Earth is 70.8% covered by water, but only with the development of sonar techniques has it become possible to describe the solid earth below the oceans. With increasingly sophisticated satellite observations, relatively fine structural details (eg, areas of volcanic activity) can be seen. With modern techniques geologists can observe on almost all appropriate scales: we can "see" the entire planet on a scale of 107 m and, with electron microscopes, we can see atoms of 1/1010 m diameter.
Today, with the human population increasing by almost 100 million annually, there are growing problems with WATER supply, SOIL CONSERVATION, ENERGY supply (over 90% of our energy comes from oil, gas and coal), use of materials from copper to phosphate fertilizers (we use 20 t of rock per person per year) and waste disposal from plutonium to plastics. All such problems require exact knowledge of the Earth to solve. Of growing importance is the need for exact information on the factors which change CLIMATE on various time scales - climate never was and never will be constant.
Geological Sciences in Canada
Canada has the second-largest land area (after Russia) and the longest coastline of any nation, as well as a vast area of continental shelf. Its population is small, the natural resources vast. Geology in Canada may have begun with Jacques CARTIER when, in the 1530s, he returned to France with a load of worthless crystals he thought were diamonds. Martin FROBISHER made the same error in the 1570s, mining quantities of useless ore on Baffin Island. In the early 1800s, systematic geological mapping in Europe was becoming a science. The Industrial Revolution demanded coal, iron ore and other minerals, and early hit-and-miss PROSPECTING techniques were proving costly. Public interest in geology broadened as the study of rocks accelerated and, inevitably, as dogmas concerning time and life came under fire. In Canada, the systematic study of geology can be said to have begun in 1842 with the founding of the GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF CANADA(GSC).
Early geologists in Canada went far beyond the massive task of describing the stratigraphy and producing accurate maps; they were true natural scientists who described every aspect of the natural and human environment.
The great traditions established at that time have continued, and the present GSC remains a world leader. The mineral industry was slow in attaining worldwide importance. It was not until after 1945 that the steel, oil and gas industries began accelerated development; Canada first exported oil in 1949. The community of geologists grew with the mineral and oil boom. Canada became a leader in techniques for REMOTE SENSING, for geophysical techniques based on gravity, and for seismic, magnetic and electrical methods of mapping. Canada is a world leader in radar satellite technology (see GEOMATICS CANADA). As detailed maps improved, the most favourable rocks for particular resources became better understood.
Canada perhaps still leads the world in modern prospecting technology, and Canadian geologists are sought in developing countries to assist in exploration programs. As the resource industries became increasingly important, the provinces began to build their own more specialized surveys, which have come to assist and amplify the task of the GSC. The membership patterns of the various specialized societies (involving government, university and industry representatives) illustrate the strength of the geological community.
Abbé Jean Holmes began geology instruction in Canada early in the 19th century at the SÉMINAIRE DE QUÉBEC (later Université Laval). The first geology department was established at University of Toronto in 1853. To provide for the training of young geologists, William LOGAN endowed a professorship of geology and palaeontology at McGill University. In 1855, J.W. DAWSON became principal of McGill and first incumbent of that chair. By the end of the 19th century, there were 6 geology departments in Canadian universities. The most impressive growth occurred between 1949 and 1970, when the number of these departments increased from 15 to 30. Earth science instruction also takes place in departments of geography, physics, mineral and mining engineering, civil engineering (geotechnique) and soil science. Geochemistry and geomorphology are also geological subjects.
Relation to Other Sciences and Society
To many, the most important justification for the study of geology is the necessity of providing raw materials. In Canada, the economic aspect of the science is large: in 1993, MINERALS provided one-quarter of all exports. Today, the impact of earth sciences goes much further than mineral and energy production. Geochemists are skilled in the analysis of trace quantities of metals and hence are in demand for the study of environmental aspects of inorganic pollution (eg, heavy metals). Geologists are needed when dams, highways, airports, nuclear power plants, urban expansion or even agricultural developments are planned. Earth scientists are involved in any problem focusing on human impact on the environment, such as the global problem of water supply. The University of Waterloo has become a world leader in problems of world water supply.
The earth sciences have always had close links to other sciences. Thus, the solid-state physics of materials under extreme pressure and temperature is closely related to studies of the deep Earth and of objects in space. Views on nuclide synthesis in stars draw heavily on data from geochemistry. For biology, studies of fossil organic matter in rocks make a vital contribution to an understanding of the origin of life and its tolerance to environmental change. Recent work has also revealed that micro-organisms are often prolific deep below the surface. The present record is 4.2 km below the surface at 110°C. Perhaps this is where life began on an early chaotic planet.
Modern geologists require knowledge from many related sciences; for example, the palaeontologist needs biology; the geophysicist, physics and applied mathematics; the structural geologist, a background in solids mechanics and fluid dynamics.
Federal and provincial geological surveys still remain the key organizations for a continued understanding and improvement in knowledge of Canadian geology. From their work come essential geological and geophysical maps. University geologists have made large contributions to understanding the fundamental processes of geology. The main earth science societies and their publications include the following: Association of Exploration Geochemists, Journal of Geochemical Exploration; Canadian Association of Geographers, Canadian Geographer; Canadian Exploration Geophysical Society; Canadian Geophysical Union; Canadian Geotechnical Society; Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy, and Petroleum, CIM Bulletin, Journal of Canadian Petroleum Technology, Canadian Metallurgical Quarterly; Canadian Quaternary Association; Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Canadian Journal of Exploration Geophysics; Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology; Canadian Society of Coal and Organic Petrology; Canadian Well Logging Society, The CWLS Journal; Geological Association of Canada, Geoscience Canada, Geolog; International Association of Hydrogeologists/ Canadian Chapter; Mineralogical Association of Canada, Canadian Mineralogist.
The Canadian Geoscience Council, a group whose membership consists of the societies listed above, co-ordinates information from all subdisciplines. It also publishes special studies (eg, a pamphlet on careers in geoscience). The Geological Survey of Canada and the various provincial surveys publish bulletins and maps and supply information of local and general geological significance. The ROYAL SOCIETY OF CANADA, through its Canadian Global Change Program (CGCP), co-ordinates research at the national level for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program as well as other international initiatives. The Alberta Research Council is a leader in many aspects of energy resources.
Author W.S. FYFE
F. Press and R. Siever, Earth (1982); J. Tuzo Wilson, Our Continent, A Natural History of North America (1976); C. Mungall and D.J. McLaren, eds, Planet Under Stress. La Terre en Péril (1990); O.R. Eckstrand, W.D. Sinclair and R.I. Thorpe, eds, "Geology of Canadian Mineral Deposit Types," Geological Survey of Canada, Geology of Canada, No. 8 (1995); W.S. Fyfe, "The biosphere is going deep," Science Vol 273 (1996).
Links to Other Sites
This site offers the latest news and information about recent earthquakes and related events. See menu on the left for links to detailed maps, Frequently Asked Questions, a history of earthquakes that have occured within Canada, and a glossary of seismological terms. From Natural Resources Canada.
A profile of Canadian geological pioneer William Logan. From the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.
The website for "SkyNews," Canada's magazine of astronomy and stargazing. Feature items include the Astronomy Newswire, Observer's Guide, Photo of the Week, product reviews, a listing of Canadian astronomy clubs, and much more.
Learn about geological field work and view images of past and present geological expeditions. From Brock University.
Dig into this extensive online resource about minerals and the mining industry. Features the latest news and information about Canadian and international mining companies, mineral commodities, mining properties, and much more. Check the "Dictionary" link at the bottom of the page.
Royal Alberta Museum
The website for the Royal Alberta Museum. Explore the natural and human history of Alberta website. Also, check out the interactive Virtual Collection and online tours.
Royal Ontario Museum
The official website for the Royal Ontario Museum features illustrated guides to many of the museum’s collections and exhibits.
NRCan: Firsts and Fascinating Facts from its Illustrious Past
Historical milestones for the Geological Survey of Canada and Natural Resources Canada.
Worldwide coverage of the latest science news from the highly acclaimed science journal "Nature."
An interactive guide to "Geologic Journey," a CBC documentary series which traces the extraordinary geologic history of the North America continent.
A Geological Map of the Arctic
View a circumpolar bedrock geology map of the Arctic. Also includes explanatory notes and list of contributors. From the Geological Survey of Canada. Note: a large PDF download.
Turtle Mountain Monitoring Project & Field Laboratory
About the Turtle Mountain Monitoring Project, which involves geological studies related to the development of an avalanche early warning system in the South Peak area. Check out the stunning Turtle Mountain web cams, slide show, and videos. Also provides an illustrated overview of key equipment used in this project. An Alberta Geological Survey website.
Canadian Women in Science and Technology
The website for the Society of Canadian Women in Science and Technology, a non-profit voluntary association that promotes, encourages, and empowers women working in science and technology. Check out the latest science news and events.
Rocks, Minerals and Landforms of Peggy’s Cove
This walking tour focuses on prominent geological features in the Peggy’s Cove region. From the Government of Nova Scotia.
Back issues of “Canadian Rockhound,” a free online magazine about the world of rocks, minerals, fossils, gemstones and Canada's geology. From Library and Archives Canada.
Life of a Rock Star
This site tells the story of an extraordinary group of scientists who tramped, paddled and rolled across Canada in the nineteenth century to study the geology of Canada's varied terrain.
Canadian Association of Palynologists
Find out what a “palynologist” does. Also, check out the “plain language” article summaries from “Palaeontologia Electronica.”
This CBC website focuses on the underlying causes of volcanic eruptions.
The GeoConnections Discovery Portal is your gateway to millions of geospatial data products. Browse metadata records or search by subject, coverage or product type to find, evaluate, visualize and access the geospatial data you need.
Alberta Geological Survey
The website for the Alberta Geological Survey offers an extensive collection of maps, reports, newsletters, and other publications about the geology of this prairie province.
This site offers free online access to GEOLOG, the quarterly newsmagazine of the Geological Association of Canada.
An extensive information source about the geological history, human settlement patterns, earth and water resources, and natural hazards found in locations across the country. Click on the red symbols on the interactive map of Canada to explore aerial landscapes, maps, photos, colourful online posters, and more. A Geoscape Canada website from Natural Resources Canada.
Surficial Materials of Canada
A detailed digital map of Canada’s geology, landforms, and hydrography. Caution: some features require complex downloading procedures. From Natural Resources Canada.
The Beautiful Minerals Poster Series
A great site for photographs of Canadian mineral samples and online illustrated articles from the magazine "Elements." Every issue explores a theme of broad and current interest in the mineral sciences. From the Mineralogical Association of Canada.
This teacher's guide digs into the geological history of Saskatchewan. Offers an illustrated overview of fundamental geological concepts such as properties of rocks, plate tectonics, continental drift, and related topics. From the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.
Earth's Structure-Crustal Plates
A brief online slide show that illustrates the impact of geological forces on crustal plates over time. Also provides an introduction to Seismology. Click on the “Next” button for more information. A University of Guelph website.
Canadian Geophysical Union
The CGU, which began as a society dedicated to the scientific study of the solid earth, is now concerned with all aspects of the physical study of Earth and its space environment, including the Sun and solar system. Check out the online newsletters, information about the J. Tuzo Wilson Medal, and more.
Geological Time Scale
This site offers clearly marked geological time scale charts. The time scale is depicted in its traditional form with oldest at the bottom and youngest at the top -- the present day is at the zero mark. From the University of Calgary.
Canadian Association of Science Centres
Click on a province to view contact information for member science education centres. See also the latest winners of the CASCADE Awards, which celebrate outstanding people, shows, and exhibitions in Canada.
Glossary: Terrain Classification
Glossary of technical terms related to terrain features in the landscape. A Government of British Columbia website.
Glossary: Geological Terms
A glossary of terms commonly used in geological science. A Government of Newfoundland and Labrador website.
Glossary: Fossils of Nova Scotia
A glossary of terms about fossils and related geological processes. From the website for the Nova Scotia Museum.
A glossary of terms related to the environment, ecology, and geology. Check the rest of the site for additional information. From the Alberta Online Encyclopedia.
A glossary of environmental terms from the website for the Protected Areas Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
A glossary of terms related to the mining industry. From the website for The Northern Miner.
The website for LITHOPROBE, Canada's national earth science research project on the evolution of the North American continent. Check out the tutorial on the seismic reflection method, geological time scale chart, and more.
Geologic Journey Teacher Resource Guide
An extensive teacher's guide that covers the geology of Canada. From the CBC website.
Archaeometry and Geochronology Laboratory
The website for the Archaeometry and Geochronology Laboratory at McMaster University. Features an overview of (geological) dating methods, a gallery of specimens and sites, and general info about the organization.
Near-forgotten Canadian scientist discovered new era in life on Earth
A news story about the scientific impact of pioneering fossil research by Elkanah Billings, Canada's first government paleontologist. From thevancouversun.com.
Four Billion Years and Counting: Canada's Geological Heritage
Information site about the book "Four Billion Years and Counting: Canada's Geological Heritage."
Canada Rocks: The Geologic Journey
A review and excerpts from the book "Canada Rocks: The Geologic Journey." From Fitzhenry & Whiteside Publishing.
Geological Survey of Canada - Friends of GSC History Series
An online archive of documents pertaining to the post-1972 history of the Geological Survey of Canada. Includes articles, personal accounts of events and issues, and related material contributed by former members of GSC staff. To access the documents, click on the link for a specific item, then click on “More,” and then click on “Links Online-En direct.”
Take a virtual tour of Qu'Appelle Valley to explore the fascinating wildlife and geological history of this picturesque region in southern Saskatchewan. Also provides clear explanations of basic ecological and geological concepts related to the natural features of this area. From the University of Regina.
New Geoparks: geological heritage for sustainable development
This page offers a description of the UNESCO designation "Geoparks" located around the world.
Remembering the late, great Hank Williams
A CBC feature about the highly regarded Canadian geologist Hank Williams.
Québec Fortified City: Geological and Historical Heritage
A well-illustrated Geological and Historical Heritage Fieldtrip Guidebook for the fortified City of Québec. See the glossary at the end of this document for a definition of key geological terms. From Natural Resources Canada.
Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists
See the menu on the left to access copies of scientific articles, abstracts, and an online geophysical atlas. For more information about geophysics, click on "Students" and then "Careers in Geophysics."
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...