I was born in Fresno, California, near the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Here I developed several passions: hiking, old cars and snow boarding on garbage-can lids. My dad was an auto-mechanic, gas station owner and owned old vintage cars. These early years set the stage for my passions in life...the allure of mountainous terrains and fast, vintage sports cars.
Fast-forward to High School in the beach town of Santa Barbara, CA. I loved science and math and being in a Hot Rod club with my “souped up” 1936 Ford Coupe. After high school when faced with the option of college or an adventuresome interlude on the high seas, I chose the latter and volunteered for the US Navy Submarine Service. After I graduated from New London Connecticut Submarine School, I was assigned to the USS Cusk SSG-348 in Port Hueneme, southern California. The Cusk was one of three guided missile submarines that operated together as a “Wolf Pack” in the northern Pacific. Of historic interest the “Regulus” missile, which was first carried by the USS Cusk and later by the USS Tunny submarine, was a modified version of the WW II V-2 Rocket developed by the German aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun. These three years aboard a cramped 312-foot long, 27-foot wide submarine with 90 other submariners instilled in me Teamwork, Passion, Precision, Determination and Integrity.
After the Navy I was hired for one summer as an Electronics Technician at North American Aviation’s top-secret Rocketdyne facility in the Santa Susana Mountains in Southern California. Here I was part of a team that was developing and firing the Atlas Rocket engine. After I left Rockedyne, Atlas Rocket engines were used in the early NASA Program to safely propel unmanned vehicles into space. The early Rocketdyne program was one small step in history that preceded the founding of NASA and the eventual successful landing of man on the moon.
After Rocketdyne, I enrolled in U.C. Santa Barbara (UCSB) in a Pre-Med curriculum. As a Pre-Med student I was required to take an earth science course and chose geology. During a field trip, led by Professor Bob Webb to the Mohave Desert and the Sierra Nevada, my passion for field geology started to bloom. After this field trip I changed my major from Pre-Med to Geology. I graduated from UCSB with a BA and enrolled at U.C. Berkeley (UCB), where under the tutelage of Howell Williams, Charles Gilbert and Dick Hay I received my Ph.D. in volcanology, stratigraphy, sedimentology and a minor in geochemistry and paleontology. For my thesis I mapped the Hot Creek Range of central Nevada, ~60 miles east of Tonopah. The Hot Creek Range was an excellent mountain range to map, as it is comprised of shallow water and deep-water Cambrian-Mississippian carbonate and siliciclastic strata as well as Cenozoic ignimbrites and other volcanics. During my first summer of mapping I met the legendary Great Basin geologist Tom Nolan who was Director of the U. S. Geological Survey from 1956-1965. Tom took me under his wing around Nevada showing me the Type Sections of the Great Basin Paleozoic formations. This was the most valuable “Boots on the Ground” education I ever could have had at that juncture in my budding career–Thanks Tom!
My first “real” job was as an Exploration Research Geologist at Marathon Oil Company’s Denver Research Center in Littleton, CO. I conducted research for oil and gas exploration in Devonian carbonates of Canada (Alberta and the Yukon Territory) and in Permian carbonates of west Texas. My mentor and life-long friend at Marathon was Lloyd Pray who instilled in me the value of careful, detailed, examination of rocks. I learned that the better we understand the origin of rocks and the processes under which they formed the better we can make well-founded geologic interpretations and stratigraphic, sedimentologic, structural and geochemical predictions.
I got the urge to teach and after 5 years I left Marathon Oil Co. to become a Professor of Geology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). This was during the early days of the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) when the USS Glomar Challenger was drilling and dating cores all over the world’s oceans. When I was Chief Sedimentologist aboard the two-month long DSDP cruises of Legs 9 and 33 in the Equatorial Pacific we continuously cored to oceanic basaltic basement. Legs 9 and 33 were designed to help prove or disprove Seafloor Spreading and Plate Tectonics. The data we collected and interpreted during Leg 9 proved that seafloor spreading was occurring on the Pacific Plate at a rate ranging from 8cm/yr to 13cm/yr. This was an exciting era in earth sciences and opened up the scientific world to formulating new models for the evolution of the earth’s oceans and tectonic plates through time and space.
My move from UCR to the Western Headquarters of the USGS in Menlo Park, CA occurred during the infamous 1974 Arab Oil Embargo. During this era the USGS formed a Branch of Oil and Gas Resources and hired ~50 former oil company geologists to develop a Domestic and International Energy Resource program for the USGS. The USGS allowed me the scientific freedom and budget to develop and lead large field-oriented energy research programs in the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah, Alaska, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia, Russia, Siberia and later the former USSR Republics of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This was a period in world history when the Former USSR was dissolved under President Gorbachev and became 15 separate countries. That event permitted the western world to engage in collaborative multinational energy programs in the vast areas of the former USSR.... an area that occupied almost 50% of the world’s surface. I developed a 5-year multi-million dollar field-oriented Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between the US Academy of Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences, Kazakhstan Ministry of Energy and 7 US and European oil companies (Exxon, Mobil, Eni/Agip, British Gas, BP/Amoco, Total and Royal Dutch Shell). The CRADA Program was designed to map and measure stratigraphic sections in Cambrian-Permian carbonate outcrops in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. These data were used as outcrop analogs for subsurface oil and gas exploration in coeval carbonates in the North Caspian Basin of Kazakhstan and Russia. Our collaborative CRADA research resulted in the 2000 discovery of Kashagon Oil Field, a Devonian-Permian Carbonate Seamount, that is the 3rd largest oil field in the world.
When I retired as Emeritus Geologist from the USGS in 2005 I founded Carbonate Geology LLC, an international consulting company. I well remember in 2005 when I first introduced the concepts of carbonate sequence stratigraphy to the mining industry. I gave a talk at the 2005 Geological Society of Nevada (GSN) Symposium in Reno/Sparks. My talk was, “Carbonate Sequence Stratigraphy: An exploration tool for sediment-hosted, disseminated gold deposits in the Great Basin”. I didn’t know if I would be hooted off the stage or not. Fortunately for me the GSN audience was very open to this new concept---a concept that had the potential to advance the exploration and discovery of Carlin-Type Gold Deposits. Immediately after my talk Steve Koehler, then with Placerdome at Cortez, approached me. That meeting with Steve resulted in my first consulting job in the mining industry. Placerdome owned Cortez and Bald Mountain in early 2005 but soon sold Cortez and Bald Mountain to Barrick. “Placerdome–Barrick” hired me to do a comprehensive study comparing the geologic evolution and framework of Cortez (deep-water carbonates) versus Bald Mountain (shallow water carbonates). My goal during that study was to apply the predictive value of carbonate sequence stratigraphy to understanding the genetic link between eustatic sea level low stands and deepwater debris flow and turbidite gold-hosts versus coeval shallow water gold hosts in karsted carbonates.
The last 10 years has been one of the most exciting and rewarding times in my career. It has given me the opportunity to do collaborative field and lab studies with world-class mining geoscientists and to share my background by mentoring young geoscientists. I enjoy expanding my knowledge base by consulting with a broad spectrum of companies such as Barrick, Newmont, Pilot, Marigold, Carlin Gold, U. S. Gold, Evolving Gold, Timberline, Miranda, Snowstorm, ATAC, Kaminak, Anthill and Desert Star. These studies have been conducted along the major gold trends in Nevada and Utah, including Getchell, Battle Mtn., Cortez, Carlin, Rain, Eureka, Tonkin Springs, Roberts Mountains, Independence, Bald Mtn., Rain, Emigrant, Long Canyon and Kinsley Mtns. In Canada, I have conducted surface and subsurface studies along the Yukon Territory’s ATAC Rackla Trend and developed the carbonate platform Selwyn Basin Trend for Anthill Resources. In the Northwest Territory while consulting for Kaminak I developed a Cambrian–Mississippian carbonate stratigraphic column in the context of carbonate sequence stratigraphy. I have a strong passion to advance our understanding of geology, mentoring young earth scientists and writing research papers, books and giving professional talks. To help move science forward I am a member of several geological societies. I have the great pleasure and honor to be a member of the GSN and greatly appreciate the sustained dedicated service of everyone who makes GSN the great society it is. I enjoyed being past President of the International SEPM Society of Sedimentary Geology, former American Association of Petroleum Geologists Distinguished Lecturer, former Adjunct Professor of Geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Wyoming. My most recent activity in attempting to advance the mining industry is by being a Founding Member of a new gold company in Nevada—“Osgood Mountains Gold, Inc.” Ann Carpenter is President, Bill Doerner is Chief Geophysicist and I am the Chief Geologist.
Jim Butler founded this famous former silver and gold mining town of Tonopah in about 1905. In the Shoshone language “Tonopah” means “hidden spring” or “rock that flows upward with water”. The famous Mizpah Hotel is in the background next to my right shoulder. Tonopah has about 2,500 residents and is a central Nevada hangout where geologists often meet and deals are made!
John Winton Erwin*
Erin L. Hart
Greg T. Hill
Joseph Kizis, Jr
Brooke J Miller
Justin and Ajeet Milliard
Mia (Cowgill) O'Neal
Shea Clark Smith
Roger C Steininger