A recently completed map of Arctic geology across Greenland, Norway, Russia and other polar nations offers new hints about where Canada might find energy and mineral deposits across its vast north, says the geologist who co-led the mapping project.
"The Europeans, the Russians, they've been at it much longer than we have in terms of mineral and energy exploration in their Arctic," said Marc St-Onge, a research scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada in an interview Thursday. "Knowing where they have their mineral deposits and gas and oil fields, we can use the geology of this consistent map … to see where else we should be looking Canada."
Similar geological features often yield similar mineral, oil and gas deposits, St-Onge explained to government officials at a Thursday morning breakfast talk on Parliament Hill sponsored jointly by the Royal Society and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
For example, an area that has yielded zinc deposits in Norway is geologically similar to an area on Bathurst Island in Canada that has not yet been explored for zinc, St-Onge said.
The geological map of the Arctic that he was explaining was completed in November 2008 as part of a two-year, seven-nation collaboration led by St-Onge and colleague Christopher Harrison.
'The North is so big that they need all the help they can get in knowing where to start looking for something.' — Marc St-Onge
The map, which uses data from a variety of sources, such as geophysical surveys, satellite images and traditional knowledge from local elders, has already been presented at mining industry forums in Yellowknife and Whitehorse, St-Onge said.
"They latched on the idea right away, and I have no doubt that industry is … waiting for this summer and next summer to go test things out," he said after his talk, adding that a lot of surveying can only be done in the summer.
While the international map is complete, Canada's section of it will be maintained and updated as more data is gathered, St-Onge said.
Other Geological Survey of Canada projects are currently underway to map the geology of Canada's North in more detail, partly to help companies that work in the resource sector.
"For them, the more detail, the better," St-Onge said."The North is so big that they need all the help they can get in knowing where to start looking for something."
Arctic sovereignty role
Another purpose of the Arctic mapping project was to help northern nations gather data needed to assert their sovereignty over the Arctic.
For example, Canada and Denmark are both trying to claim part of the underwater Lomonosov ridge that stretches between northern Ellesmere Island and Greenland from Siberia, and which is outside the standard 200 nautical mile range of their coasts. Russia has laid claim to much of the ridge, which has the potential to produce gas, oil, methane and other resources. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, both Canada and Denmark could claim a section if they can prove before 2013 that it is part of their land mass.
Data from the geological map of the Arctic suggests that the ridge is part of the North American plate and is therefore attached to Canada. However, more detailed surveys will provide more information by mapping the sea floor and the rock beneath it at 50-kilometre intervals using techniques such as sonar and seismic reflection.
"That's the level of detail required to say yea or nay," St-Onge told a member of the audience who asked him about the claim.
Seismic reflection involves measuring the vibration waves that travel through layers of earth and rock when they are shaken by explosives.
The Conservative government announced in August 2008 that it will spend $100 million over five years on a geo-mapping program targeted at providing tools to find energy and mineral deposits. The program to map Canada's Arctic waters began in 2006 and is ongoing.