Suzanne W. Nicholson
2024 Goldich Medal Recipient

It is a pleasure and honor to present the 2024 Goldich Medal to our close friend and colleague, Suzanne Nicholson, recently retired from a long and fruitful career at the U.S. Geological Survey.
Suzanne began working for the USGS as a student field assistant in 1978, and then, after completing a master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts, was hired as a full-time employee in 1981. Suzanne’s interest in the geology of the Lake Superior region began with her dissertation work with Paul Weiblen at the University of Minnesota on felsic magmatism in the Portage Lake Volcanics in Michigan, part of the Mesoproterozoic Midcontinent Rift System (MRS). This study included detailed mapping and sampling (typically big samples that had to be carried long distances) followed by major and trace element whole rock analysis and determination of a suite of radiogenic isotopes (Sr, Nd, Pb). Using modern petrologic methods, her research documented the presence of two distinct felsic magma types, one derived by partial melting of felsic basement and the other related to rift basalts through partial melting and/or fractional crystallization. Suzanne also was one of the first to provide comprehensive radiogenic isotope analyses of host basalts, documenting their distinctive isotopic character and that of their mantle sources. Her 1990 seminal publication (Nicholson, S.W., and Shirey, S.B., 1990, Midcontinent Rift volcanism in the Lake Superior region: Sr, Nd, and Pb isotopic evidence for a mantle plume origin: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 95, p. 10,851-10,868) described the unique geochemical character of rift magmatism around the Lake Superior region. Her on-going interest in MRS geochemistry culminated in the 1997 paper that established a rift-wide correlation of MRS basalts (Nicholson, S.W., Schulz, K.J., Shirey, S.B., and Green, J.B., 1997, Rift-wide correlation of 1.1 Ga Midcontinent Rift System basalts: multiple mantle sources during rift development: Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 34, p. 504-520), providing a foundation for future interpretations of MRS-related volcanic rock geochemistry. Suzanne was also a leader in advancing an understanding of the spatial-temporal evolution of MRS metallogeny (Nicholson, S.W., Cannon, W.F., and Schulz, K.J., 1992, Metallogeny of the Midcontinent Rift System of North America: Precambrian Research, v. 58, p. 355-386), further refined in a 2020 paper (Woodruff, L.G., Schulz, K.J., Nicholson, S.W., and Dicken, C.L., 2020, Mineral deposits of the Mesoproterozoic Midcontinent Rift system in the Lake Superior region - A space and time classification: Ore Geology Reviews, 103716).

Along with colleagues from the USGS, Suzanne helped produce a series of 1:100,000-scale geologic maps for the MRS and adjacent rocks from the Keweenaw Peninsula, extending through Michigan into northern Wisconsin to the Minnesota state line. These maps summarized legacy mapping and, along with new fieldwork, resulted in interpretations and correlations that are the current standard for understanding the distribution and origin of the MRS volcanic and intrusive rocks of that area. Suzanne also initiated and continues to lead an on-going cooperative government/academia effort to compile and digitize existing MRS geology, geochemistry, isotope data, and age dates that will promote and direct future research of the region. Throughout her career, Suzanne was a careful and meticulous researcher who held her own results to a very high standard for accuracy, completeness, and thoroughly documented interpretations.

Through the years, Suzanne has been a strong supporter of the Institute on Lake Superior Geology. She was a first or co-author on 17 abstracts presented at ILSG meetings from 1990 through 2019, a co-leader for two ILSG field trips, and co-editor for the 1996 Proceedings, Part 1- Program and Abstracts volume. Suzanne also was always willing and able to help with anything needed at ILSG meetings (a common trait among ILSG participants), such as acting as a session chair or serving on the student paper committee.
In 2015, Suzanne moved into increasingly responsible managerial positions within the USGS, which curtailed her direct involvement with research in the Lake Superior region. In 2020, she received the U.S. Department of Interior's second highest honorary award—the Meritorious Service Award— in recognition of her scientific leadership and noteworthy contributions to the USGS Mineral Resources Program. Suzanne retired from her position as Associate Program Coordinator for the USGS Mineral Resources Program in 2021 but was retained for 2 years as an annuitant to keep the Program on budgetary track during a time of transition. Her qualities as a scientist transferred to her administrative duties, demonstrating the same dedication and skills she brought to her research.
Now that Suzanne’s service to the Program has ended, we look forward to her return to MRS-related research as a USGS Emeritus scientist. Throughout her managerial tenure, Suzanne never lost her attachment to the Lake Superior region and was able to promote and maintain funding for ongoing regional project work for her USGS colleagues. This support resulted in many new and exciting discoveries, such as tracing the extent and nature of the Sudbury ejecta layer across Michigan and Wisconsin, and tackling legacy seismic data to help understand the tectonic-magmatic evolution of the MRS. Through her thoughtful discussions, critical reviews, cheerful field assistance, and friendship for the past 40-some years, Suzanne helped enrich the lives and careers of many people, including those of her fellow USGS MRS aficionados. We remain a convivial group and all of us look back fondly on the times we spent together in the field. Who could forget death marches across Isle Royale, or raccoons swiping rhyolite samples in the Porcupine Mountains, or six long weeks at the Hurley Holiday Inn, among our many other adventures? So now, the three of us, all former recipients of the Goldich Medal, are joined by Suzanne in that honor. In recognition of her decades of accomplishments and dedication to the geology of the Lake Superior region and to the Institute on Lake Superior Geology, it is our pleasure to present the 2024 Goldich Medal to its second female recipient, Suzanne Nicholson.

Citation by:
Laurel G. Woodruff, USGS, Goldich Medal Winner, 2014
Klaus J. Schulz, USGS, retired, Goldich Medal Winner, 2003
William F. Cannon, USGS, Emeritus, Goldich Medal Winner, 1992