He was born at Garrattsville, New York, on the 10th of December 1852. He received B.S. and C.E. degrees in 1872 from the University of the City of New York (now New York University), and later studied at the School of Mines, Columbia College, where he was assistant professor of geology from 1875-77.
In 1874 he accompanied one of the parties sent out by the United States government to observe the transit of Venus, and was stationed at Queenstown, New Zealand. On his return in 1875 he was appointed assistant in geology at the School of mines, and in 1878 he became assistant geologist on the United States geological and geographical survey west of the 100th meridian.
In 1880, he became a member of the United States Geological Survey. Between 1881 and 1885 he worked at the Mono Lake in east-central California. Originally employed for work with regard to suerveying and building the Bodie Railway connecting the Lake with Bodie, he stayed for four years and wrote the seminal work Quaternary History of Mono Valley, California (1884). He represented the USGS in 1889 in an expedition sent to Alaska by the USC&GS to establish a portion of Alaska's eastern boundary. During the next two years, he explored, under the joint auspices of the USGS and the National Geographic Society, the slopes of Mount Saint Elias and the Yakutat Bay area.
In 1892 he became professor of geology at the University of Michigan. At the time of his death, he was President of the Geological Society of America. In 1902, Marcus Baker of the USGS named Russell Fiord in Russell's honor. Russell glacier and Mount Russell in Alaska as well as Mount Rainier's Russell Glacier and the prehistoric Lake Russell in California's Mono Basin are also named for him.
Besides many contributions on geological subjects to various scientific periodicals, he published scientific memoirs, which were issued as annual reports of the Geological Survey, or as separate monographs.
- Sketch of the Geological History of Lake Lahontan (1883)
- A Geological Reconnaissance in Southern Oregon (1884)
- Existing Glaciers of the United States (1885)
- Geological History of Lake Lahontan(1885)
- Geological History of Mono Valley (1888)
- Sub-Aerial Decay of Rocks (1888)
- Lakes of North America (1895)
- Glaciers of North America (1897)
- Volcanoes of North America (1897)
- Rivers of North America (1898)
- North America (1904)
- John Hart: Storm over Mono: The Mono Lake Battle and the California Water Future. University of California Press, Berkeley 1996, ISBN 0-520-20121-3, pp 27/28 (online at the University of California Press E-Books Collection)
- GSA List of Presidents
- Baker, Marcus. Geographical Dictionary of Alaska; 1st es 1902, 2nd ed 1906
- The art and science of natural discovery: Israel Cook Russell and the emergence of modern environmental exploration by Sylvestre, Patrick David
- Majors, Harry M. (1975). Exploring Washington. Van Winkle Publishing Co. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-918664-00-6.
- Geological Society of America Rock Stars article about Israel Cook Russell
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Israel Cook Russell
- "Russell, Israel Cook". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900.
- "Russell, Israel Cook". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
- G.K. Gilbert "Israel Cook Russell" Journal of Geology 14, Nov-Dec 1906, pp 663-667