Geological Survey of Canada

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Geological Survey of Canada
Geologic Survey of Canada logo.png

SEG Distinguished Achievement Award 2006

The Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) is receiving the Distinguished Achievement Award for its five decades of global leadership in the development of regional-scale geophysical techniques and mining geophysical exploration equipment and methods. GSC has fostered the introduction and development of airborne, surface, and borehole geophysical measurements. Techniques that benefited from GSC research include EM, IP, magnetics, seismic, electrical, radiometric, and radar including GPR. Well known examples include pioneer work with the airborne magnetic gradiometer, gamma-ray spectrometer, and borehole geophysics. GSC’s exploration geophysical work has contributed in a substantial way to changing the types of output that are expected from forward-looking geological surveys around the world. In geophysics, GSC has been more innovative and entrepreneurial than most government organizations are supposed to be. This is in no small way a result of the part played by many dedicated present and past workers in exploration geophysics at GSC.

Citation for the SEG Distinguished Achievement Award 2006

Contributed by Murray Duke

GSC’s involvement in applied geophysics began immediately following World War II when it championed the use of regional aeromagnetic surveys to accelerate bedrock geologic mapping and to promote mineral exploration. Discoveries resulting directly from GSC aeromagnetic surveys include the Marmora iron deposit in eastern Ontario, which was mined by Bethlehem Steel Corporation from 1955 until 1979, and the diamond deposits at Fort à la Corne, Saskatchewan, currently in the advanced exploration stage.

In the mid 1960s, GSC began work on another regional geophysical technique, airborne gamma-ray spectrometry (AGRS). Initially developed to support uranium exploration, GSC has broadened applications to general geologic mapping, exploration for base and precious metals, assessing natural hazards, and responding to nuclear emergencies. In 1978, for example, it was a GSC instrument and crew on board a Canadian military aircraft that successfully located the debris of Cosmos 954, the nuclear-powered Russian satellite that crashed near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Working with Health Canada, GSC has used AGRS to rapidly screen areas of elevated radon hazard and, more recently, developed a system that may be rapidly deployed to detect radio-nuclides dispersed by terrorists or by a reactor accident.

GSC has played a pivotal role in developing ground-based mining geophysical methods. Highlighting the 1980s and 1990s were the deep-sounding seismic and magnetotelluric methods employed initially in Lithorpobe, Canada’s flagship Earth sciences program. GSC scientists worked with industry to adapt the technologies to operate on the scale of a mining camp, allowing the first direct imaging of an ore body. Similarly, GSC scientists have led the development of borehole-logging techniques for the mining industry. Downhole logging has long been a staple of petroleum exploration but had seen limited application in mining, in part because of the much smaller diameter of the diamond drill holes used in mineral exploration. GSC has also been a leader in development of near-surface geophysical technologies for environmental and engineering geophysical applications. This emerging area is now benefiting from early GSC research in ground-penetrating radar, nearsurface electromagnetics, and high-resolution P and S reflection profiling. Specific applications include groundwater mapping as well as measurement of geophysical properties of soils required for earthquake engineering.

From the outset, GSC geophysical programming has had two broad objectives. The first has been to develop and deploy innovative geophysical technology to advance GSC’s core mandate, which is to elucidate the geology of the Canadian landmass and promote resource exploration. The second has been to foster the development of a geophysical survey and service industry in Canada. This began in the early days of the aeromagnetic program, when GSC not only transferred its technology to the industry royalty-free, but also established a policy of contracting data collection and processing to private firms.

GSC’s pivotal role in making the Canadian geophysical contracting industry a world leader was documented in Michael Porter’s influential 1991 report, Canada at the Crossroads: The Reality of a New Competitive Environment. In addition to the R&D, technology transfer, and contracting-out described above, Porter noted that other countries often adopted the exacting survey standards established by the GSC, thereby providing an advantage to Canadian firms bidding on international contracts.

In presenting a Distinguished Achievement Award for 2006 to the Geological Survey of Canada, the Society is honoring the collective accomplishments of many individuals over an extended period. Their story exemplifies the critical role that a government science and technology organization can play in nurturing an industry while at the same time discharging its mandated responsibilities for the public good.