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Filling gaps in rock maps
Geoscience research looks to read rocks at Boothia and Somerset, Fury and Hecla

Beth Brown
Northern News Services
Monday, April 10, 2017

It's coming up on summer research season, and two geoscience projects are aiming to fill in gaps on the Nunavut map, rock-wise.

NNSL photograph

Taloyoak students Breanna Mannilaq, Delilah Aleekee, Jenna Kununak, Jenny Uquqtuq and Leanna Kootook learn about geology with researcher Mary Sanborn-Barrie of the Geological Survey of Canada. - photo courtesy of Mary Sanborn-Barrie

One research project plans to take place 75 kilometres outside Taloyoak, with a field survey of the Boothia Peninsula and Somerset Island.

The new data will be used to offer more relevant maps to communities such as Taloyoak, Gjoa Haven, Resolute Bay and Cambridge Bay for making land use decisions, and determining the potential for prospect or exploration work, said Mary Sanborn-Barrie, project lead from the Geological Survey of Canada.

"The main purpose is to update knowledge in a region that has been neglected," Sanborn-Barrie said.

She says the remote area has only been looked at once before from a geological or mapping perspective, and those

interpretations are outdated.

She said this knowledge helps tell a story.

"It preserves a record of the evolution of the Earth. There's no other way to understand what happened on the Earth way back in the past except to read that story on the rocks."

She said while it is difficult to tell yet what part of Earth's evolution is preserved on Boothia and Somerset, another study in the western region showed rocks as old as 3.5 billion years old, as well as a 400 km long zone that could have been a mountain range similar to the Himalayas.

"By looking at the rocks you can get the evidence of that kind of history," she said.

In July and August, the project team plans to take community members out as employed camp cooks, wildlife monitors and field assistants to read the rocks in their region.

Last summer, community engagement started with five days of field school to encourage youth learning.

Junior Rangers and students from the hamlet joined in.

"They brought kids from the school out to show them how they do field work," said Jordan McFadden, a Grade 8 and 9 teacher at Netsilik Ilihakvik.

The students learned to work with geographic information systems (GIS), did geocaching activities and studied rocks for a kind of Geology 101.

"A lot of it is in line with their interest in on the land activities, it just gives them a different perspective to look at things out on the land," McFadden said.

He said this sort of experience inevitably makes its way back to the classroom.

"Immediately after there is an increase in questions and inquiry."

The hamlet of Iglulik also had inquiries about another Nunavut geoscience project being prepared near the Fury and Hecla Strait this summer. The project team held community meetings earlier in the year. Residents wanted to know about impact on caribou, source of funding for the research and if the coming survey was connected with the mining industry.

Like the areas at Boothia and Somerset, mapping in the region on Northern Baffin Island between Fury and Hecla Strait and the hamlet of Arctic Bay hasn't been updated since the 1960s or '70s, said Linda Ham, lead geologist for the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office.

"It is the last part of Baffin Island that has not been mapped by an aeromagnetic or geophysical survey from the air. So it will fill in a hole," said Ham.

Should the project get its go-ahead from NIRB, the summer will see an aerial survey monitor the magnetic signatures of the rocks.

"Aeromagnetic surveys allow us to see beneath the surface," said Ham.

While the research is not affiliated with the mining sector, it can be used in resource development and exploration.

The Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office is a stand-in for a territorial geological survey. Nunavut is the only territory or province without its own geological survey.

The project at Boothia and Somerset is funded under a federal project titled Geomapping for Energy and Minerals, or GEM, that began in 2008 and goes until 2020. The project has focused on western Nunavut since 2013.

"(The government) realized that relative to the south, very vast regions had outdated geoscience knowledge," said Sanborn-Barrie. She said growing access to Northern regions makes this information more necessary.

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