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Carving stone deposits found near Iqaluit
First geological survey since 1576 follows up on discoveries from satellite images

Peter Worden
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 01, 2013

Satellite images of yellowish and rust-coloured surface rock led a team of geologists to unearth 11 new deposits of carving stone on Hall Peninsula due east of Iqaluit.

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Dave Mate: Says rock data is an important resource.

Last summer, about 20 geologists decided to check out the colourful landmarks in a major 40-day project involving Arctic College and six universities.

A lot has changed in the field of geosciences since Martin Frobisher and his crew first did their cursory survey of the Hall Peninsula in 1576, said David Mate, the chief geologist with the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office in Iqaluit who led the group of young students and staff.

"A large chunk of Nunavut hasn't been mapped to geological standards," said Mate, explaining how the use of technology has allowed geologists like him to do smarter, more efficient research.

The team was helicoptered in to areas of interest and walked five to 10 kilometres every day "banging on rocks," said Mate, making observations and recording data in a hand-held GPS-equipped computer.

Carving stone is a catchall term used by most sculptors for metamorphic rock such as soapstone, marble and alabaster, according to Mate. The deposits found on the Hall Peninsula are a wide range of different rocks of the serpentine group with colours from apple and olive green to dark aquamarine.

Carving stone is formed when hot fluids flow through iron-and magnesium-rich rock deep in the Earth's crust, altering it into softer minerals. At one time, Hall Peninsula used to be one of the world's biggest mountain belts, which has now eroded away.

"When you're walking around there, you're walking 30 kilometres deep into a mountain so you're looking at the deeper crust in this part of the world," said Mate, a self-described geology geek. "That's why we're finding carving stone.

"Every night there were exciting conversations about rocks that were found and what they mean and how that might change the interpretation of how the land formed."

Patricia Peyton, an Arctic College Environmental Technology Program graduate who was a geological field assistant with the team last summer, said it was exciting to be part the study.

"We saw old campsites and food caches, so people had been there before, but it was interesting to be out there because nobody has really mapped it," said Peyton, who added she was not involved in the actual discovery of the carving stone deposits. "It's exciting for local carvers who will be getting new carving stone. I think its very beneficial for people to know what's in their backyard."

The Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office is a collaboration of the GN, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. to provide industry, government and the public with geoscience information from around Nunavut. The mandate of the office includes looking for useful construction materials such as sand, gravel and limestone and recording climate change adaptation information such as ice content in permafrost.

"The data we produce is useful for a whole range of stakeholders," said Mate. "It's an important resource for Nunavummiut and, of course, carvers."

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