Ellie Leavitt

Ellie Leavitt

Member Biography I grew up in the wilds of Connecticut in a big family, enough for a baseball team. I enjoyed childhood in the countryside surrounded by meadows, woods, and brooks. Our flatlander ways were reformed on summer vacations in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where we hiked from hut to hut clad in shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers with poncho and wool sweaters for rain and cold. On our very first hike to Madison Hut, we reached a ridge at tree line as it was growing dark and stormy and paused to read a sign that said: “STOP, the area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure. Even in the Summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad.” Shrugging we continued on to the hut for supper, slept on metal bunks under wool blankets, and continued the Presidential traverse the next day. My time in the White Mountains and skiing to survive New England winters provided a background for a career in earth science.

My formal geology education began at Middlebury College where weekly earth science labs took place outdoors. My first lab (Oceanography) met on a small boat on Lake Champlain. One structure lab was held in James Pasture where we tried to decipher multiple episodes of deformation exposed in a several outcrops no more than a square meter in size. Plate tectonics taught by Peter Coney, and igneous petrology by John Creasy provided macro- to micro-views of earth and a decent foundation in geology. My undergraduate thesis was a petrologic study of a composite ring dike in the White Mountain batholith. A field visit by Marland P. Billings (my advisor’s advisor) and more importantly his wife, Katharine (Kay) Fowler-Billings, commonly known as one of the earliest female geologists with an impressive record of research, teaching and publication was, at the time, an unappreciated honor. Dr. Fowler-Billings was the only professional female geologist to join me in the field until many years later; female geologists remained an anomaly far too long. After graduation and a brief stint at the USGS in Woods Hole, then teaching skiing and outdoor education, I headed to the University of Oregon to study volcanology and igneous petrology (the brochure looked interesting!).

Eugene was a dramatic shift from Vermont, and skiing was much too far from campus. There I met my husband Jim in one of my first classes, “The Geology of Oregon.” He encouraged me to sign up for a weekend field trip; I showed up bright and early Saturday morning, climbed into the van, but lo and behold, no Jim (overslept). The following year, I took a three-month sabbatical from the rain and worked as a geotech for a geophysics company on a microearthquake survey along the rift zones on the big island of Hawaii for geothermal resources. We individually hauled and placed portable seismometers along the rift zones. Each day we collected records from the drums then moved the seismometers to their next locations. The more remote telemetry stations required a tall antenna and two car batteries – not a light pack! By the last month we had progressed to the dry side of the island, the sites were relatively accessible, and we were off to the beach by afternoon. Unfortunately I was there during one of the quietest periods within the last 40 years, and did not see an eruption. Upon return to Eugene I completed my M.S. thesis on the geology and petrology of Three Fingered Jack, a High Cascade Volcano in Central Oregon.

After finishing my Masters I headed to Missoula where Jim and I worked for Noranda in the early 1980’s. We spent several years in the northwestern US carrying out grass roots exploration for volcanic-hosted precious metal deposits. From there we moved to Tucson and branched into sedimentary- and shear-zone hosted systems as well. Our son Wil was born in Tucson and soon afterwards we were transferred to Reno. I continued working part-time for Noranda (review of property files and landwork) and then for SRK (environmental permit writing for Debbie Struhsacker) and EMA (more environmental permitting; precursor to EM Strategies). Our daughters Julia and Jenny were born and I continued part-time, flexible work. In the early ‘90s, during our first major down-cycle, Jim was laid off, but landed a job with the USGS mission in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Rather than trying to get by on short gigs and part-time flexible, we sold our house, the car, lots of stuff including a truck and down jacket to Greg Maynard, left our dogs with my dad in Connecticut, and headed to the Middle East.

Our time in the Kingdom turned out to be shorter than expected. It turned out to be a positive, though somewhat controlled, adventure. While I tutored, took a correspondence course in Hydrogeology, and ran in long pants, the kids attended school and made a new group of culturally diverse friends from all over the world. We snorkeled in the Red Sea, traveled when possible, and made life-long friends. Timing is everything; the USGS implemented RIF’s (reduction in force’s) our second year, so off we went, not sure where to until the last minute – not Almaty, Skelleftea, Denver, but Reno. This time we settled on the other side of town (it was still small). I was not sorry to be back behind the wheel.

Eventually I landed a part-time job with Homestake, where Richard Bedell had spotted my resume and hired me to help with databases. The job evolved into compilation of geology, terranes, and deposits, utilizing existing databases, and construction of time slices in MapInfo. Gerald Heston, the MapInfo guru, urged me to try out a course at UNR where he was a student. At UNR I enrolled in Cordilleran Tectonics taught with Rich Schweickert; the course tied in well with the research. As many fun geology jobs do, it came to an abrupt end. Just before another industry down-turn I enrolled at UNR for a Ph.D. in Geology and focused on economic geology and the Ken Snyder/Midas deposit for my dissertation. I received funding through a grant from UNR/Franco-Nevada as well as WAIMEE (thanks to D.D. Lapointe), GSA, and SEG. Invaluable encouragement and guidance from Midas geo’s Patrick Goldstrand and Jack Bernard, and my advisor Greg Arehart remain much appreciated. I enjoyed the research, and published the first portion, the geochronology of Midas, in Economic Geology. Additional chapters on the alteration and geochemistry were published in the 2005 GSN Symposium volumes. The final chapters describing the paragenesis and additional exploration vectors to precious metal veins remain in the dissertation (with a $20 bill). Hope to publish those someday (see bucket list below).

The kids and I graduated, they went off to college, and in 2005 I was brought into the fold of GSN accepting the position of VP. I appreciated the opportunity to organize two field trips: one to the Long Valley Caldera – volcanology and natural resources with Steve Lipshie’s guidance and guides – and one to the lesser known western north-central Nevada rift and associated deposits and occurrences. My role as VP was followed by that as President, an honor and worthwhile endeavor.

During and after completion of my Ph.D. from UNR I worked for a number of minerals exploration companies including Newmont, Western Energy Development Corp., Rio Fortuna and Bravada, Rare Element Resources, Barrick and Canamex Resources while exploring for a variety of commodities - precious metals, uranium, and rare earths. I held positions ranging from geotech to chief geologist on grass roots to prefeasibility projects, and carried out mapping, regional rock-chip and silt-sampling, drilling, logging, and pretty much anything else that needed doing.

After a slow spell in consulting work I took a job with NDEP-Bureau of Mining Regulation and Reclamation in 2017. Finally a job with benefits and I get to delve into yet another side of the exploration and mining business. I’ve had the opportunity to inspect Carlin trend and other smaller mines and properties throughout Nevada, and am encouraged by the professionalism and dedication of people on both the regulatory and operational sides of the equation. I’ll admit I keep a growing bucket list next to my computer, with more big plans - to ski, cycle, hike, travel, etc. - than time. Fortunately my list remains possible with a supportive husband and family, professional and friend network, and organizations like GSN.




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