Field season 2017: Return to the Arctic

My posting is a little backlogged, but this time for good reason as I am a busy MSc candidate these days! The transition back into academia after a 4-year hiatus has been pretty damn smooth, I must say!

Rewind back to July and August of this last summer, where my MSc work truly began as I joined the Geological Survey of Canada on the 2-year North Baffin mapping project. From Victoria–>Vancouver–>Ottawa–>Iqaluit–>Pond Inlet. This summer was a very unique opportunity for what will likely be the most luxurious field season of my career. Because we were mapping the two UTM map sheets directly around and south of Pond Inlet, it made much more logistical and cost-effective sense to work out of the tiny hamlet of approximately 1,000 people.

The actual name for Pond Inlet is Mittimatalik (ᒥᑦᑎᒪᑕᓕᒃ), which translates to the place where Mittima is buried, a woman that came long ago to the area. This is the story according to the locals. The local Inuit-dominant population are absolutely wonderful and really friendly people. The kids especially loved when we mapped the geology around town waiting for our delayed helicopter to arrive, and wanted to get in on the action.


Somehow I almost forgot how unreal the geology is up here-once you get past the lichen and brush up on your knowledge of metaplutonic rock! The weather was phenomenal for our first few weeks as the sea ice was still in, with blue skies, UV rays pounding down (yes, they are much more potent further north), and a climate drier than the desert (at least thats how it felt).

The scenery around Pond Inlet is absolutely surreal. Looking north to Bylot Island, you are essentially starting at the Rocky Mountains…except with glaciers 10x the size, surrounded by sea ice, and then theres the polar bear factor. The mountains to the east and south of Pond are amazing, as I was lucky enough to get to spend a fair amount of time in them! Sirmilik National Park meaning the place of the glaciers, is located in this area, and we were working in the area around Oliver Sound to the south. Though the mountains to the north and east are weirdly rugged for the rock type, and still no one has actually been able to figure out why they have weathered this way compared to the rest of granitic rock in the Arctic. But to the south, are your typical, absolutely jaw-dropping fjords, with massive walls of gneiss rising up straight from the ocean.


Once our helicopter arrived we quickly got to work, traversing every day the weather allowed in pairs to start to figure out the geology! The last time this area was mapped was back in the 70s by plane-so we are likely some of the first geologists to be mapping these areas on foot. One of my favourite parts about mapping up here is just that, because you know you are helping to contribute a lot more geological knowledge to the area by improving the existing map. We also had a quick visit and brief tour at the Baffin Mary River mine, to get some tips from the pros who have been looking at these rocks for years!

As we watched the sea ice melt, we also watched our good weather disappear. I kept my eyes out for a good field area for my masters, as ultimately my goal was to find one and have everything all planned out by the time by supervisor arrived in mid-late July. Though I had one other potential research area, and though the rocks were AMAZING-can you say double corona texture diorite gneiss?!?! It was not going to give me a decent field area. I decided to start honing in on the Mary River Group, a package of very old metamorphosed sediments and volcanics that have very little information about their age, stratigraphy, as well as metamorphic and structural history. All I needed was an area with good exposure!

We found a lot of Archean basement felsic to intermediate gneisses, ranging everywhere from several suites of monzogranite to granodiorite, as well as that beautiful porphyroblastic garnet bearing diorite gneiss I kept mapping in the north.


I finally found the perfect location for my field area, and spent a day there with my fine colleague from Cambridge doing a traverse and trying to figure out what the hell was going. Spoiler alert: We didn’t, and I’ll spend the next few years trying to figure that out! I do have a better idea now, though. It’s a complicated area! My rocks are basically L-tectonites they are so deformed…in case you have no idea what I’m saying, imagine that the rocks had been turned to silly putty, and then you stretched that putty out as far as you could without it breaking…because thats basically whats happened to these rocks. There have only been very preliminary studies done here in the past, and most of the work has been for economic purposes only. When my supervisor arrived, he brought all of the rain and bad weather, but we managed to get out for two days, and I finished the rest of the mapping myself!


Because of the rugged terrain, unusually cold summer (again, yes it was about 5 degrees colder than real snowstorms this time though), and vast expanses of literally ZERO outcrop, we were forced to do a lot of helicopter bopping this year! This is basically where you fly traverses and only stop where you find outcrop, or target specific areas geographically very far apart to cover large distances in a short amount of time. The helicopter will generally stay running as one or two geologists hop out to quickly characterize the rock, take pictures and any samples if needed. I managed to be lucky enough to do a fair bit of this, which gave me the opportunity to see the northeast coast much more than I would have gotten to otherwise as its really difficult to access. We even found some of the elusive metasedimentary rock out there!


Oh yeah, and there was this one day where we took off from a beach outcrop and saw a polar bear swimming just a kilometre away!! That was pretty cool. Almost as cool as the day from the photos above, where on our way home we saw a pod of about 30 narwhals!! That right there was the ultimate of my summer.

Thanks to my supervisor and the University of Alberta, I also got the opportunity to be interviewed by CBC Calgary near the end of the field season. For a recording of my interview as an Alberta researcher working in the north, check it out here!




Last but certainly not least, I created yet another parody for working in the Arctic. This year the team had a particular liking for all things ridiculous, and it was therefore imperative that I created a geology version of Gangsters Paradise, entitled Geo’s Paradise. We recorded it after finishing our last field day! Check it out –> Geo’s Paradise

Don’t worry, we’ve got a whole other lot of songs for an EP…

We also managed to befriend a really talent carver in town named Johnny, and I bought a double-tusked narwhal from him as a reminder of this awesome summer. He is a super talented guy and everyone went home with something. Mostly carved out of caribou antler, but since there is no soapstone in the area like further south, baleen and whale bone are also often used.


I really cannot say enough about how amazing this field season was, and how great it was to by fulfilling my dream that I set out to achieve 5 years ago, which was to come back to the Arctic and map more epic rocks! Can’t wait for 2018!! Until then, I’ll be trying to figure out my rocks in the lab…




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