Dr. Atwater was born on June 17, 1907, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He attended the University of Iowa where he earned a B.A. degree in economics in 1929 and an M.S. in geology in 1930. He worked for state surveys in Iowa and New York, and for the U.S.G.S., finally returning to college in his home state where he was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Wisconsin in 1936.
Upon graduation, he went to work first for Amerada Petroleum Corp. and then Skelly Oil Co. In 1938, he joined the William Helis Oil Co. in New Orleans, filling the positions of chief geologist and head landman. In 1946, Dr. Atwater opened his own consulting practice, becoming the senior partner in the New Orleans consulting firm of Atwater, Cowan, Carter, Miller and Heffner where he remained active until his death. The firm still exists and is known as Atwater Consultants, Ltd.
He received the Sidney Powers Memorial Medal in 1973. His citation was written by Grover E. Murray, and reads “In recognition of extraordinary success as a petroleum geologist; for masterful and productive integration of geology, geophysics, and economics; for incisive analyses of salt diapirs, contemporary faulting, and the relationships of porosity to hydrocarbon productivity, and for cogent, lucid presentations of these analyses; and for mindful attention to public and individual problems of the petroleum industry.”
The Gordon I. Atwater Memorial Grant is awarded annually to a deserving graduate student through the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Foundation Grants-in-Aid program, and is endowed through a generous bequest from Dr. Atwater to the AAPG Foundation.