A lateral thinker long before the term was coined, Harry Warren applied his intellectual curiosity and scientific mind to the field of geochemistry, where he made remarkable contributions to prospecting and mineral exploration. He was a pioneer in a discipline which came into its own, to a large extent, through his efforts. In his special area of research—bio-geochemistry, of which he is acknowledged as the founding father—he studied the metal content of plants and vegetation as a guide to buried mineral deposits. From his findings, he went on to propose the now-recognized connection between trace elements and the environment and health.
Born in Anacortes, Washington, Warren received from the University of British Columbia a bachelor of arts degree in 1926 and a science degree the following year. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, receiving a master’s degree in 1928 and a doctorate in 1929. An avid sportsman, he represented Canada in the 1928 Olympics as a sprinter.
After research work in California, Warren was appointed in 1932 as a lecturer in the geology department at the University of British Columbia. He rose to professor by 1945, a post he held until 1973 when he was named Honorary Professor and Professor Emeritus. As a teacher, he imparted his great passion and enthusiasm for geology, geochemistry and the discovery of mineral deposits to hundreds of students.
While his academic contributions were substantial, Warren is most remembered for his accomplishments in geochemistry. Adapting and developing techniques in analytical chemistry, largely in association with colleague Dr. Robert Delavault, he investigated the occurrence and distribution of trace elements in a wide range of soils, rocks, vegetation and even fish. The dispersion of minor amounts of metals in these hosts indicate the potential for near-surface mineral deposits and the technique has since been successfully applied to mineral exploration by mining companies and prospectors.
During his active life, he published 198 articles and scientific papers, of which 140 were of direct interest to the prospector.
Though an academic, Warren devoted much of his energy to helping the prospector—from designing simple analytical tests that could be used in the field to teaching prospector training courses to heading up the British Columbia & Yukon Chamber of Mines. He also acted as a consultant in exploration technology for a number of mining companies.
Warren has been recognized for his contributions to prospecting by the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada and is a recipient of the prestigious H.H. “Spud” Huestis award for excellence in prospecting and mineral exploration.
Warren also took a keen interest in sports, community affairs and helped many charities. He received the Order of Canada in 1971 and collected numerous other honors and awards in the field of exploration, sports and the environment.
Harry Warren is aptly described as a 20th century “renaissance man” – athlete, scholar, scientist, researcher and teacher.