. "It's a whole different geology than the areas in southeast Nebraska that I was familiar with. I started out trained in invertebrate paleontology - animals without backbones. I went out and made maps of major parts of Nebraska that had nothing to do with little critters."

Bob kept working summers for CSD from 1975 to 1979, took a "soft money" job here from 1980 to 1981 while on leave from Doane, and then moved into a permanent CSD faculty position, earning tenure in 1986. Since coming to UNL, Bob has authored or co-authored more than 300 publications and other works.

During his active career, Bob's major research emphases were on geologic mapping of various parts of Nebraska, as well as other geological research resulting in publication of maps, articles and public educational materials. He has continued these emphases since retirement. He also continues to give talks on the geology of Nebraska and elsewhere, and to lead field trips to sites in Nebraska for people of all ages.

His specific research interests have to do with the geology of western and north-central Nebraska; Upper Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic geology, mostly in Nebraska, and invertebrate fossils.

He has also done research on the geology of parts of China. He has had a long-standing interest in the culture, people and landscape of China and has made 11 trips there over the last 41 years to teach, tour, and do research. One of the products of Bob's interest in China was creation of the Diffendal Foundation, endowing a scholarship fund for geosciences students at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China.

In addition to his scholarly work, Bob willingly assumed many key administrative roles over the years. He served as:

  • SNR coordinator on Hardin Hall, including coordinating input into and keeping people informed of progress on the School's new building
  • Executive Secretary of the North-Central Section of the Geological Society of America (GSA)
  • Associate editor and editorial board member of the Journal of Geosciences of China
  • a member of the GSA Annual Program Committee
  • Chair and organizer of the 1995 combined North-Central/South-Central Regional Meeting of GSA
  • President of the UNL Faculty Senate in 1988-89
  • Interim associate director of the Conservation Survey Division, 1990-91
  • First assistant director of the School of Natural Resources

Current work

In September of 2015 Bob completed and published two books about the creation of the mosaics of fossils on the floor of the rotunda of the Nebraska Capitol and about the fossils themselves. One is a coloring and activities book that provides a brief history of the project, the name, its pronunciation and some facts about each fossil animal and plant depicted, and some questions about each organism (Conservation and Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, Eductional Circular 23).

The second is more of a history of the project (Educational Circular 24). Professor Erwin Barbour made and sent colored drawings of many fossil plants and animals to the mosaic artist, Hildreth Meiere, who used many in her work in 1927. The book includes images of long lost Barbour colored drawings, inventory lists of images sent to Miss Meiere, pen-and-ink sketches of fossil plants and animals by Barbour, architects plans and renderings and a glossary with definitions and information about each fossil and technical term used in the text.

Bob's new book titled Great Plains Geology, which defines the Great Plains Physiographic Province, explains the general geologic development of the Great Plains and explains things about the geology, archaeology, and paleontology of 57 interesting sites from Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, to southern Texas, is in print by the University of Nebraska Press as part of a series of books about major Great Plains topics.

Bob's other current activities include continuing his talks for the UNL Chancellor's Speakers Bureau, preparing other manuscripts for publication, advising the public and answering their geologic questions, working as volunteer Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the University of Nebraska State Museum and travelling to places in the USA and to other countries with his wife, Anne.

Information on EC-23, EC-24, and Great Plains Geology is available through the School of Natural Resources at: (402) 472-3471 or by email at Information on Great Plains Geology can be found on the University of Nebraska Press website.

Other current professional service activities include:

  • Curator of the Invertebrate Paleontology collections of the University of Nebraska State Museum
  • A member of the UNL Chancellor's Speaker's Bureau

Selected Publications

Divine, D.P. and Howard, L.M., edited by Diffendal, Jr. R.F., 2020. Interpretive Geologic Maps and Cross Sections for Phelps, Kearney, and Adams Counties in Nebraska. Conservation & Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska - Online
Hallum, D.R., Hanson, P.R., Tucker, S.T., Diffendal, R.F. Jr., 2020, Hydrogeology and Geology of the Lower North and South Platte Rivers of Nebraska, Nebraska Geological Society Field Trip 2020, Guidebook No. 37, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Conservation and Survey Division, 36p.Online
Joeckel, R. M., Diffendal, Jr., R. F., Hanson, P. R., Korus, J. T. (2018). Geologic mapping in Nebraska: Old rocks, new maps, fresh insights. Great Plains Research, 28, 119-147.
Diffendal, R.F., Jr. 2017. Great Plains Geology. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 210 pp.
Diffendal, Robert F. 2015. Fossils on the Floor In the Nebraska State Capitol. Lincoln, NE: Conservation and Survey Division, UNL. pp. 58.Online
Diffendal, Robert F. 2015. Fossils on the Floor Mosaics in the Rotunda of the Nebraska State Capitol. Lincoln, NE: Conservation and Survey Division, UNL. pp. 78.Online
Diffendal, Robert. 2014. Geologic Observations along the Steamboat Trace Trail, Markers 16-20, in the vicinity of Peru, Nemaha County, Nebraska (including on the Indian Cave Sandstone): University of Nebraska Digital CommonsOnline
Perkins, M.E., Diffendal, R.F., Jr., Voorhies, M.R., Nash, B.P., and Bailey, B.E.; 2014. Ashfall Tephra in the Ogallala Group of the Great Plains: Characteristics and Significance: Geological Society of America Abstracts With Programs, v. 46 (4): p. 51.
Foreword: In Jorus, J. et al, 2013. The Groundwater Atlas of Nebraska (3rd Revised Edition), Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska, Resource Atlas 4b, p. vii.
Wooden, S.R., Joeckel, R.M., Korus, J.T.,and Diffendal, R.F., Jr.; 2011. Lithofacies and Stratigraphic Architecture of the Ash Hollow Formation, Ogallala Group in the General Type Area: Geological Society of America Abstracts With Programs, v. 43 (5), p.
Diffendal, R.F., Jr. 2004. Keith County Test Hole Logs. Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 121.Online
Joeckel, R. M., Diffendal, R. F. Jr., 2004 (RS-1070). Geomorphic and Environmental Change Around a Large, Aging Reservoir: Lake C. W. McConaughy, Western Nebraska, USA. Environmental and Engineering Geoscience, 10: 69-90.Online
Diffendal, R.F., Jr., Diffendal, A. P., 2003. Lewis and Clark and the Geology of the Great Plains. Lincoln, NE: Conservation and Survey Division, UNL. pp. 126.Online
Diffendal, R.F., Jr., Diffendal, A.P., 2003. Lewis and Clark and the Geology of Nebraska and Parts of Adjacent States. Lincoln, NE: Conservation and Survey Division, UNL. pp. 32.Online
Pabian, R.K. and R.F. Diffendal, Jr. 2003. Late Pennsylvanian and Earliest Permian Cyclic Sedimentation and Paleoecology in Southeastern Nebraska. Missouri Geological Survey Special Publication. 11:35-52.
Diffendal, R. F. Jr., Mohlman, D. R., Corner, R. G., Harvey, F. E., Warren, K. J., Summerside, S., Pabian, R. K., Eversoll, D. A., 2002. Field Guide to the Geology of the Harlan County Lake Area, Harlan County, Nebraska, with a History of Events Leading tOnline
Helland, P.E., P-H. Huang, R.F. Diffendal Jr. EM Analysis of Quartz Sand Grain Surface Textures Indicates Alluvial/Colluvial Origin of the Quaternary "Glacial" Boulder Clays at Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), East-Central China. Quaternary Research 48(0):8.
Huang, Pei-Hua, Diffendal, Jr. R.F., Yang, Ming-Qing. 2002. Structural and Geomorphological Evolution of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), Anhui Province, China. Volume 3, edited by Wakefield Dort, Jr.
Huang, P-H, R.F. Diffendal, Jr. and M. Yang 2002. Structural and Geomorphic Evolution of Hangshan (Yellow Mountain), Anhui Province, China. TER-QUA Symposium Series. 3:109-124 .Online
Huang, P-H., Diffendal, R.F. Jr. M-Q. Yang. 2002. Structural and Geomorphological Evolution of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), Anhui Province, China. Ter-Qua Symposium Series, Institute for Tertiary-Quarternary Studies 3(0):16.Online
Diffendal, R.F., Jr., Goeke, J.W. 2000. Arthur County Test Hole Logs. Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 56.Online
Diffendal, Jr. R.F. 1999. Geology of Rock Creek Station State Historical Park Field Guide. Lincoln: Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 12.Online
Diffendal, R. F., Jr., 1999. Geology of Rock Creek Station State Historical Park. Lincoln, NE: Conservation and Survey Division, UNL. Pp. 16.Online
Diffendal, R.F., Jr. 1999. Cheyenne County. Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 243.Online
Diffendal, R.F., Jr. 1999. Deuel County Test Hole Logs. Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 93.Online
Diffendal, R.F., Jr. 1999. Earth in Four Dimensions, Development of the Ideas of Geologic Time and History. Nebraska History 0(0):10.
Huang, P-H. and R.F. Diffendal, Jr. 1998. Mountain Evolution and Environmental Changes of Huangshan, China. Scientia Geographic Sinica. 18:401-408.Online
Peihua, H., Diffendal, R. F., Jr., Mingqin, Y., Helland, P. E., 1998 (RS-252). Mountain Evolution and Environmental Changes of Huangshan, China . Scientia Geographica Sinica 18:401-408.
Swinehart, J.B. and R.F. Diffendal Jr. 1998. [Sand Hills] Geology, Geology of the Pre-dune Strata. An Atlas of the Sand Hills: 14 pp.
Flowerday, C. A., Diffendal, R. F., Jr., editors, 1997. Geology of Niobrara State Park, Knox County, Nebraska, and Adjacent Areas, with a Brief History of the Park, Gavins Point Dam, and Lewis and Clark Lake. Lincoln, NE: Conservation and Survey DivisionOnline
Diffendal, R.F. 1994. Geometric and Structural Features of the Alliance 1 x 2 Degree Quadrangle, Western Nebraska, Discernible from Synthetic-Aperture Radar Imagery and Digital Shaded-Relief Maps. Contributions to Geology, University of Wyoming 30(2):11.
Feng, Z.-D., W.C. Johnson, and R.F Diffendal Jr. 1994. Environments of Aeolian Deposition in South-Central Nebraska During the Last Glacial Maximum. Physical Geology 15(3):249-261.Online
Diffendal, R.F. and A. Lowrie. Application of Sealevel Stratigraphy to Neogene Great Plains Stratigraphy. Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies Transactions 43:121-129
Diffendal, R.F., Jr. and M.R. Voorhies. 1993. Geologic Framework of the Niobrara River Drainage Basin and Adjacent Areas in South Dakota Generally East of the 100th Meridian West Longitude and West of the Missouri River. Environment and Natural Resources Online
Helland, P.E. and R.F. Diffendal Jr. 1993. Probable Glacial Climatic Conditions in Source Areas During Deposition of Parts of the Ash Hollow Formation, Ogallala Group (Late Tertiary), of Western Nebraska. American Journal of Science 293(0):744-757.Online
Diffendal, R.F., Jr., L.R. Gardner, and D.F. Williams. 1992. Stable Isotope Composition of Calcareous Paleosols and Ground-water Cements from the Ogallala Group (Neogene), Western Nebraska. Contributions to Geololgy, University of Wyoming 29(2):97-109
Diffendal, R.F., Jr. 1991. Plate Tectonics, Space, Geologic Time, and the Great Plains, A Primer for Non-Geologists. Great Plains Quartlerly 83:(102):83-102.Online
Diffendal, R. F., Jr., 1988. River Potholes, Modern and Ancient. Explorer, Cleveland Museum of Natural History 30(3):0.Online
Goodwin, R.G., Diffendal, R.F. Jr. 1987. Paleohydrology of Some Ogallala (Neogene) Streams in the Southern Panhandle of Nebraska. Recent Developments in Fluvial Sedimentology0): 9 pp.
Swinehart, J.B. and R.F. Diffendal. 1987. Duer Ranch, Morrill County, Nebraska: Contrast between Cenozoic fluvial and eolian deposition. Geological Socciety of American Cenntenial Field Guide-North-Central Section:23-28.Online
Diffendal, R. F., Jr., J.B. Swinehart, J.J. Gottula 1985 (RS-48). Characteristics, Age Relationships, and Regional Importance of Some Cenozoic Paleovalleys, Southern Nebraska Panhandle. Ter-Qua Symposium Series, Institute of Tertirary-Quaternary StudiesOnline
Diffendal, R. F., Jr., 1985 (RS-49). The Inapplicability of the Concept of the "Sidney Gravel" to the Ogallala Group (Late Tertiary) in Part of Southern Banner County, Nebraska. Ter-Qua Symposium Series, Institute of Tertiary-Quaternary Studies 1(0):7.Online
Swinehart, J.B., V.L. Souders, H.M. DeGraw, R.F. Diffendal. 1985. Cenozoic Paleogeography of Western Nebraska. Cenozoic Paleogeography of West-Central United States, Proceedings of the Rocky Mountain Paleogeography Symposium 3, Rocky Mountain Section, So
Diffendal, R. F., Jr. 1984. Armored Mud Balls and Friable Sand Megaclasts from a Complex Early Pleistocene Alluvial Fill, Southwestern Morrill County, Nebraska. Journal of Geology 92(0):6.Online
Diffendal, R.F., Jr. 1984. Evidence for the Quaternary Piracy of Pumpkin Creek, Southern Morrill County, Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 12(0): 5 pp.Online
Corner, R.G. and R.F. Diffendal. 1983. An Irvingtonian Fauna from the Oldest Quaternary Alluvium in Eastern Pumpkin Creek Valley, Morrill and Banner Counties, Nebraska. Contributions to Geology, University of Wyoming 22(1):5.Online
Diffendal, R. F., Jr., 1983 (RS-55). Megaclasts in Alluvial Fills from the Ogallala Group (Miocene), Banner, Kimball, and Morrill Counties, Nebraska. Contributions to Geology, University of Wyoming 22(2):7.Online
Diffendal, R.F., Jr. and R.G. Corner. 1983. Asymmetrical distribution of Quaternary alluvial fills, Pumpkin Creek drainage basin, western Nebraska. Geological Society of American Bulletin 94(6):720-729.Online
Diffendal, R. F., Jr. 1982. Regional Implications of the Geology of the Ogallala Group (Upper Tertiary) of Southwestern Morrill County, Nebraska and Adjacent Areas. Geological Society of America Bulletin 93(0):0.Online
Diffendal, R. F., Jr., 1982 (RS-58). Gully, Scour Hole, and Pothole Development at the Base of the Gering Formation (Miocene?), Southeastern Banner County, Nebraska. Contributions to Geology, University of Wyoming 21(1):8.Online
Pabian, R.K., Diffendal, R.F., Jr. 1981. Geology of Lake McConaughy Area, Keith County, Nebraska. Lincoln: Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 21.Online
Diffendal, R. F., Jr., 1980. The Rush Creek-Lisco Structural Basin, Garden and Morrill Counties, Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 8(0):123-130.Online
Diffendal Jr., R.F. 1965. Paleoecology of Pseudozaphrentoides Verticillatus (Barbour) in the Plattsmouth Limestone (Pennsylvanian). The Compass of Sigma Gamma Epsilon, An Honorary Scientific Society Magazine Devoted to Earth Sciences. 42(2):101-115.Online






TitleAwarded byYear Awarded
Lifetime Achievement AwardSun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China2019
John C. Frye Memorial AwardAssociation of American State Geologists2014




SNR Program Areas

  • Environmental Science

Areas of Interest/Expertise

  • Nebraska Geologic Mapping
  • Stratigraphy
  • Sedimentology
  • Geomorphology
  • Paleogeography and Paleontology
  • Geology of western/north-central Nebraska
  • Upper Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic geology
  • Invertebrate fossils
  • Field guides
  • Geology of parts of China
  • Geology of the Great Plains