Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 13, 2016 - 7:15 am

Researcher says Nunavut and Siberia, once neighbours, share geology

Mineral riches in Siberia likely shared in Canadian Arctic

LISA GREGOIRE
Carleton University geologist Dr. Richard Ernst during a recent trip to Siberia to study geology there that is likely linked to the Canadian Arctic. (PHOTO COURTESY RICHARD ERNST)
Carleton University geologist Dr. Richard Ernst during a recent trip to Siberia to study geology there that is likely linked to the Canadian Arctic. (PHOTO COURTESY RICHARD ERNST)

Imagine a huge volcanic event which punches molten magma and all kinds of gases and liquids through the Earth’s crust for such an extended period of time that lava eventually covers the entire country of Canada to a depth of seven kilometres.

That actually happened millions of years ago — and happened repeatedly, to varying degrees and sizes and in different locations, every 20 or 30 million years or so, says Carleton University geologist Richard Ernst.

Such events, which originate below the earth’s crust in what’s known as the mantle, are so powerful that they have actually broken continents apart and carved away islands leaving behind, millions of years later, underground geological phenomena called “large igneous provinces,” or LIPs.

There are a couple of reasons why you might be interested in those buried LIPs, the main one being that they usually contain huge swaths of copper, iron, zinc, nickel, platinum-group elements, gold and diamonds.

Ernst, who wrote a book about LIPs, has spent the last five years, and a couple million dollars, studying LIPs in southern Siberia, with most of his funding coming from mining companies.

The earliest of those known LIPs goes back 2.5 billion years.

OK, so what does that have to do with the Arctic? A lot.

By digging into, analyzing and then dating those Siberian formations, Ernst and others believe the area was once connected to areas in Canada, specifically the Arctic.

So what that means is: known ore deposits in Siberia likely continue in northern Canada. And Siberia happens to be a mining hub.

The Yakutia Mir Mine, the world’s biggest diamond mine, is located in eastern Siberia. The area is also littered with a shopping list of other minerals including zinc, iron, gold and uranium, along with petroleum.

“Having demonstrated that it’s very likely Siberia was just across the border for much of Proterozoic time means that truly one has to consider the geology of both together,” Ernst said.

“It has lots of geological implications but it has lots of ore deposit implications as well. We’re just at the beginning stages of trying to sort those out. I have some ideas… but yes, I believe they were connected.”

Ernst is in the process of creating a huge database documenting LIPs around the world, how they were connected and what they contain. It’s like putting together a giant puzzle.

And industry and government stakeholders are very interested in seeing how those fragmented pieces fit together, “closing up ancient oceans, putting blocks together and then putting the LIP back together into the pre-break up state,” Ernst said.

So when Ernst looks at the ground, he doesn’t see grass or asphalt, he sees underneath, the layers of geology that have formed and moved around for millions of years.

“It is a very different view of the earth when you’re seeing the big mega pieces that constituted,” he said. “The Canadian Shield pieces which represent ancient pieces that came together and the relationship with other parts of the world which also have ancient pieces.”

Part of his research now involves reconstructing the Laurentia craton — the ancient geological core of the North American continent.

That mass includes most of Canada except for the rocky west coast spine and the High Arctic Islands, all of which were later additions.

In fact, at one time, Laurentia also included Greenland and the northwestern part of Scotland.

“We understand the geology better in northern Laurentia than in southern Siberia so we’re still at early days of tracking specific geological belts.”

He’s hoping funding will materialize in future to do more work in the Canadian Arctic.

But the LIPs do more than just tell people where to dig and stake a claim.

These huge extended volcanic events also happen to coincide with many of the Earth’s extinction events suggesting that they had such an impact on the atmosphere that plants and animals couldn’t live.

That’s likely because greenhouse gases, mercury and ozone depleting chemicals were released causing the earth to warm. Or in some cases, Ernst said, carbon dioxide was sucked out of the atmosphere, causing ice ages.

“These had a wicked effect on the climate,” he said.

He’s currently putting together a paper describing what he feels are the links between LIPs and great extinction events to explore how the Earth’s climate has changed over millennia.

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