Quaternary-overburden geology: the red-headed stepchild of geology

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Too often I experience that resource workers and even geologists know little about Quaternary-overburden geology. This has to change.

In the oil and gas sector and mining sector, Quaternary geology (pronounced kwa-tur-na-ree) is the shallow geology that often buries deeper resource targets. It is frequently referred to as overburden geology. Quaternary geology is a burden! With negative branding like that, it’s no surprise even some seasoned geologists have little interest in learning about Quaternary geology. It’s even marginalized in our schools, with many geologists graduating school with little to no training in Quaternary geology. Students are often motivated to study geology because they are interested in rocks, but Quaternary-age geology is so young that it is sediment, not rock – boring! (I have two graduate degrees in Quaternary geology, and find it anything but boring)

But this is changing – and out of necessity. The Quaternary geology is at our feet and extends to the bedrock, and consequently is the geology that most resource activities are interacting with – accessing groundwater, extracting building materials, stripping the Quaternary to get at deeper geology, drilling through it, or building on it.

Groundwater in Quaternary geology

It is within the Quaternary that the largest sources of fresh groundwater reside. And, it is these very sources that are also potentially negatively impacted by resource activities.

With regulations around aquifer management and sustainability tightening, the red-headed stepchild of geology is about to step into the spot light.

Hydrogeologists study the movement of groundwater. The name “hydrogeologist” implies that they are geologists and groundwater scientists. Unfortunately the education system does not operate this way. Few hydrogeologists have a good understanding of geologic systems, especially of Quaternary geology. Too often, simplified assumptions are made of the Quaternary geology, leading to weak groundwater modelling results.

If you don’t get the geology right, any groundwater model, no matter how sophisticated, will be wrong.

At what point is a groundwater model imaginary? Photo by Jeana Willis.

To be better stewards of groundwater resources, we need to make better hydrogeologists, or at least have them work closely with, or get trained by, Quaternary-overburden geologists.

Glacial geology is Quaternary geology

Interest in global climate change and sea level rise have highlighted the role of glaciers and glacial processes. In the popular media, images of calving ice fronts and rapidly retreating ice margins are common. Will the Antarctic Ice Sheet suddenly slide off into the ocean? Has it done this before? How quickly will sea level rise?

A central focus of Quaternary geology is concerned with glacial systems, processes and deposits. This is because the Quaternary Period is the last two million years of earth history marked by dramatic climate changes that resulted in the waxing and waning of continental-scale glaciers. The activity of these glaciers heavily modified the landscapes of high latitude countries. They scoured and shaped the land and produced tremendous amounts of sediment that our species interacts with in a variety of ways.

Quaternary-overburden geologists are specialists at understanding glacial and other earth surface processes, and the resulting patterns of erosion and deposition. Quaternary geologists decipher the stratigraphy to delineate groundwater aquifers, discover construction materials, and much more.

Learn more about Quaternary-overburden geology

Quaternary-overburden geology is evermore relevant in a variety of professions. If you are a student, take at least one course in Quaternary geology along with a course in geomorphology. Note, for historical reasons, that at many schools you will have to study geomorphology in a geography department, rather than a geology department. If you are working, see if you can take a course at a university as part of your professional development, or even work directly with or get trained by a Quaternary-overburden geologist.

Written by Tim Johnsen, PhD,  ProGeoscience.com

If you found this article interesting, please drop me a comment below as encouragement for me to write more. Suggest a topic for me to write for you, or share your views or experiences.

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Dr. Tim Johnsen is the founder and president of ProGeoscience Consulting. He is a senior geologist specialized in Quaternary, surficial and overburden geology. He integrates a suite of specialized skills to create high quality geologic reconstructions that are tuned to solve the particular problems of his clients – on budget and on time. He turns the complex and often intimidating world of Quaternary, surficial and overburden geology into the predictable and solvable.

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Hot Springs Map for Western Canada: interactive and free

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Free interactive map to Western Canada’s hot springs!

Caution when using these maps and data. Hot spring coordinates could be off significantly.  We need GPS coordinates checked and improved. Please help.

How to use this map

Read accuracy statement below first.

On the left side bar use the drop down arrow to show list of over 160! hot springs in western Canada. You can click on names in this list or pins on the map. Either of these methods will show various data including: coordinates, comments on the accuracy of coordinates, description, and if collected, temperature, pH, and total dissolved solids measurements, etc. And, if added already, you can also see site photos. Submit your photos in comments.

There are options to show a satellite image background, or get directions to a site using Google Maps…although be cautious.

Please help

If you visit hot springs, please collect GPS coordinates by simply using your cell camera and post photos in the comments below. Most cell phones automatically embed GPS data into photos. I will then update the Google map data. I will also post your favourite photo to the map pin. Just submit your contribution to the comments below. Share on social media to help get more contributors and to make this the finest interactive map of hot springs of western Canada.

New and missing hot springs?

There must be many more hot springs undiscovered and not represented on this map. Some on the map are phantom springs. If you find or know about any unreported, or newly discovered hot springs then let me know by writing in the comments below. I heard there is a magical one full of monkeys!

Coordinate accuracy and phantom springs

Be cautious when using these maps and data. Hot spring coordinates could be off significantly, and some clearly are. One problem is that some published coordinates contain too few decimals to be accurate – help! Some locations are general coordinates for an area where “phantom” springs have been lost in our fading collective memory – and for you to re-discover! Using the interactive map you can get coordinates and read accuracy notes from the table data. We assume no liability when you use any information or data in this article or map.

If you visit a hot spring, please collect GPS coordinates and photos and share them via the comments below. Most cell phones automatically embed GPS data into photos. So, by sharing cell phone photos I get the GPS data.

Origin story

A couple of friends of mine just returned from a winter vacation in British Columbia. The highlight was visiting two outdoor hot springs set in a natural winter wonderland. They were lit up describing the magical experience. I was envious!

The missing map? Because I want to have a similar experience, and am an enthusiastic geographer, I wondered where are the hot springs in western Canada? I didn’t have much luck finding a maps online.  So using the latest scientific surveys I compiled the data and produced this map database of info on hot springs for western Canada.

Enjoy! …and please don’t forget to contribute to make this an awesome resource for outdoor adventurists.

Written by Tim Johnsen, ProGeoscience.com

Feb 16, 2017

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What are the GPS coordinates and routes to western Canada hot springs you have visited? Are there any missing from our map? You can also upload hot spring photos in the comments section and we’ll add it to the map data.

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Dr. Tim Johnsen is the founder and president of ProGeoscience Consulting. He is a senior geologist specialized in Quaternary, surficial and overburden geology. He integrates a suite of specialized skills to create high quality geologic reconstructions that are tuned to solve the particular problems of his clients – on budget and on time. He turns the complex and often intimidating world of Quaternary, surficial and overburden geology into the predictable and

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Flatirons and Other Signs of Geologic Drama! What They Reveal About the Geology and Natural History

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An awe-inspiring view over the beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains. Extreme examples of vertically tilted geology and flatirons. I took this photo while flying west over the town of Canmore, Alberta which lies on the right (east) edge of the photograph. View to northwest.

In above photograph, geologic layers that were originally created as horizontal layers are now tilted, folded, and thrusted by tectonic collisions. Parallel mountain ridges lie like a fallen stair case. The left ridge contains layers of bedrock (strata) that are now nearly vertical(!) which helps create the conditions for the creation of flatirons. Below is a zoomed in view of the left ridge to reveal the side view of numerous triangular, nearly-vertical slabs of rock termed flatirons. There are more examples below.

Center area of photo shows side view of numerous triangular-shaped slabs of rock termed flatirons. Flatirons indicate steeply dipping sedimentary rock and dramatic tectonic activity.

From ocean bottom to mountain tops

What caused all this geologic drama? The Rockies are partly made of limestone geology, and yet limestone forms at the bottom of the sea. So the mountain tops are old ocean bottom! The highest point on Earth, Mt Everest, is also made of limestone! Such a geologic journey makes for a lot of geologic drama! How did this occur?

The Rockies are thrusted up from the compressional forces of many ancient islands crashing into the ancient North American shoreline. In fact, most of British Columbia, and parts of Yukon and Alaska, are composed of many geologic terrains from multiple and violent collisions, which have given us a huge diversity of geology and natural beauty.

Flatiron beauty

Below is an incredible photo of flatirons from Argentina. Stunning! Again, the steeply dipping sedimentary rock creates the context for the formation of triangular erosional remnants (flatirons). This is yet another magical way (via differential erosion) in which geomorphology (flatirons) can be used to infer geologic structure (steeply dipping sedimentary rock).

Hornocal.JPG

The Serranía de Hornocal mountain range province of Jujuy, Argentina. A limestone geologic formation with various minerals producing wonderful multicoloured flatirons. Photo by Lahi, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Here’s another dramatic example of flatirons that form the backdrop of Boulder, Colorado. The softer rock behind the flatirons has been eroded to leave them pointing like arrows into the heavens.

Flatirons Winter Sunrise edit 2.jpg

Dramatic flatirons are the backdrop of Boulder, Colorado. Photo by Jesse Varner. Modified by AzaTothCC BY-SA 2.5, Link

Flatiron formation process

Flatirons are created by the following geologic process: 1) creation of flat lying geology to form sedimentary layers, 2) tectonic forces compressing the rock to tilt, fold, and thrust it, 3) erosional processes that differentially erode the rock, and 4) steeply dipping mountain faces eroding to leave behind triangular remnants.

Geoscientists work in reverse from the geomorphology to infer the geology. Put another way, by simply looking at the form of a mountain, from say an aerial photo, the geologic structure and history can be figured out! This is powerful!, and is just one example of many ways in which geoscientists work and add meaning to our environment.

Why flatiron?

The name “flatiron” is an antiquated term for what we now call a clothes iron, or simply an iron, that we use to “iron” our clothes. No doubt, the triangular shape of these landforms reminded early scientists of the triangular base of a “flatiron” they had in their homes.

Written by Tim Johnsen, ProGeoscience.com

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you see in the photos? Please comment below, including attaching photos of flatirons. 

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Dr. Tim Johnsen is the founder and president of ProGeoscience Consulting. He is a senior geologist specialized in Quaternary, surficial and overburden geology. He integrates a suite of specialized skills to create high quality geologic reconstructions that are tuned to solve the particular problems of his clients – on budget and on time. He turns the complex and often intimidating world of Quaternary, surficial and overburden geology into the predictable and

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