Nothern Nevada teachers collecting stickleback fish fossils
For years, EP Minerals, a U.S. Silica company, has hosted the annual Nevada Mining Association's teachers workshop, touring our Clark plant and mine. This past year, 55 Northern Nevada teachers got the incredible experience of touring our plant, a historical lecture on diatomaceous earth (DE), and a mine tour, where they got to take as many DE rocks as they could carry with them to share with their students. It's always a fun group and the teachers are genuinely excited about taking what they learn back to their classes.
Last year, 48 teachers from Lyon and Churchill Counties in Northern Nevada took a grant-supported graduate-level, for-credit course called Earth Systems Matter, at the EP Minerals' Hazen, Nevada diatomaceous earth (DE) mine. This was no ordinary tour, mind you. Not only did the teachers learn about the history and geology of DE, they also got to dig for 10 million year old stickleback fish fossils. EP Minerals regularly offers this class to Nevada teachers- it’s critical that teachers go back to their classrooms and teach their students about the importance of mining and minerals in our lives.
The course is designed to enhance the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills of teachers, primarily so they can expose their students to geology, mining and minerals. Collecting stickleback fish fossils adds to their science standards and is just plain fun.
10 million year old stickleback fish fossils
EP Minerals' diatomite mine near Hazen, NV, is where Late Miocene (9-10 million year old) stickleback fish (Gasterosteus doryssus) fossils are abundant within the layered diatomite sedimentary rocks.
Every piece of rock contains thousands, even millions, of fossils since diatomite itself is composed of the fossilized skeletal remains of diatoms. Diatoms are microscopic planktonic creatures that inhabited a lake that existed here between 9 and 10 million years ago in a narrow north-south-trending fault-bounded basin, one of many that were forming in northwestern Nevada at the time, as the Basin-and-Range topography of Nevada was beginning to take shape.
Teachers worked for hours to find DE rocks that had a stickleback fish fossil inside
These lakes often hosted different species of diatoms in different lakes, for although close to each other, they did not connect like the later and much more extensive Lake Lahontan. Continuous and repeated faulting along the adjacent mountain ranges caused these basins to deepen over time and nearby volcanism provided an ample supply of silicic ash to the lakes for the diatoms to use in building their silicic tests (shells). Some diatomaceous layers are even interspersed with layers of volcanic ash. Climatic conditions were wetter than today and the lake persisted for several million years.
Two fish species were very abundant but usually occur separately: one is the killifish, Fundulus nevadensis, and the other is the stickleback, Gasterosteus doryssus.
Teachers hunt for fossils at EP Minerals' Hazen DE mine
Most Nevada diatomites are overwhelmingly composed of one species, Melosira. In its simplest form, the Melosira resembles (in miniature) straight barrels stacked one on top of another, each "barrel" was a single diatom.
The principal uses of diatomite is as filtration media to process liquids such as water, wine, beer and chemicals; as a functional filler in products such as paint plastics, rubber, and insecticides, as absorbent for cat litter and floor dry, and as a source of silica in calcium and other silicates.
The US is the world’s biggest producer of diatomite and Nevada is one of the top diatomite-producing states. Nevada produces hundreds of thousands of tons of diatomite annually, about a third of US production. EP is the top–producing company in the state and the one of the leading diatomite producing company in the world. EP Minerals has been actively producing diatomite in Nevada since the 1950s and our Lovelock plant is the world's largest producting diatomaceous earth plant. Our Vale, Oregon plant and mine are also DE mining and production operations.
We always make sure that all the teachers leave with teaching materials about diatomaceous earth, and a big sack of DE rocks. It's the best field trip around!