As we contemplate manned space flights to Mars, it may be hard to believe that there are still vast areas of the earth’s surface that we have yet to explore.
The world’s knowledge of the geology of Canada’s Far North is very limited.
To fill this knowledge gap, Canada’s federal government embarked in 2008 on an aggressive C$100 million, five-year geological mapping program known as Geo-mapping for Energy and Minerals, or GEM, that at its halfway mark this summer is beginning to yield significant dividends in the nation’s most remote regions.
“The government is looking for outcomes that benefit northerners and all Canadians, such as socioeconomic development, jobs and community well-being,” said GEM coordinator Simon Hanmer. “That’s because discovering geological resource potential up north is likely to increase outside investment in more effective exploration and resource development.
GEM studies on uranium, base metals, precious metals, diamonds and rare metals will span the Arctic, targeting areas of high potential. While important to all three northern territories, acquiring this geological knowledge is crucial for resource development in Nunavut, where even dated information is available for only about a third of the territory.
Most of previous geological mapping of Canada’s north was done in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s by helicopter.
“This form of mapping was not very detailed, especially when you consider that a greenstone belt — volcanic rock dominated by basalt — that might contain gold may only be 500 meters wide,” Hanmer said.
The north is so vast, it is impossible for private companies to know where to begin without preliminary geological data and maps.
Natural Resources Canada’s GEM scientists, working in collaboration with territorial geoscientists, university researchers and others, hope to create a knowledge base that will help identify oil or gas deposits, as well as a full suite of minerals, including copper, nickel, iron, zinc, lead gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, uranium and rare earth elements.
The GEM program plans to cover 22 priority areas during the five-year program, from 2008 to 2013.
New geological mapping is the first stage in the mining industry’s exploration process. Estimates show that public geo-mapping programs can result in an initial five-to-one return in leveraging private sector investment. That means the Government of Canada’s C$100-million investment in GEM could generate up to C$500-million in private sector exploration and development.
In Nunavut, recent mapping of two underexplored areas, the Melville Peninsula and the southern half of the Cumberland Peninsula, have already begun to pay dividends.
The Melville Peninsula, located between the Nunavut mainland and Baffin Island, contains rocks that are ranging from 1.9 billion to 2.7 billion years old.
Surrounded by areas where major discoveries of gold, iron and diamond deposits have been made, Melville is significantly under-explored, said David Corrigan, a geoscientist on the GEM team that is exploring the region.
After the first of three planned field seasons of bedrock and surficial mapping in 2009, along with re-analysis of 508 till samples collected in 1977 in the north half of Melville Peninsula and 2,041 lake sediment samples from the southern part of the peninsula, the geoscientists found evidence of more than one sequence of Archean greenstone belts on Melville Peninsula similar to those found on Baffin Island. These rocks are favorable for iron formation-hosted gold, perhaps orogenic gold, magmatic-hosted nickel, cobalt, chromium, platinum group elements, and locally, hydrothermal copper and silver mineralization. The region was already known for potential economic deposits of iron and diamonds. The geoscientists also found late-Archean mafic and ultramafic intrusions that have potential for magmatic nickel-copper-PGE sulfide mineralization with gold.
“We’re finding that these volcanic and sedimentary rocks have great potential, from base metals and nickel through to gold,” Hanmer said in May when the GEM program released a digital atlas reflecting work on the Melville Peninsula so far.
Work on Cumberland PeninsulaAnother under-explored area of Nunavut is the southern half of the Cumberland Peninsula.
Mary Sanborn-Barrie, who heads the GEM team exploring this region, said Geoscience Canada chose the area because it is very remote and rugged and it has not received much geoscience activity during the past 50 years.
“This area has not seen systematic mapping since the 1970s and much of (that) mapping has not been published,” she said.
Until 2009, the only geophysics in the northern part of the Cumberland Peninsula was analog data at 800-meter resolution. In April, Sanborn-Barrie said GEM addressed this knowledge gap by focusing on the southern part of the peninsula in 2009 and would turn its attention to the northern Cumberland area in 2010.
Last summer, the team obtained aeromagnetic data never before available, including 62,000 line kilometers at 400- to 600-meter resolution. GEM also produced the first-ever surficial map of the region and conducted ice flow studies.
She said geoscientist found less paleo-Proterozoic super-crustal rocks than preciously interpreted in the south and more tonalitic basement and super-crustal rocks of the Hoare Bay Group along with strands of super-crustal silt of which some are Archean in age.
Results of 420 till samples and 64 bedrock assays samples found significant potential for gold, molybdenum, zinc, copper, nickel, chromium, PGE, uranium and REES.
Diamonds on Cumberland Peninsula?Perhaps one of GEM most exciting discoveries was the similarity of some rock formations in the southern Cumberland Peninsula to geology across Cumberland Sound at the Chidliak and Qilaq projects where Peregrine Diamonds Ltd. is exploring in partnership with BHP Billiton and singly for diamonds.
In February, Peregrine was granted 119 prospecting permits covering about 1.5 million hectares, or 5,792 square miles, on the Cumberland Peninsula. The new Cumberland permit group has geologic characteristics that Peregrine said are similar to those at Qilaq and Chidliak. The center of Cumberland is located about 200 kilometers north of Chidliak and east of the community of Pangnirtung, Nunavut. During July and August of 2010, Peregrine said it plans to evaluate Cumberland’s diamond potential by conducting a reconnaissance till sampling program with budgeted expenditures of C$800,000 using Pangnirtung as a base.