Mark A. Jirsa
2016 Goldich Medal Recipient

I am honored to be able to present the 2016 Goldich Medal to Mark Jirsa.  I first met Mark in 1983, when I was hired for a six month stint at the Minnesota Geological Survey.  The first time I walked into the MGS office I was immediately introduced to both Mark Jirsa and Jim Miller, and the three of us were quickly dispatched to northern Minnesota to conduct field mapping for an unusual project involving the Minnesota Waste Management Board.  I soon realized that I was working with a mapping Zen-master, and was very fortunate to have started my career with not one, but two people who are now both at the forefront of their respective areas of expertise.  It was also the beginning of a long friendship and comradery.

Mark’s career has never strayed far from Lake Superior – he earned a B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire in 1976, and an M.S. from the University of Minnesota – Duluth 1980.  His Master’s thesis was on the petrology and tectonic significance of the interflow sediments in the Keweenawan North Shore Volcanic Group of Northeastern Minnesota.  He worked a short time in northwestern Minnesota for Exxon Minerals, and then joined the Minnesota Geological Survey.  As if the ‘normal’ work load of annual stints of field mapping, compilation, and publication of geologic maps and reports isn’t enough, Mark is also the Technical Editor for every map and report that is published at the MGS.  The wide range of topics for the things he reviews – including Precambrian, Phanerozoic, and Quaternary geology, as well as hydrostratigraphy, testifies to the breadth of Mark’s geologic knowledge.

Mark has been a mainstay of the ILSG for many years – his first paper was in 1978 in Milwaukee, on the topic of his Master’s thesis.  He has probably attended every meeting since then.  As most of you know, Mark has been one of the most active and involved members of the Institute on Lake Superior Geology for many years.  He has co-chaired meetings in Minneapolis, International Falls, and Hibbing.  He has led or co-lead 13 field trips starting with Eveleth in 1993 through the most recent 2014 meeting in Hibbing, and after this meeting we can bump that total up to 15.  He has submitted over 30 abstracts for oral talks and posters, and has been session chair multiple times.  He was the Secretary-Treasurer from 1994-2002, returned as Treasurer in 2005 and still is today. He has also led field trips for GSA meetings.  If you have ever been on an ILSG trip that Mark is taking part in, you also know he has his nose right on the outcrop talking to the leaders and other participants about the rocks, not only for that stop, but for how they tie into the rest of the world.  If you are a new young member of ILSG you should stick close to Mark and ask any question you want because he will fully engage you, and to him there is no such thing as a ‘stupid question’.

However, the Goldich award is for more than just involvement with the ILSG.  It is also about one’s contribution to the geology of the Lake Superior region.  In the latter, Mark has contributed a great amount.  His work has focused mainly on deciphering the complex geology of the Archean rocks in both northern Minnesota and in the Minnesota River Valley, but he has also contributed a great deal to understanding the Paleoproterozoic terranes of Minnesota, including the east-central Minnesota batholith and environs, the Sioux Quartzite, the Biwabik and Gunflint Iron Formations, and the Sudbury ejecta deposits in Minnesota.  In all of these cases his work has benefited not only Minnesota, but has applications elsewhere in the Lake Superior region.  He has authored or co-authored more than 60 maps and reports published by the MGS, has authored or co-authored numerous publications in refereed journals, and selflessly agrees to give presentations to the public on a wide variety of topics pertaining to his work.

Mark’s latest focus is on unraveling the Timiskaming-type assemblages in northern Minnesota, which has given him cause to lead nine Precambrian Research Center capstone projects aimed at tracing and deciphering these assemblages.  These capstone projects have given dozens of aspiring geologists the opportunity to map with a great mentor.  He always found a way to sandwich these capstone projects in between all the other contractual mapping obligations of the MGS.

Mark first started at the Minnesota Geological Survey in 1979, as a Junior Geologist, and one of his first projects was making a geologic map of Paleozoic strata of the Twin Cities basin.  Fortunately for us hard rock types, he quickly moved on to what he loves, Precambrian rocks. Mark has an uncanny knack for field mapping (especially picking out graded beds!) and accompanying drill core logging.  His ability to unravel the structural attributes of everything from a single outcrop to an entire greenstone belt never ceases to amaze me.  Equally as amazing and inspirational to me is his tireless work ethic, be it long days in the field or dark winter days in the office.  I’ve never known him to knock off a day of field work because of any type of weather conditions – more than once I’ve been back indoors, warm and dry, for several hours due to atrocious field conditions, but I won’t see Mark until after dark when he comes in stomping mud off his boots telling me about some great thing he discovered that day.

Subsequent to my being hired full-time at MGS in 1987, I have worked almost continuously with Mark on a wide variety of mapping and drilling projects throughout all of the different Precambrian terranes of Minnesota.  Early on I had the job of being his field assistant, which was great fun since my main task was helping peel outcrops – and boy did we peel!  This led to other larger mapping projects where we divided up map areas, drilling projects that went through entire winters, and independent mapping projects.  During every one of these, and continuing to this day, Mark has always set the bar when it comes to initiating projects, field work, and interpreting the rocks – from the outcrop through map compilation and publication.  More than once Mark would have some idea for a grand mapping project for which my initial reaction was “Really? You think we can do that?”, then a couple of years later there it was - a finished project. 

The year 1983 was 33 years ago.  Since I am currently 56 years old, that means I have known Mark for well over half my life.  We have spent months living out of the same motel room, driving to and from field work, to ILSG meetings, etc.  I don’t know if the feeling is mutual, but I had a great time through all of it.  And my conclusion after having lived half my life with the guy is that he is most deserving of this medal.

Terry Boerboom
Precambrian Geologist
Minnesota Geological Survey