Ottawa

Ancient life resurfaces along Ottawa River shores

Locals are exploring the Ottawa River's shorelines after records of ancient life resurfaced on the Quebec side.

People are flocking to the Quebec side of the river to have a look

In recent weeks people have been exploring the shoreline of the Ottawa River on the Quebec side of the Champlain Bridge to look for stromatolites. (Joanne Anka )

Locals are exploring the Ottawa River's shorelines after records of ancient life resurfaced on the Quebec side.

Several rock-like structures called stromatolites have become visible at the Quebec side of the Champlain Bridge thanks to low water levels at the end of this year's dry summer.

Usually stromatolites appear as weathered three-dimensional domes, but here in Ottawa they're flat because they've been glaciated, said Allan Donaldson, a retired professor in the earth sciences department at Carleton University.

"Ice cut through them during the last ice age," he told CBC Radio's In Town and Out. "They're created by the most primitive life forms and form little sheets."

Stromatolites are biofilm layers built up by cyanobacteria that can eventually trap sediment. The ones along the Ottawa River are about 250 to 260 million years old, Donaldson said. 

"They're still growing today. So [a] first life form [and] they're still with us and they'll probably be here after we destroy ourselves," he said. 

Stromatolites are special rock-like structures that usually form in shallow water by bacteria such as cyanobacteria. (Joanne Anka)

"They show that some of the most primitive life forms are adaptable and can carry on despite of other more advanced life forms."

People should not try to collect or destroy the rock-like structures, Donaldson said. But it's okay to walk on them with everyday, light shoes. 

"I'm delighted to see [people visiting them]," he said.

CBC Radio's In Town and Out

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