Ralph Roberts is best known as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologist who performed extensive regional geologic mapping in northern Nevada and published research on the geologic framework of northern Nevada that led to the discovery of the Carlin trend gold-producing province.
In 1960, Roberts published "Alinement of Mining Districts in North-Central Nevada" in USGS Professional Paper 400-B. In it, he described a series of huge thrust faults that had pushed older sedimentary rocks from the west over younger rock to the east; Roberts asserted that "windows" through overriding thrust sheets of rock were potential sites of large, low-grade gold deposits.
In 1961, Roberts presented his theory at a meeting of the Eastern Nevada Geological Society at the Nevada Hotel in Ely, which was attended by John Livermore, then a Newmont Mining Company geologist. Livermore and others implemented Roberts' ideas and created an exploration program for Newmont Gold Corporation that resulted in the discovery of the four-million-ounce gold ore body known as the Carlin deposit.
After forty-four years with the U.S. Geological Survey, Ralph J. Roberts retired in 1981 and formed a consultation partnership for the exploration of gold deposits. He is the recipient of numerous professional awards including the Distinguished Service Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior; the Man of the Year Award from the Nevada Mining Association; and the Medal of Merit from the American Mining Hall of Fame.
The Ralph J. Roberts Center for Research in Economic Geology was established at Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering in the College of Science at the University of Nevada, Reno to facilitate research on the geology, geochemistry, and genesis of Carlin-type gold mineralization. The research is conducted by faculty and graduate students. Dr. Roberts has also contributed funding to establish a lecture series to periodically present new research in Carlin trend mineralization and geology.