US geologist sparked rush for 'invisible gold'

JOHN LIVERMORE GEOLOGIST 16-4-1918 - 7-2-2013



16-4-1918 - 7-2-2013

JOHN Livermore, an exploration geologist whose discovery of minuscule but highly valuable particles of "invisible gold" in Nevada in the early 1960s set off a modern-day gold rush in the state, has died of cancer at his Reno home. He was 94.

"He was probably the most successful exploration geologist in the last half of the 20th century," said Andy Wallace, his long-time business partner and chief executive of Cordex, a company Livermore founded in 1970 for mine exploration.

His influence on the industry was enormous, said John Dobra, a professor of natural resource economics at the University of Nevada, Reno. Government agencies "had hypothesised that microscopic gold was out there, but John actually went out and found it," Dobra said. "Most geologists never find a single mine, but John found many."

While managing an old silver mine in Eureka, Nevada, Livermore made his most important discovery after reading an obscure 1939 government report.

"The key phrase was, 'This is the type of deposit that old-timers could have missed right on the surface because it didn't pan,"' Livermore said in 2009.

His search for treasure invisible to the naked eye began at a hotel bar in Ely, Nevada, where he met Ralph Roberts, a government geologist who had written a 1960 paper about the possibility of mineral-bearing rocks in the state.

"Ralph's work gave me an outline of where to prospect instead of just walking all over the place," Livermore told USA Today in 1997.

Armed with little more than a hammer and canvas bags, he and a colleague, Alan Coope, drove to north-eastern Nevada on behalf of their employer - Newmont Mining - to collect two-kilogram rock samples in 1961.

To determine whether the rocks held riches, they needed to be subjected to a high-heat "fire assay" method of ore analysis that can measure tiny amounts of metal.

Livermore and Coope soon learnt they had struck gold. "We had no idea about the size and scope of what we'd found," Livermore recalled.

The discovery created a frenzy to rival the California gold rush of the mid-1800s, and marked the start of mechanised mining for gold that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

It eventually established northern Nevada as one of the world's premier gold districts, according to the US Mining Hall of Fame, which added Livermore to its ranks in 2000.

The find led to the first large goldmine on what became known as the Carlin Trend because it runs under Carlin, Nevada. According to Newmont, Carlin has produced about 2000 tonnes of gold, worth about $US85 billion.

Since Livermore was a Newmont employee, he "did not participate financially" in the mining that resulted from his geologic detective skills, Wallace said. But he did receive a thank-you note from the company.

Born in San Francisco, John Sealy Livermore was one of five sons of Norman Banks Livermore snr, an engineer. His mother, Caroline, was an early conservationist.

In 1952, he joined Newmont Mining, leading its exploration efforts in Canada from 1962 to 1970, when he formed Cordex and soon discovered another gold deposit in Nevada - when Cordex borrowed $US17 million to develop the Pinson deposit in the state in 1980, the company was able to repay the loan in less than 14 months, Forbes magazine reported in 1987.

The soft-spoken Livermore was tall and humble, did not own a television set and read constantly, Wallace said.

Since 1972, Livermore had lived in a condo in downtown Reno and gave most of his money away, "anonymously if possible", Wallace said. His major philanthropic gifts included endowing chairs at Stanford and the University of Nevada.

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