My charge by the Meyer Symposium Committee was to discuss the role of universities in maintaining compatibility of mining and the environment. A simple answer would be that academic economic geologists should incorporate environmental geology and geochemistry into their teaching and research. I wish that it were that simple. Fulfilling this role is complicated by several problems, the two most difficult being that, one, it is unclear that a sufficient number of academic economic geologists are interested in environmental problems (many are not tied to mining, and have interests in geochemistry and petrology), and two, it is unclear that there will be a sufficient number of economic geologists in academia in 20 years time to make any difference. The fact that such constraints exist may not be common knowledge. Therefore, a portion of this paper is devoted to defining the present status of economic geology programs in North America.
An additional aim is to address the issues academics face as they struggle to define the future make-up of earth sciences departments and curricula and their own changing role in society. Although the focus is on the field of economic geology, many of the issues are shared with other specialties in earth science. On the one hand some of us see declining enrollments, funding, and job markets, which give us a sense of doom and the idea that we need to circle the wagons and set up centers in Economic Geology. On the other hand, some of us see new opportunities for inter-disciplinary teaching and research, which gives us a sense that now is the time to break down old barriers and blur the distinctions that traditionally have been the center-points of our various professional societies. Which of these two sentiments dominates may ultimately determine not only the longevity of our specialty but also the success of the concept of sustainable resources.
I start with a brief recounting of what could be termed the "givens" of the situation, such as "mineral resources will always be needed", but "environmental issues are a major factor in mining feasibility". From here I move on to define the situation as it is today in academic programs in economic geology. I conclude with the presentation of various views of the future.
The discussion largely is restricted to the metals industry because
I know it best, and because in academia there are ten times as
many metals geologists as there are non-metals geologists (AGI,
1991). Also, many of the issues confronting the non-metals industry
are significantly different. Before beginning, I want to say that
I miss the wise council of my friend Chuck Meyer. He would have
helped us reason through the dilemmas before us.
What is the future for the specialty of economic geology? There
are several factors that would suggest that we are in fine shape.
The first is that "the number of chemical elements mined
and used in technological processes has increased steadily...and
will surely continue over the century ahead. Mining will continue
to be an essential industry. Growth in mineral production will
be driven by increased per capita consumption and increased population"
(Skinner, 1994). The second is that the specter of mineral shortages
has passed at least into the foreseeable future (Tilton et al.,
1988; Tilton, 1990). These assessments lead to the conclusion
that there will be a mining industry and a need for economic geologists
to carry out mineral exploration and development for some time
into the future (Plumlee, 1993).
But, there are several socio-political factors that are contributing
to a less-than-rosy picture for the domestic North American mining
industry and for the discipline of economic geology. As summarized
by Plumlee (1993): (1) The US and some other developed nations
are shifting away from a resource-based economy to a service economy
and no longer view mineral development as a pressing societal
need. The general populace views this shift as favorable because
it results in less environmental damage at home. (2) Environmental
concerns are a major factor in determining whether mineral deposits
will be developed and mined. Most economic geologists and mining
companies support efforts to decrease environmental degradation
due to mining, but some standards and regulations are excessive.
Regulations cited in the National Research Council (NRC) report
on "Solid Earth Sciences and Society" (NRC, 1993) illustrate
the depth of the problem. For example, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency set the allowable zinc content of effluent from
mines at 1/3 the concentration of normal ground waters that exist
throughout the lead-zinc province of the U.S. mid-continent. Another
example given is that the State of California and the International
Agency for Research on Cancer have placed quartz, the second most
common mineral found on the surface of the Earth, on its list
of carcinogens (NRC, 1993). Additional negative factors include:
(3) The abandonment of the effort by Congress to re-write the
mining law of 1872 is not the end of this chapter; the war continues
and the adversary position taken by many politicians, environmental
groups, and the mining industry continues. For example, the present
result has been called by Representative George Miller, a California
Democrat, "terribly unfortunate": it showed a "lack
of good faith by the industry" in the negotiations. Mr. Miller
went to say that he hoped that the Congress would now "consider
using other tools against the mining industry" (italics
mine, New York Times, Sept., 1994). (4) The end of the cold war,
the shift of centrally controlled economies to capitalism and
privatization, the positive change in foreign tax laws and foreign
government regulations on mining, all have had the effect of opening
up new regions beyond our shores.
The shift toward a service-based economy, environmental pressures,
threats of adverse changes in the mining law, and the opening-up
of foreign countries that had been closed to exploration, all
have combined to affect major changes in how the mining and academic
community do business.
Foreign Countries More Prospective, Jobs are Shifting Overseas
"The current spread of exploration and development overseas are economically healthy reactions to domestic constraints" (Joklik, 1994). Domestic constraints include more than environmental constraints, because the latter exist to varying degrees world-wide. An additional constraint is that mining companies recognize that at the present time the U.S. is less prospective than some foreign countries, especially in South America and Asia. Many of the countries on these continents have long been shut to mineral exploration because of political instability and/or unfavorable tax laws. This has changed and now the odds are better there because these countries are unexplored by today's standards. As the mining industry turns its attention overseas, the mining-related job-market within the U.S. has declined. Students are looking for jobs overseas, but there the mining companies are hiring mostly local geologists.
But looking into the future, some conclude that these odds will
change and the shift will be back to our shores (McLaren and Skinner,
1987). When the outcropping ores of the world are all mined out,
we will be relying on a detailed understanding of the structure
and rock types of the subsurface to find hidden mineral deposits
located many 100s of meters to kilometers below the surface. Where
better can an understanding of shallow crustal structure be achieved
than in the developed countries, where there already exists a
significant understanding and where there is the technology.
USGS Cutback in Resource Studies
The above pressures also have brought about parallel changes within
the U.S. Geological Survey:
"In the 115-year history of the USGS, the decrease in priority
for locating assessing, and understanding the processes of the
origins of mineral deposits is a major change. This nation doesn't
have a minerals shortage problem now, nor is one foreseeable.
Other developed nations like Japan and Germany have demonstrated
the capacity to get along without their own mineral resources.
The industrial revolution is over and the cold war is over."
(G.P. Eaton, in Molnia, 1994).
Some may disagree with this view, in that it ignores the positive
economic and social benefits of domestic mining, and it ignores
the fact that the U.S. is more prospective than either Japan or
Germany. For example, Rose and Eggert (1988) concluded that the
value of discoveries in the U.S. from 1955 to 1980 averaged about
$30 billion per five-year period with no clear upward or downward
trend. Since 1980, numerous new and highly profitable precious
metal deposits have been discovered and mined in this country.
Since 1980, a significant number of the southwestern U.S. porphyry
copper districts have seen major increases in copper reserves
(e.g., Bingham, Utah; Ray and Bagdad, Arizona; Ely (Robinson),
The factors that I have briefly outlined have led to the following: enrollments in, and funding for, economic geology programs in the US are declining. As a consequence, economic geology curricula also are shrinking. These trends are leading to widespread pessimism about the future of the discipline. Can we reverse these trends? How do we do it? Before I explore the possibilities, I need to establish the present status of Academia, particularly with respect to economic geology.
In order to acquire some data on the status of academia, I mailed
a questionnaire to 127 faculty who listed general economic geology
(101), economic geology of metals (103), or exploration geochemistry
(204) as their specialty in the 1991 American Geological Institute
Directory of North American Geoscience Departments (AGI, 1991).
Fifty-eight or 46 percent responded to the questionnaire,
representing 52 schools in 6 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces
(Table 1). This questionnaire will be referred to as "Questionnaire:
Economic Geology-94" (QEG-94).
Specialization of academic economic geologists. In order to determine what "economic geologists" do besides study mineral deposits, QEG-94 asked that individuals rank their top three or four specialties using the AGI specialty codes (Table 2).
Seven percent of the respondents listed none of the AGI "economic geology" codes (general, metals, non-metals, or exploration geochemistry), indicating that 7 % of the population has already shifted their research emphasis since 1991, perhaps in response to decreasing enrollments and funding in economic geology. One respondent stated that many economic geologists now are pursuing research that is only peripherally involved with ore deposits because they have needed to find alternate sources of funding for their research and for the maintenance of laboratories, or because they are worried about the job market for their students. Five (or 9 %) listed environmental geology as one of their top three specialties, and 13 (or 22%) listed environmental geology, hydrogeology, or low-temperature aqueous geochemistry as one of their top three specialties.
The bulk of respondents (84%) listed economic geology as their first, second, or only specialty. Seventy-one percent indicated a first or second specialty other than economic geology. Roughly 31 percent consider themselves geochemists and 13 percent consider themselves petrologists/mineralogists (Table 2). This result is not too surprising except for the lack of important representation by structural geology and hydrogeology. In conclusion, most economic geologists view themselves as geochemists and petrologists first or second, and very few are specializing in environmental aspects of mining, although at least 22 percent have the tools to tackle this subject. With time, some interest in environmental research may emerge in this group, for funding reasons if no other.
Level of experience in the mining industry. Industry experience
has in the past been held as the key to success as a teacher of
economic geology. The rationale is that one can't teach about
ore deposits unless one has spent time as a mine geologist and
mineral explorationist. This view no longer appears to be held
by search committees in academia, as evidenced by the fact that
40 percent of the QEG-94 respondents have no industry experience
and 62 percent have three years or less. Only 16 percent have
8 or more years of industry experience. If viewed in the context
of time, 50 percent of new faculty hired during the period 1965-1977
had 5 or more years of experience in the mining industry (Fig.
1). In contrast, 25 percent of faculty hired during the period
1977-1990 had 3-4 years of industry experience and the remainder
had less. This shift took place shortly after the time when geochemistry,
especially the study of light stable isotopes and fluid inclusions,
was taking-off: 1975 marks the beginning of the "new"
economic geology, more geochemically-oriented than mining- and
exploration-oriented. It may also mark the beginning of a decline
of joint research projects with the mining industry and the decline
in mapping ore deposits as an integral part of ore deposits research.
Undergraduate Geology Majors. To understand the trends in graduate student populations, one has to consider undergraduates first as these represent the pool of graduate student candidates. Enrollment of undergraduate majors in the U.S. peaked in 1981-83. In departments with large undergraduate enrollments between 100 and 450 in the early 80s, the results of QEG-94 indicate that the mean dropped 65 percent (from 184 to 64) from 1985 to 1990 and then increased 38 percent (to a mean of 88) in 1994. Smaller departments, with enrollments between 40 and 100, appear to be more able to maintain stable enrollments: these suffered less of a drop ( -47%) and many have risen back almost to former levels (+44%). Total undergraduate majors have declined 40 percent in the past decade, but an upward trend is clear in the last five years (Table 3), largely the result of increases in enrollment in environmental programs.
Earth Sciences Graduate Students. The increase in undergraduate majors in the past 5 years is not seen at the graduate level: the decline continues, but at low percentages and mostly at the MS level (Table 3). Results of QEG-94 indicate that total MS enrollments over the past decade have dropped 37 percent, while Ph.D. enrollments have remained steady, reflecting the lack of jobs except for the highly competent and better-trained individuals (not necessarily "specialists").
Economic Geology Graduate Students. The trends during the past decade in graduate student population in economic geology are similar to those in the earth sciences in general, but they are accentuated. MS student population has sharply declined 59 percent while the Ph.D. population has stayed relatively stable (Table 3).
In contrast with the sharp decline of graduate students in economic
geology, MS students enrolled in Environmental Earth Science programs
have increased 82 percent in the past decade (Table 3).
Teaching and Research
Trends in teaching by economic geology faculty. That declining enrollments in economic geology at the graduate level cause a decline in the teaching of economic geology is supported by QEG-94 results. During the same decade that total graduate students in economic geology dropped 48 percent, the number of introductory and advanced courses in economic geology dropped 20 percent (Table 4). In the same period introductory and advanced courses in environmental geology and geochemistry increased 180 percent. Only a small number of these environmental courses have been taken on by economic geology faculty, as the time devoted to teaching this subject increased from an average of 2 percent in 1985-90 to 10 percent in 1990-94 (Table 5). This increase roughly matches the decrease in time dedicated to teaching economic geology.
An important part of teaching economic geology is taking students to visit mineral deposits and operating mines. This long-held tradition unfortunately is on the wane: the total number of deposits visited by faculty with students declined from 289 in 1984/5 to 161 in 1993/4, a decline of 44 percent. If this trend continues, in ten years we will visit no deposits.
Partnership with Industry. Forty-eight percent of respondents to QEG-94 indicated that their partnership with industry was either non-existent (20 %) or cordial but without any funding support or real interest (28 %). In this group, three commented on the different goals or mission of industry relative to academia. The different time-scales of industry (projects lasting 3-6 months) versus academia (projects lasting 2-6 years) is particularly difficult to overcome. Three respondents indicated that they felt geographically disadvantaged in that mining had left their states. But the most common theme was the sense of a lack of interest in research on the part of the mining industry (unfortunately, this perception likely is based on lack of communication or different definitions regarding what constitutes "research").
Twenty-four percent of respondents held a neutral position on the question of partnership: that is, access to properties is fine, support is declining, yet there is some hope. The most positive group, represented by 28 percent of respondents, indicated that their partnership with industry was very good to generally excellent, with significant funding of projects and cooperative research programs. I suspect that those who have strong partnerships with industry are those who work at it, as suggested by the correlation between the degree to which faculty initiate research proposals to industry and their level of industry funding. These people have learned how to package their proposals in such a way that they are attractive to industry, while at the same time giving themselves the latitude to follow their own research interests.
Research Funding. Effective research funding means that you raise enough money from external sources that you can fund the research of yourself and of your graduate students. External sources are needed because most departments do not have the endowment necessary to support tuition and living costs for all of their graduate students. In 1994 the average tuition and living costs at private and public universities was $18,784 and $8,990, respectively, according to the College Board. Research costs commonly raise these figures to over $20,000/student/year. Are professors of economic geology meeting these costs? Thirty-three of the respondents to QEG-94 reside in schools with graduate-level programs. If we look at the results from these schools (Fig 2), we see that only 25 percent of academic economic geologists raise more than $15,000/student/year, and 60 percent raise less than $12,000/student/year.
Where is this money coming from and what are the trends in level
of funding over the past decade? Because funding levels have their
ups and downs, QEG-94 asked for average annual figures for two,
five-year, periods: 1985-89 and 1990-94. Overall, the federal
government funds 50 percent, the mining industry 39 percent, and
state and provincial governments 9 percent of economic geology
research in universities. Total funding from the federal government
has declined 9 percent (in deflated dollars) over 5 years, whereas
total funding from industry has remained constant (Table 6). In
terms of total dollars, the situation would look even worse if
calculated on the basis of academic inflation, which is significantly
higher than national inflation (in 1994, tuition inflation was
6%, twice the national rate). However, given that the number of
graduate students in economic geology has declined at a faster
rate than total funding, the net result is that annual per capita
funding, adjusted for inflation, has increased 13 percent over
the past decade.
Employment of graduates of economic geology programs in North
America has followed prediction. Employment of students from the
Stanford program in the late 70's and early 80's was dominated
by government and academia (53% of students). A decade later,
in the period 1985-94, environmental companies hired 20 percent
of Stanford economic geology students, and major declines occurred
in hiring by government and academia (26 % of students). Throughout
these decades, the mining industry has hired 50 percent of Stanford
economic geology graduates. This Stanford history may be a general
one, as the employment distributions for this past decade based
on QEG-94 (Fig. 3a) are nearly identical; environmental companies
and mining companies are hiring away from government and academia.
Of the total geoscientists graduating at all levels in North America
in 1993/94 (AAPG, 1994), the mining industry hired less than 1
percent, whereas environmental companies hired 55 percent (Fig.
Aging of the Faculty. The "graying of the faculty" is a general problem throughout U.S. academia, due to a decline in hiring abetted by the absence of a mandatory retirement age. Results of a survey by the American Geological Institute (AGI, 1987) indicated that 49.4 percent of earth science faculty respondents were 50 or older and only 12.5 percent were under 35. In economic geology the age distribution is even more worrisome: the results of QEG-94 indicate that 55.2 percent of respondents are age 50 or older, and only 3.4 percent are under 35. Eighty percent of academic economic geologists are 15 or more years beyond the Ph.D. (Fig. 4). The majority of these faculty were hired during the period 1970-1980 (Fig. 5); within the schools represented by QEG-94 only three new faculty in economic geology have been hired since 1987.
Continuity of Economic Geology Programs. Eight (or 7%) of North American geoscience departments cite economic geology as one of their top 3 strengths (AAPG, 1994). This is in contrast with 20 (or 16%) of non-North American departments citing economic geology as a top strength. It may be that Economic Geology as an academic discipline, like mining and mining-related jobs, is moving off-shore. The top strengths listed by North American schools include stratigraphy/sedimentology (48 or 44% of schools) and environmental geology (35 or 32%).
In response to the QEG-94 question "will you be replaced on retirement?", 77 percent of respondents stated that they would not or almost certainly would not be replaced (Fig. 6). Only 4 percent stated that they probably would be replaced with another economic geologist. If these numbers are representative of academic programs in Economic Geology in North America, then a virtual shut-down of these programs will take place during the next few decades. In ten years we will be down 25 percent, in 20 years down 55 percent (Fig. 7). And, even worse for academically-inclined economic geology students, the first job opening in the schools represented by this survey will occur in 2005, and three more openings will occur by the year 2010. We have already seen this happen in Europe, "where some of the institutions with the greatest traditions in mining no longer have programmes in ore deposits geology" (Naldrett, 1991).
I have reviewed the status of academic programs in economic geology.
The rationale for doing so is that if academia cannot maintain
a representation of economic geologists on their faculty, then
not only will there be a lack of professionals for mineral exploration,
but, more importantly in the context of the environment, also
there will be a decline in the expertise in the geology and mineralogy
of ore deposits that is necessary for solving environmental issues
related to past and future mining. The conclusion of this review
is that economic geology is in serious academic trouble. Is there,
therefore, something afoot in American universities, especially
in earth science departments, that might allow a strengthening
of this discipline?
The Recent Past
The role of Universities is to "to qualify students for personal
success and direct usefulness in life" (Leland Stanford)
by transmitting a passion for learning, conveying the excitement
of a subject through its ideas, and illustrating the approaches
to problem-solving by rigorous example. There was a time when
justification of this role was unnecessary. Funding to achieve
these goals was plentiful. The relevance of a given piece of curiosity-driven
research or of a given course was not questioned. Those days are
gone, likely for as far into the future as anyone would care to
predict, and research and teaching now need to be "packaged
and sold" on the basis of national and global societal concerns.
Present Constraints and Future Roles.
Cost-efficiency, pragmatism, job markets, professional degrees: these are the driving forces at work in Universities today as they face cutbacks in federal research funding, slashed budgets, the ever-increasing costs of already costly degrees, a shrinking job market for graduates, and a public increasingly suspicious of "research". Additional factors beyond the control of universities that are contributing to a slow-down in productivity and increased costs include, for example, State-imposed procedures for health and safety and elaborate procedures for approval of consulting. One can argue about the net benefit of such procedures, but not about their additional costs.
But there are other themes at work in Universities that are more intellectually challenging and exciting. Not only must we cut costs and streamline our bureaucracy, but also we must take a hard look at how we conduct research and teach our students.
Multidisciplinary Studies - Breaking Boundaries. Advances in science and technology combined with the end of the cold war are leading some researchers in academia to work as part of multi-disciplinary and multi-national teams to solve major questions that are increasingly global in scope, whether they be regional tectonics, geologic hazards, or global change. Traditional boundaries between disciplines are gradually breaking down and new disciplines are emerging. There are numerous examples: the best known is the "discipline" of earth system science, emerging through the integration of geology, geochemistry, oceanography, atmospheric science, civil engineering, biology, and economics. Some label "earth systems" as a fad that will soon disappear. Yet, earth systems has already proved its viability, the issues being addressed are among the most exciting research avenues of today, and these problems will not go away.
Blending of Curiosity-driven and Applied Science. The tension between the basic and the applied is what led Charles Park and later Dick Jahns at Stanford University to establish a Department of Applied Earth Sciences, separate from the Geology Department, in the 1960's, and to strengthen it through the 70's. It was their firm belief that applied disciplines such as economic geology or hydrogeology could not survive in a traditional geology department; that there was a basic incompatibility between the visions of these two groups in terms of funding priorities and staffing, and that the basic science people would dominate to the detriment of the applied. In those days they probably were right.
Today, the basic and applied are blending in some universities. At Stanford we have merged Geology and Applied Earth Sciences into one department. We also have created a new undergraduate program in Earth Systems that investigates coupled geological, biological and social processes (with an ecologist/population biologist as Director). At Harvard, a new concentration in Environmental Science and Public Policy has been established with Ulrich Petersen (an economic geologist) as Head Tutor. At the University of Pennsylvania, the new president, Judith Rodin, in an interview with the New York Times (Oct 20, 1994. p. A16), stated that she is striving to "build a seamless interface between the theoretical and the applied". It is too early to judge how successful these efforts will be, but there is change in the air.
The New Curricula. The educational recommendations of the
NRC's recent report reflect the theme of the seamless interface:
"1. Conventional disciplinary courses should be supplemented with more comprehensive courses in earth system science. Such courses should emphasize the whole Earth, interrelationships and feedback processes, and the involvement of the biosphere in geochemical cycles.
2. New courses need to be developed to prepare students for increased employment and research opportunities in such areas as hydrology, land use, engineering geology, environmental and urban geology, and waste disposal. Such courses will be necessary to prepare students for changing careers in both the extractive industries and environmental areas of the earth sciences. No longer are these two areas separate, as mineral and energy resources need to be exploited in environmentally sound ways.
3. Colleges and universities should explore new educational
opportunities that bridge the needs of earth science and engineering
departments. This need arises from the growth of problems
related to land use, urban geology, environmental geology and
engineering, and waste disposal. The convergence of interests
and research is striking, and the classical subject of engineering
geology could become a significant redefined area of critical
importance to society" (NRC, 1993, p. 9).
Have earth scientists heard these themes before? Of course we have! Mostly, these ideas have come from the resource industries, rather then the halls of academe. In the oil companies and the mining companies, the concept of teamwork has proven to be the key to success. In 1980, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists published "Synergism in Exploration", in which several authors described the multi-disciplinary communication necessary for effective teamwork (Jain and de Figueiredo, 1980). Roy Woodall of Western Mining Corporation has presented numerous lectures on this subject over the past 10 years (Woodall, 1984, 1993). Thomasson (1994) summarized these themes once again, and handed out a report card to the universities based on their progress toward teaching "integrated geosciences". Seven percent rated "good", 13 percent rated "fair", 47 percent rated "poor", and 33 percent flunked. Academia appears to be hearing the message, but change is slow and difficult.
Change is slow and difficult because, as put by Groat (1994),
"The geosciences can be characterized as a collection of
fragmented specialties, each with its own professional society
and proud of its independence. Traditional academic geoscience
departments are a collection of specialists determined to protect
and advance their individual pieces of turf. ...This spirit ...
could be the chief deterrent to a prominent role for geoscience-based
research...in the coming decades".
Groat concludes that "the academy must consider new structures
that blur disciplinary boundaries and that create an environment
that facilitates collaborative teaching and research".
How and where does economic geology fit into the view of the future
as just expressed? It will fit very well indeed, but only if we
academic economic geologists realize the opportunities and challenges
of the future rather than focus on the past.
Are "Key Centers" the Answer?
Most academic programs in economic geology today are one-man shows. As the faculty member retires and is not replaced, that program disappears. One commonly proposed solution to this problem is the idea of the "Key center". As expressed by two respondents to QEG-94,
"We will probably have to designate some centers of excellence in Economic Geology and keep them tooled up and staffed",
"I have already recommended to my Chairperson that on my
retirement or resignation my faculty position should not go to
an Economic Geologist. There should be a limited number of quality
centers of economic geology research and teaching (monasteries
where novitiates spend long hours keeping the ore deposits faith
alive; this gives a whole new meaning to "metalloGenesis");
each center with the critical mass of people and resources to
maintain a high quality research program and the essential contacts
In my view, "key centers" are only a partial solution, and even as a partial solution they will have to be set up in such a way as to be fully integrated with other specialties and not exclusively focused on the mining industry. Economic geologists in academia should want to be associated with and interact with the best group of geochemists, petrologists, oceanographers, hydrogeologists, and neotectonicists that they can find. The risk in establishing "key centers" is isolation of economic geologists from the rest of the academic world at a time when interdisciplinary studies and the breaking of barriers is what is needed. Why not establish "Centers in Crustal Fluids"?
A variation on the theme of Key Centers is to argue that there
are two tracks in economic geology: one is exploration-oriented
and the other is research-oriented and "the two deserve different
curricula at the graduate level and probably at different institutions"
(Adams, 1993). I do not support this view, as it separates the
exploration-oriented students from the area of greatest vitality:
the research environment. The best professionals, irrespective
of the track they take, are those who are process-oriented, have
been challenged by conducting original research, and are multidisciplinary
Specialists or Generalists?
Underlying the concept of key centers is the idea, expressed by one respondent to my questionnaire, that "exploration requires more highly trained specialists each year". But is this the best approach to ensuring that our students are qualified for personal success and direct usefulness in life when one thing we can predict is that their lives will be confronted with shifting demands?
The group of QEG-94 respondents that argued for a generalist training was far more persuasive in my view. Six respondents cited the view that generalists are better equipped to deal with the uncertainties of future careers and frequent job changes. Two of these respondents stated:
"Generalists with a high degree of competence have a longer half-life than specialists in today's unpredictable world (the half-life of an isotope geochemist is about 10 yrs). Enrollments can increase if you persuade students of the general applicability of studies in economic geology",
"There is no way that a specialist can be trained for a career's productive work. Specialties come and go; good geoscientists remain."
To these statements I add the conclusion of the NRC:
"A narrow focus on job training will eventually require a
massive effort to retrain graduates as the needs of the nation
change. In contrast, a strong background in the basic sciences
will give a student the breadth and flexibility to acquire skills
in related developing areas" (NRC, 1993).
Bridging with Other Disciplines.
Economic geology commonly is referred to as "derivative discipline". I prefer to refer to it as an "integrative discipline", one which encompasses all those natural processes that lead to an economically viable concentration of materials. As such, it is as broad as the whole of earth sciences. But, in many ways economic geologists have not capitalized on this breadth. Which other discipline integrates the details of field observations, petrology, mineralogy, geochemistry, structural geology, and geophysics to understand fluid flow and mass transfer in the upper crust? One of the opportunities identified by the NRC as a critical research area is "crustal fluids": economic geologists invented this discipline centuries ago. The fact that no one realizes this means that we are not doing our job. We are not talking to geophysicists and geochemists. Why is it that geothermal reservoir engineers and petroleum engineers believed until recently that fluid flow was through "porous media" rather than through fractured rocks? Because we are not talking to reservoir engineers! Why is it that at Summitville the cyanide leach pad was located in an area of acid groundwater draining from an area of advanced argillic alteration? Because we are not talking to mining engineers! Economic geologists have to do a better job of communicating the excitement and applicability of their studies to a wide variety of earth science problems. This means bridging with other disciplines. Which other disciplines?
Some argue that by integrating environmental concerns into our discipline, the continued vitality and societal relevance of economic geology will be assured (Plumlee, 1993). I strongly support this integration as a partial solution. An example of environmental integration is provided by the USGS as it develops "environmental-geology models" for a diversity of deposit types (Plumlee, 1994). The goal of the models is to combine the geologic characteristics of ore deposits with quantitative models of groundwater flow, natural acid generation and consumption, and metal dispersion in the near-surface. The models can be used in both remediation of past mining and in predicting the effects of future mining. In remediation, the models serve to establish the environmental conditions that existed prior to mining so that remediation is aimed at returning the site to a prior baseline rather than to an arbitrary pristine condition. In prediction, the models would help to identify realistic remediation goals for future mining projects and to identify those prospects that should not be developed because they would present too great an environmental hazard.
Additionally, a wealth of contributions can be made by cross-fertilization
of economic geology with other specialties. Research in economic
geology relates directly to priority research areas identified
by the NRC that integrate basic scientific understanding of processes
with maintaining sufficient resources and minimizing environmental
degradation (Table 7). For example, the study of supergene enrichment
and secondary dispersion of metals can contribute both to paleoclimatology
and to establishing pre-mining base lines for environmental quality.
"An explorationist's dispersion train is equivalent to an
environmentalist's pollution plume" (Thompson, 1992). The
study of hydrothermal systems can contribute to understanding
crustal fluids and global geochemical cycles as well as to the
recognition of environmentally hazardous ore-types. Data on the
longevity of hydrothermal systems through the detailed study of
ore deposits contribute to understanding crustal dynamics and
rates of geologic processes in oceanic and continental lithosphere.
Role of Industry
The future of economic geology depends not only on its practitioners
in academia, but also on those in the mining industry. Academics
cannot carry on alone; they need the support of the mining industry.
Industry support of academic programs can take many forms. Summer
jobs are an important learning experience and source of inspiration
for students. Industry funding of student research on operating
properties and exploration areas, if carefully crafted, can yield
important data and new insights at relatively low cost. Graduate
fellowships to cover tuition and cost-of-living during the academic
year should be viewed as investments in the future. The industry
needs to make a commitment to hire and train young economic geologists
directly out of graduate school, rather than relying so heavily
on the aging pool of contract geologists to do jobs that young
professionals can handle. Industry geologists should consider
visiting campuses where they have ties (e.g., alma mater, local
college or university) to speak to students and professors, to
discuss the roles of modern economic geologists in industry, and
to convey their excitement about the scientific challenges they
The Bottom Line
The view of the future is hazy, but one thing is clear: in order for Universities to make a contribution to maintaining compatibility of mining and the environment, they must maintain faculty who study ore deposits. An understanding of ore deposits forms the basis for understanding the environmental consequences of outcropping ores at the Earth's surface and the environmental impacts of mining them.
Integration of environmental geology into our discipline of economic geology is not the sole answer. In order that fields related to the mining industry are included in the future make-up of earth science departments, faculty members in economic geology have to join the multi-disciplinary earth science community. This challenge is not restricted to economic geologists: in speaking of geology in general, Hawthorne (1993) stated: ìIf we do not change, we are going to lose even what we have now, let alone what we have the potential to becomeî.
Specialist versus Generalist, Independence versus Integration, Job Training versus Professional Flexibility. You make the choice, and you determine the future.
Acknowledgments: I thank all the respondents
to QEG-94, and Mark Barton, Larry Meinert, Naomi Oreskes, and
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