Faces of GSN

Shea Clark Smith, Geochemist Reno, Nevada (Published in March 2010 GSN Newsletter)

I’ve taken the path of the 19th Century pioneer, slowly and somewhat deliberately emigrating to the West. My life started on the Atlantic in Marblehead, MA where sailing and lobster dominate the day. My formative years, however, were spent in St. Louis, home of the Arch and Gateway to the West. I took the metaphor literally, and moved west, first to Colorado, then to Nevada in search of the ideal laboratory to test and develop biogeochemical exploration methods.

There were a few forks along this rutted trail. I took an AB degree from Colby College in Chemistry, and used that degree to journey to Ghana with the Peace Corps. I taught chemistry at Konongo-Odumasi which is the location of the Konongo Gold Mine. At the time I was more interested in the amenities, like the 9- hole golf course, swimming pool, snooker table and bar, but later came to appreciate the cross-over career opportunities of geo-Chemistry. Donald Leevers is responsible for my metamorphosis, but curiously, he retro-graded from geologist to world-renown horticulturalist with his aroma garden creations. Every life has its pivotal moments - this was mine, and that was his.

The Colorado School of Mines was my next formative step. I found myself in the company of chemists that were destined to take geochemistry in new directions. Prof. Ronald Klusman played a very important role, and I can never thank him enough. I shared classes with Paul Taufen, Robert Clark, Jeff Jaacks. These chemist-geologists developed some of the selective soil leach and soil gas methods we use today. I also worked with Harold Bloom, Hans Shacklette, Jim Erdman, and Maurice Chaffee. They helped mold my chemical-biogeochmical leanings into a geological context. But it was Sherman Marsh who put my hands on the gold pan, and guided my first field experiences in the Brooks Range, Chandalar AK.

With Houston Oil and Minerals, I applied my biogeochemical thesis to every conceivable terrain in North America. There was barely a State or Province untouched by one biogeochemical application or another, since HOMC had fifty “roving” geologists, with over 200 projects in every imaginable horst and graben, and with major presence in Nevada and Alaska. I found that the best applications of biogeochemistry were in the desert, and Nevada is where I had to be to fully test the method. So, I took a job with American Selection Trust and began my work at Alligator Ridge and its satellite deposits. We found that not only could deposits be found using biogeochemistry, but they could be located through 100+ feet of overburden.

I created MEG in 1984 and worked solidly through 1992 doing only biogeochemistry. At this time, collaborations with Colin Dunn, Ken Lovstrom, and Nancy (B. cereus) Parduhn were very instructive. As the method developed and refined, my clients and I started to develop a myriad of applications beyond mineral exploration. We are now able to map bedrock lithologies, bedrock structures, mineralization, alteration, and geothermal resources. In addition, the method has been more recently applied to ground water quality studies for municipal well development, and seismic fault mapping related to commercial development.

Global Warming [sic] has eliminated acres of vegetated terrain in the desert Southwest and Nevada due to fire. So, MEG has developed alternative geochemical methods. These include mercury and radon soil gas methods, weak soil extraction methods (CheLeach), and ever improved biogeochemical methods.

Emphasis has always focused on the four weakest links of geochemical application: sample collection, sample preparation, quality control, and interpretation. So, MEG runs its own lab dedicated to sample prep and geochemical reference standards. I give an occasional lecture or short course on data interpretation, and generally get my knuckles dirty with QAQC issues on a consulting basis.

My work and association with Nevada and the GSN has been a fulfilling career experience. If there is ever retirement, it will culminate with a text on desert applications of biogeochemistry, with footnotes related to other methods of deep seeking geochemistry, but mostly biogeochemistry.

Shea Clark Smith