Metals Will Be Critical for the Green Economy

It’s been a while since my last blog post, but I’m hoping to get back on the wagon a bit more in 2020. Outlined below is an expanded and annotated post that was recently published in the Gazette at Memorial University. It was written mostly to illustrate the importance of metals to our current (and future) lifestyles, particularly in rural Newfoundland and Labrador and other rural locales in Canada. Moreover, to also illustrate that the coming green economy will require abundant metals, and for some metals demand will be much greater than at present. It ends by raising the issue of local vs. imported metals in maintaining our current lifestyles.

I’d like to thank Dr. Mike Babechuk, Dr. John Hanchar, and Ms. Mandy Cook, all from Memorial University, for their comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this article.

Enjoy! Steve.

Metals Will Be Critical for the Green Economy

The recent climate marches mobilized millions of people globally to raise awareness of climate change and was a signal to governments that current policies on greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation, and global warming, are not sufficiently addressing the challenge of climate change. The issue has rallied people across generations and placed this issue at the forefront internationally. Many governments and the general public recognize that new, or revised, policies must be implemented that will spur a transition from the petroleum economy to a renewable “green” economy. This is even recognized by many international petroleum companies who are transitioning from solely petroleum products and rebranding to become energy companies with many having divisions focused on renewable energy resources.

With the transition to a new economy there will be a greater reliance on existing, evolving, and new technologies that will allow us to maintain our standard of living but doing so with a smaller carbon footprint. This shift, however, will not result in a decrease on our reliance on metal resources. In fact, many of the products required for the green transition will put greater demands on both traditional metals and high technology metals. For example, the electric and hybrid vehicles that will be critical for transforming the transportation sector require 2-4 times more copper than conventional combustion engines (e.g., 20kg copper/combustion vehicle vs. 40kg copper/hybrid vehicle and 80kg copper/electric vehicle). There will be further copper demand from the charging infrastructure needed to support the national and international fleet of hybrid/electric vehicles.

The green transition will also see a shift from coal-, natural gas-, and diesel-based electricity generation towards renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and photovoltaics, windmills/windfarms, hydroelectricity, and potentially nuclear energy. All of these sources require both traditional metals such as nickel, chrome, iron, copper, tin, silicon, and uranium, and “high tech” metals, such as rare earth elements (REE)(e.g., neodymium, dysprosium, scandium), cobalt, and lithium. Solar panels and photovoltaics alone require up to 40 times more copper than existing electricity delivery systems!

The green economy will also be driven, in part, by a robust computing and communications infrastructure that will will put an additional strain on metal resources. The sensors, wiring, light bulbs, heat pumps, and other infrastructure needed for “smart homes” and “smart cities”, and the computers and networks needed to drive the “smart” economy using various artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, will all require metals. The ubiquitous smart phones, tablets, and laptops that mobilized millions for the climate strikes and were subsequently utilized for the many tweets, selfies, blog posts, and emails to political leaders, will require abundant metals. An average smart phone alone has over 30 elements within it including copper, gold, silver, zinc, REE, indium, and lead. Most of these elements do not come from recycled cans, bicycles, and computer parts, but from a hole in the ground somewhere on the planet (and most of which are discovered by geoscientists)!

The requirement for enhanced natural and high-tech elements will require us to increase production or find new resources. The World Bank estimates that wind turbines, solar panels, and energy storage alone will require at least 300%, 200%, and 1000% more metals, respectively, than we are currently using. While recycling can cover some of the supply for some elements (e.g., copper, iron), many of the high-tech elements have very restricted supply chains, limited political availability, and a limited number of sources and sellers worldwide. For example, the REE supply of the planet is dominated by one source: the Bayan Obo deposit in the Inner Mongolia region of China. This deposit is a source of ~50% of REE for the global marketplace and China controls ~96% of global REE supply. Similarly, cobalt is a critical element for hybrid and electric vehicles and the vast majority of world supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (~60%) with the other top producers being Russia and Cuba. Given ongoing and impending trade and international political disputes between Canada and supplier nations, and the political instability in many the countries that produce these critical metals, Canada and other western nations are in a very precarious position with a high probability of supply disruptions and reserve insecurity for elements critical for the green energy transition. This uncertainty of supply could be a major impediment and could potentially decelerate changes to green energy infrastructure and the technological developments needed for a new economy.

It is clear that the transition to a new green economic, social, and political paradigm will require both abundant and secure and stable supplies of metal resources to maintain our current standard of living. We are blessed with a bounty of metal resources in our province and in our nation. In Newfoundland and Labrador, we have world-class mineral resources like the nickel-copper-cobalt deposits at Voisey’s Bay and the iron ore deposits in western Labrador, as well as production of gold, copper, limestone, gypsum on the island, as well as emerging potential sources of REE in Labrador (e.g., Strange Lake and Port Hope Simpson). Mining in the province contribute millions each year in royalties (~$90 million in 2016) and provides direct employment and resultant income tax from ~4800 employees. Further, deposits in the province provide billions in annual mineral shipments (between $2.2 and $4.4 billion annually since 2009) and support countless spin-off industries that directly contribute to our provincial economy, particularly so in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. In an emerging green economy, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians (and all Canadians) must decide whether we wish to obtain our resources domestically or be reliant on imports from much less reliable foreign sources. We have regulatory regimes at various levels of government that provide environmental oversight and monitoring, royalty and taxation regimes that ensure that generated wealth contributes to the social programs that we all value, and a talented workforce that are contributors to the minerals industry in Canada and internationally. This situation contrasts greatly with many foreign jurisdictions that will source the needed metal for the green economy should we decide not to mine the assets in our own back yards. Just as I prefer my food from local sources whenever possible (lettuce and carrots from local farmers are far superior to those far travelled and which have a much larger carbon footprint!), I also advocate for local metals. I believe we as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have an opportunity to be provide a metal contribution to the coming green economy and do so in a technically, environmentally, socially, and fiscally responsible manner.

Stephen J. Piercey, PhD, PGeo, FGC

Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, Memorial University of Newfoundland

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New Paper from my Research Group (May 23, 2017)


Ms. Marissa Hindemith, a former MSc student of my colleague Dr. Aphrodite Indares (co-author on the paper), and I recently published a new paper entitled: “Hydrothermally altered volcanic rocks metamorphosed at granulite-facies conditions: an example from the Grenville Province” in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. The paper studied 1.2 Ga rocks from the Manicouagan area of the central Grenville Province shows preservation of primary field relationships, potential relict volcanic textures, and geochemical and mineral chemical variations indicative of original submarine hydrothermal alteration, despite being metamorphosed to granulite facies. The work illustrates that aluminous nodules and sillimanite seams in tehse rocks are reflective of metamorphosed hydrothermal alteration assemblages. In addition, garnetites within these assemblages have Mn-rich garnets, Zn-rich spinels, and whole rock geochemical trends including Fe-Mg-Mn-enrichment and alkali depletions typical of mild argillic alteration found in less metamorphosed submarine altered rocks. The work illustrates that even though rocks can be metamorphosed to high grade they often preserve a chemical record of hydrothermal alteration and that rocks with such signatures in the Grenville Province may be potential volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) targets.


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Travel Log: 2016-2017 GAC Hutchison Lecture Tour (Eastern and Western Canada) and Tour Summary

In February, March, and April I undertook additional stops of the GAC Hutchison Lecture tour, in both eastern and western Canada. The Atlantic Canada portion of the tour involved presenting two talks at the Atlantic Geoscience Society (AGS) Colloquium in Fredericton, NB, on February 10-11th (despite arriving late due to February weather in St. John’s). The first talk was a new presentation entitled “VMS deposits of the Tally Pond group, central NL as monitors of tectonics, crustal architecture, and ocean chemistry along the Ganderian margin in the mid-Cambrian” and was presented in a special session on The Northern Appalachian Orogen: Correlations and Conundrums. The second talk was the condensed Hutchison lecture talk on “Evaluating the interplay of magmatism, tectonics, and basin redox in the genesis of the Wolverine volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposit, Yukon, Canada” given in the Magmas and Metals session. The level of research at this meeting was outstanding ranging from big picture tectonics and metallogeny to nano-scale analytical and experimental research, and this was coupled with a fantastic social program.  The organizers of the meeting (Dave Lentz, David Keighley, Jim Walker,  Michael Parkhill, Chris McFarlane, Ann Timmermans, and  Robin Adair) deserve special recognition for putting off such a content-rich and well-organized meeting.

The next leg of the tour involved the western Canada leg (March 21-29th). The first stop of the tour was at the University of Saskatchewan. I gave two lectures there on March 22nd. The first lecture was in Kevin Ansdell’s economic geology class and was on “Seafloor Hydrothermal Systems: What are they? Their Significance. Resources on Sea and Land” and was a general talk on seafloor systems, how we explore for them, how do they form, and an overview of mining on the seafloor. The second talk was the Hutchison Lecture on the Wolverine deposit. The question sessions after both talks were great. After the talk I had the opportunity to look at a number of  plate reconstructions and VMS distributions with Bruce Eglington. Special thanks to Camille Partin, Kevin Ansdell, and Bruce Eglington for their hospitality while hosting me at the University of Saskatchewan.

The next stop on the western leg was at the University of Alberta on March 23rd, where I gave the Zn-rich VMS talk to the University of Alberta Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Graduate Students’ Society (ATLAS).  Thanks to Stephen Johnston for his hospitality while there. Special thanks to Merilie Reynolds for the invitation and being my host, and also spending time talking to me about her research on the Red Dog deposit (and you should check out her recent paper on a revised model for the Red Dog deposit!)

The third stop on the western leg was at Simon Fraser University on March 24th where I gave the Wolverine talk in their weekly speaker series. There were lots of great questions after the talk and I had a great time with my host Dan Gibson and his students Eric Thiesen and Lianna Vice, and thank them for their hospitality.

I then traveled to Whitehorse to give the Wolverine talk at Yukon College and the Yukon Geological Survey on March 27th. There was a great audience and I thank Joel Cubley for his hospitality at the college and for hosting the talk. I was lucky enough to have some downtime in Whitehorse to hang out with my colleague Maurice Colpron and spend some time at the Yukon Geological Survey with my colleagues there, including Esther Bordet, Don Murphy, and Steve Israel. I thank Maurice Colpron for his hospitality and hosting me while in Whitehorse!

The final leg of the western Canadian portion of the tour was at my alma mater, the University of British Columbia, where I gave the Wolverine talk on March 28th. I had a really busy day with lots of meetings and discussions with students, faculty, and staff, and a lab tour of the Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research. I thank Matt Bodnar, Nikki Kovacs, Matt Manor, Fabien Rabayrol, James Scoates, Libby Sharman, and numerous members of the MDRU group for spending time with me and talking about their research while there. Murray Allen and Dominique Weiss are thanked for the invitation to talk, arranging the tour, and being my hosts while there. It was also nice to see the rainy spring in Vancouver before returning the St. John’s ahead of a “spring” snowstorm!

The final stop on the tour for 2017 was at McGill University on April 7th. I gave the Wolverine talk at McGill and the question session thereafter was the longest one on the tour covering a range of topics from volcanology, replacement process in massive sulfides, nutrient sources in the water column, basin redox, and genesis of massive sulfides. It was pretty stimulating and enjoyable. While at McGill I thank  Vincent van Hinsberg, Nicolas Gaillard, Jethro Sanz-Robinson, Kyle Henderson, Noah Phillips, Peter Douglas, Galen Halverson, Bob Martin, Jim Clark, and Lyndsay Moore for spending time with me. Jamie Kirkpatrick is thanked for arranging things and sorting out my schedule, and Vincent van Hinsberg is thanked for being my host (and also thanks for the great EPS mug!).

Some final statistics for the tour:

  • Talks given: 12.
    • Zn-rich VMS: 2.
    • Wolverine: 8.
    • Seafloor hydrothermal systems: 1.
    • Tally Pond VMS: 1.
  • Universities/sites visited: 11.
  • Flight segments: 17.
  • Train segments: 2.
  • Total km traveled (estimate): 24093.
  • Lost items: 0 (unlike 2015-2016)!

Having completed two tours in two years, it is abundantly clear to me how many great people there are in Canadian geoscience. The numerous faculty, staff, students, government, and industry researchers that are undertaking outstanding research in all aspects of geoscience is amazing. It’s been a pleasure and privilege to interact with so many of these people, to meet new people, and to learn from them. I really appreciated your hospitality and generosity! To others – if given the chance to do such a tour – do it!

I once again thank the GAC for the chance to undertake the Hutchison Lecture tour, and Alwynne Beaudoin (GAC Tour Coordinator) and Karen Johnston (GAC Headquarters) for making is so easy and helping out so much.

See you all soon!


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New Paper from my Research Group (March 23, 2017)


Just a quick note. I haven’t done this in a while, but I’m restarting this component of the blog again: notifying people when new papers come out from my research group.

Dr. Jonathan Cloutier, my former Post-Doctoral Fellow and now a Lecturer at University of St. Andrews, recently published a paper entitled “Lithostratigraphic and structural reconstruction of the Zn-Pb-Cu-Ag-Au Lemarchant volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposit, Tally Pond group, central Newfoundland, Canada.” The paper is an integrated study that utilizes lithostratigraphy, structure, and lithogeochemistry to reconstruct the original geometry of mineralization at the Lemarchant deposit. The work also evaluated the lithogeochemistry and petrogenesis of host rocks to mineralization to illustrated that they formed in a mid-Cambrian (continental) arc sequence along the edge Ganderia (i.e., peri-Gondwananan). He also argued, based on a number of lines of evidence, that the deposit formed in shallow water (<1500 m) in a migrating cross-arc seamount chain and that this tectonic and hydrologic setting resulted in fluid boiling and the precious metal enrichment found in the Lemarchant deposit. He also argued that cross-arc chains in rifted arcs may be important targets for precious metal-enriched VMS deposits.


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Travel Log: 2016-2017 GAC Hutchison Lecture Tour – Leg #1

I have the pleasure of being the winner of the Hutchison Medal of the Geological Association of Canada for 2016-2017. As part of the conditions of the award the candidate undertakes a lecture tour and this entry is a synopsis of leg #1 of the tour, where I gave four lectures in Ontario. The two lectures presented included: “The interplay of magmatism, tectonics, and basic redox in the genesis of the Wolverine VMS deposit, Yukon” (Wolverine lecture), and a talk on Zn-rich VMS deposits (I recycled this from my 2015-2016 Howard Street Robinson lecture tour).

The tour started where I started my professional career at Laurentian University on January 16th, 2017 where I gave the Wolverine lecture. It was great to be back in Sudbury amongst colleagues and students at Laurentian (where I still hold an Adjunct appointment!). The talk was attended by a lot of students and there was a great discussion after the talk. I owe special thanks to Elizabeth Turner and Dan Kontak for their hospitality while there. It’s always a pleasure to get back to the place where I got my start, and with the people who gave me that opportunity!

The second lecture of the tour was on January 17th in Toronto as part of the Toronto Geological Discussion Group (TGDG). It was an industry-dominated audience and I gave the Wolverine talk. The presentation was also webcast via Geosoft; there were 90 people in attendance and another ~200 people registered online. There was a great question and answer session after the talk with an excellent networking session after the talk where I had a chance to socialize with the attendees. I thank Lynda Bloom for the invite to present; Taronish Pithawala for all the technical help leading up and during the presentation, including the webcast; Jane Werniuk for providing logistical help; and others of the TGDG for their hospitality. Thanks to Stan Wholley and my long time colleague Sandy Archibald for the great evening and geology talk after the event.

The third lecture was given at the University of Waterloo on January 18th. I gave the Zn-rich VMS talk to a student-packed audience. The number of students in attendance was really impressive. The post-talk discussions with Brian Kendall (my host), Shoufa Lin, Chris Yackymchuk, Martin Ross, and their graduate students was fantastic. It was also great to see my colleague from Laurentian University, Darrel Long, who resides it the Waterloo area (thanks for the pick up at the train station and the chance to catch up!). I owe special thanks to my host Brian Kendall who provided the invite and dealt with all the logistics on the ground at Waterloo (and the awesome Waterloo water bottle)!

The final talk of leg #1 was at Western University on January 19th. I gave the Wolverine talk to another student-rich audience and had a great time catching up with colleagues there. Thanks to Bob Linnen, Steph Perrouty, Martina Bertelli, Neil Banerjee, Phil McCausland, and Bill Church for spending time with me while there. The afternoon social at the Grad Club with the students was appreciated and a great send off! I owe special thanks to Roberta Flemming for her hospitality while there and thanks for both the awesome UWO mug and the lab tours while there!

Besides a delayed bag for 20 hours on the front end, and a few hour delay on the way back, it was pretty smooth traveling!

As always these tours have a lot of help behind the scenes from GAC volunteers and staff and I owe special thanks to Alwynne Beaudoin (GAC Tour Coordinator) for her logistical help, and Karen Johnston at GAC headquarters for answering so many questions and her help with the travel planning!

Stay tuned for more to come in February, March, and April!

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Field Trip Log: Mistaken Point, Newfoundland


Mistaken Point viewpoint from the E surface.

OK, this post has little to do with economic geology, but it does have to deal with some really cool geology, paleontology, and a critical part of Earth’s history (the Ediacaran biota from the Ediacaran Period). So stick around….

On April 19th, I had to pleasure of visiting the Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve recently with students from both Memorial University and the Arctic University of Norway as part of the Education 4464 course at Memorial University (Experiential Education: The arts, sciences, humanities through lived, community-­based experience), led by my colleague  Jennifer Anderson in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University, along with Dr. Sylvia Moore (Labrador Institute and Faculty of Education), and Dr. Ketil Lenert Hansen (Department of Education, Artic University of Norway). The trip was also attended by 6 teacher interns from the Arctic University of Norway, 12 intermediate/secondary teacher interns from Memorial University, and Dr. Hansen’s son. The trip started at the Edge of Avalon Interpretative Centre where Pearl Coombs gave us a presentation on the centre and the local history and culture. An outstanding centre that one should visit if you are interested in shipwrecks, Irish history in Newfoundland, and great scenery!

The field trip to Mistaken Point was organized and led by Mr. Tony Power (Manager, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve) and Dr. Richard Thomas (Reserve Geologist). The trip was fantastic, and while it was a brisk day with some pretty impressive winds on the coast (albeit followed up by record-setting snowfall on April 20th), it was a really nice walk to the site and back. The rocks are outstandingly preserved and the fossils here, the Ediacaran biota, represent some of the earliest forms of complex life that evolved in the Late Precambrian. These fossils, fossil assemblages, and preservation are quite unique and have significantly influenced the way we few biotic evolution, and their uniqueness has even resulted in the establishment of a new period in the Geological Time Scale in 2006: the Ediacaran Period. The site has also been proposed as a potential global UNESCO World Heritage site and they anticipate hearing the outcome this coming July (fingers crossed!).

I’ve included some links below to some general overviews and media about the Mistaken Point fossils and their significance. If people are interested in visiting, it is important to note that the reserve is managed by staff of the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation – Parks and Natural Areas Division, and you can only visit the site via an official Parks and Natural Areas Division tour. The link below provides information on when/how to visit the site. This site is well worth visiting for the world-class geology and it is only about a two-hour drive south of St. John’s (and why not take in the Cape Race Lighthouse National Historic Site and  Edge of Avalon Interpretative Centre as well!).

Many thanks to Dr. Richard Thomas and Mr. Tony Power for leading the tour, Pearl Coombs at the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre, and Ms. Tina Leonard for the expeditious approval of the permit for the visit!

Some links and information on Mistaken Point

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Travel Blog: Howard Street Robinson Lecture Tour, Ontario Leg and Tour Summary and Statistics!

This is the third travel blog post for the Howard Street Robinson Lecture Tour sponsored by the Geological Association of Canada. In late February, I undertook the Ontario-Quebec leg of the tour. I gave two lectures in Sudbury and Ottawa before heading back ahead of a storm, unfortunately canceling two lectures in Montreal and Kingston. At both Ottawa and Sudbury, I gave the lecture on the semi-permeable interface model for subseafloor replacement-style volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits.

Stop 1. Sudbury. It was great to be back at Laurentian University and Sudbury where I spent 6+ years of my career from 2001-2007. Being in Sudbury brought back a flood of fantastic memories. I will always be indebted to my colleagues at Laurentian who gave a young researcher a chance back in 2001 and continue to collaborate with me! Thanks! I gave the talk on February 22nd and had a great discussion afterwards about sulfur and metal budgets in VMS, replacement processes, and exploration. I appreciate the hospitality of my colleagues there especially Elizabeth Turner, my host, as well as Dan Kontak, Phil Thurston, Harold Gibson, Andy McDonald, and Mike Lesher for spending time with me while there.

Stop 2. Ottawa. I gave the replacement talk at the Logan Club of the Geological Survey of Canada on February 23rd. I have had a long history of collaborative research with the GSC, and it was great to give a talk to a fabulous audience and it was followed by a fantastic question session that dug into the details of replacement processes in VMS systems. I was given a lot of great info and suggestions and appreciate the material to think about. I would like to thank Chris Lawley for being my host and arranging things in Ottawa. I also appreciate those that spent time with me while there, including Jan Peter, Beth McClenaghan, Wayne Goodfellow, Roger Paulen, Jessey Rice, and Tom Skulski. I also thank Tom for the ride to the airport and the chat about Baie Verte! A special shout out to the Ashbury House Bed and Breakfast for their fantastic hospitality; a place worth checking out if you need a neat place to stay in Ottawa.


I had to cancel two of the final stops on the Ontario-Quebec leg in Kingston and Montreal due to weather. I appreciate the organizers in Kingston and Montreal for their patience with me on this and being so understanding. I’ll try and get back at a later date.

This also clues up the tour except for a talk or two in St. John’s on home turf.

Some final statistics for the tour are (St. John’s not included in the statistics below):

  1. Total cities visited: 11.
  2. Total talks given: 18.
    • Replacement talk: 8.
    • Zn-rich VMS talk: 8.
    • Seafloor vents talk: 2.
  3. Total mileage: 22700 km.
  4. Lost fleece sweaters: 1 (Winnipeg?).
  5. Lost water bottles: 1 (Pearson International Airport).

This tour has been fun and I really thank all the people that took the time out to come see my talks and provide feedback and ask great questions; all of the local hosts that were so hospitable; and finally the people at GAC that made this possible, including Alwynne Beaudoin, GAC Lecture Tour Coordinator, James Conliffe, GAC Secretary/Treasurer, and Karen Johnston-Fowler at GAC headquarters.

Thanks again for this opportunity.


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Travel Blog: Howard Street Robinson Lecture Tour, Atlantic Leg, February 2016

This is the second travel blog post (the first blog is here) for the Howard Street Robinson Lecture Tour sponsored by the Geological Association of Canada. In February, I undertook the Atlantic leg of the tour where I gave four lectures in Halifax, Wolfville, and Antigonish. I gave lectures on: 1) Semi-permeable interface model for subseafloor replacement-style volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits, which was based on my recent paper in Economic Geology (replacement talk); and 2) Zn-rich volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits, which is based on another recent paper of mine in an Irish Association of Economic Geology Special Publication (Zn-rich VMS talk).

Stop 1 – Halifax. My first stop of the Atlantic leg was at St. Mary’s University on February 1, where I gave the replacement talk. There were some great discussions afterwards about fluid advection, replacement processes, and VMS deposits, and thanks to those that took the time to come. Special thanks to Jacob Hanley for organizing things in St. Mary’s and to my hosts Kevin Neyedley and Mitch Kerr for showing me around, touring the facilities, spending time with me talking about their research, and their overall hospitality.


Great landmark and place to visit in Halifax!


Stop 2 – Wolfville. My second stop on the Atlantic leg was at Acadia University on February 2nd where I gave the talk on Zn-rich VMS deposits. There were a lot of great questions and discussions on recognizing magmatic fluids in VMS deposits, VMS in the Appalachians and the wonderful natural laboratory we get to work on! and A special thanks to Sandra Barr for the invite, her hospitality and arranging things on the tour (including the really cool place to stay while there – the Blomidon Inn). It was also great to catch up with numerous people there including SandraChris White, Cliff Stanley, Scott Swinden, and Peir Pufahl, and  chat about tectonics, geochemistry, and VMS deposits. Thanks for taking the time.


View looking out from the Blomidon Inn looking out over Wolfville with the Minas Basin in the background.

Stop 3 – Antigonish. The third stop on the Atlantic leg was at St. Francis Xavier University where I gave the Zn-rich VMS talk on February 3rd. There was a great discussion about magmatic fluids, Zn contents of fluids, distribution of magmatic input in VMS through time (and lack thereof), water depth in VMS, and so on. I thank Evelise Bourlon for arranging the talks and other logistics. I would also like to thank Brendan Murphy and Alan Anderson for their hospitality there, for the great craft beer (when in Antigonish check out this place), and the opportunity to chat about tectonics and ore deposits!


View over St. FX campus.

Stop 4 – Halifax. The final talk on the Atlantic Leg was at Dalhousie University where I gave the Zn-rich VMS talk on February 4th. The discussion session was fantastic with lots of tangents into anoxia, framboids and sulfur isotopes, Irish-type Zn-Pb mineralization, secular distributions of VMS and metal contents, sources of metals and fluids. Lots of fun. I would like to both Yana Fedortchouk and John Gosse for their hospitality and the discussions. I would like to especially thank John for the invite, arranging things, touring me around Dalhousie, and hosting me while there.

I apologize to all on the Atlantic Leg as it seems I was finishing a talk and running off to another destination. I wish I had more time at each place to talk more science. Thanks again to all for the hospitality, I know that you are all busy, but I really appreciate the time taken to host me!

Stay tuned, one more leg in Ontario and Quebec to come!

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Travel Blog: Howard Street Robinson Lecture Tour, Western Leg, Nov 2015.

I have had the pleasure of being the Howard Street Robinson Medal winner of the Geological Association of Canada for 2015-2016. As part of the medal I am giving a lecture tour across Canada and just currently undertook the western leg of the tour where I gave 12 lectures in Whitehorse, Vancouver, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg. I will be undertaking additional legs in 2016. I gave three different presentations during this leg of the tour, including: 1) Seafloor Hydrothermal Systems: What are they? Their significance. Resources on sea and land, and life on the early Earth, which was a general talk aimed at a non-expert audience (seafloor vent talk); 2) Semi-permeable interface model for subseafloor replacement-style volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits, which was based on my recent paper in Economic Geology (replacement talk); and 3) Zn-rich volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits, which is based on another recent paper of mine in an Irish Association of Economic Geology Special Publication (Zn-rich VMS talk).

It was a great trip and outlined below are the locations and places I gave various talks and thanks to my hosts for their hospitality and the invites.

Stop 1 – Whitehorse – I gave two talks in Whitehorse, including the seafloor vents talk at Yukon College on November 13th, and the replacement talk in the Yukon Geoscience Forum on November 17th. It was great to hang out with may old Yukon friends and colleagues and talk Yukon geology again. A special thanks goes out to Joel Cubley from Yukon College for the invite to present at the college, and for Mo Colpron for hosting me while in Whitehorse.


SS Klondike near the Yukon River, Whitehorse taken early morning.

Stop 2 – Vancouver – My first talk in Vancouver was on November 18th and jointly sponsored by the Geological Association of Canada Cordilleran Section and the Mineral Deposit Research Centre at UBC and was on Zn-rich VMS. There was a fantastic crowd of old friends, colleagues from industry, and some former students. The question session was excellent with some really insightful questions. Thanks to Thomas Bissig for his hospitality and hosting me while in Vancouver.

I also gave two talks at UBC and SFU on November 20th. I gave the replacement talk at UBC (my alma mater!) in the morning, and it was hosted by the local SEG Student Chapter. There was a great question and answer session after the talk with a lots of great questions on bacteria, VMS genesis, and the nature of replacement processes. Special thanks to Rachel Kim and the SEG Student Chapter for hosting me. I gave a second talk on Zn-rich VMS at SFU in the afternoon. There were excellent questions on the role of magmatic fluids in VMS, boiling, ocean chemistry, and tectonics. It was really great to catch up with colleagues there I hadn’t seen in a while and to chat with students. Special thanks to Dan Marshall for hosting me while there.


Stroll along the seawall, Vancouver.

Stop 3 – Kelowna – I spent a great day on November 19th at UBC Okanagan and gave the seafloor vents talk. It was my first time to the campus and had a great day checking out the department and facilities, catching up with faculty, and chatting with students. Even had a chance to look at some great textures in young volcanic rocks! I’d like to thank the faculty and students that took time out to hang out with me while there, the questions after the talk (many that I couldn’t answer but it gave me some ideas about things I need to read about!), and particularly Ed Hornibrook and Janet Heisler for the excellent visit and their hospitality (I’ll wear my UBC hat with pride!).


Flying out over Okanagan Lake.

Stop 4 – Saskatoon – Had the pleasure of visiting colleagues at Saskatoon to give two talks on November 23rd. I gave the Zn-rich VMS talk at the CIM Geological Society Saskatoon Branch and thank Shayne Rozdilsky for arranging this. Great turnout with a lot of interesting questions and great to see colleagues from the local industry, including one of my former students! I gave a second talk on replacement-type VMS at the University of Saskatchewan to a student-rich audience, which was followed up by a great question period with some excellent questions on metal zoning in replacement systems, sulphur isotopes, processes for replacement, etc.. I was also lucky to have a fantastic tour of the Canadian Light Source synchrotron with Joyce McBeth (and fellow UBCer from the late 90s!). Pretty amazing place and got some great insight into what the synchrotron can be used for, and what kind of research could be done in economic geology using said instrument. I’d like to also thank Camille Partin and Kevin Ansdell for their hospitality and hosting me while there.


Canadian Light Source synchrotron.


Be very wary of synchrotron operators in their natural habitat!

Stop 5 – Regina – I gave two talks in Regina on November 24th. The first talk was on Zn-rich VMS to the Saskatchewan Geological Society. The talk was in arguably the coolest venue on the tour (the Artful Dodger Cafe) with great turnout and great questions. I also ran into a friend from my first field season in 1993! The second talk was in the afternoon on replacement-type VMS at the University or Regina. The talk had a great audience with a lot of discussions and questions on bacterial colonies in VMS, framboids, Precambrian replacement-type deposits, and faunal colonies around hydrothermal vents.  I thank Tsilavo Raharimahefa and Guoxiang Chi  for their help and hosting me at the University of Regina, and Jason Cosford, Bernadette Knox, Kate MacLachlan, Ryan Morelli, and Murray Rogers from the Saskatchewan Geological Society (and Saskatchewan Geological Survey and APEGS) for organizing the SGS talk and their hospitality while in Regina.


Solitary tree on a lonely, snowy prairie en route to Regina (or awakening the spirit of Sinclair Ross).

Stop 6 – Winnipeg – I gave two talks in Winnipeg. The first talk was on replacement-type VMS at the Manitoba Geological Survey on November 25th. This talk had a great question session with survey staff (and former survey staff) on sulphur isotopes, metamorphism and its influence on textures and isotopes, preservation of textures in ancient rocks, and heat budgets and architecture of basins hosting VMS deposits. The second talk on November 26th was at the University of Manitoba and co-hosted by the GAC Winnipeg Section, and was on Zn-rich VMS deposits. There was quite a diverse audience of faculty, students, survey, and industry. Some great questions after the talk on preservation vs. process in deposit distribution, carbonate alteration in VMS, and even on the Buchans deposits in Newfoundland. I’d like to thank Alfredo Camacho and Mostafa Fayek for their hospitality at U of M, Christian Böhm at the Manitoba Geological Survey, and a special thanks to Scott Anderson for hosting me during the entire trip!

The preparation and execution of a tour like this requires a lot of work on multiple fronts (as illustrated by the local hosts above). I would like to give special thanks to Alwynne Beaudoin, GAC Lecture Tour Coordinator for doing so much behind the scenes for the tour; James Conliffe, GAC Secretary/Treasurer, who did a lot of the promotion and social media shout outs for the tour; and Karen Johnston-Fowler at GAC headquarters who has helped immensely with the logistical and financial aspects of the tour.

Stay tuned for updates on the next leg!


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Dr. Harold (Hank) Williams (1934-2010), FRSC – CMHOF Inductee for 2016

Hank copy

It’s great pleasure to share that former Professor of Earth Sciences at Memorial University, Dr. Hank Williams, was recently announced as one of the 2016 inductees into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame. Hank has received many tributes in his career, including an outstanding new book “Realtime Geological Syntheses: Remembering Harold ‘Hank’ Williams” by the Geological Association of Canada, but his induction into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame is particularly satisfying as Hank was not an Economic Geologist, nor was he directly involved in mining or mineral exploration. Despite this, his work had great influence on our understanding of geological and tectonic processes, which in turn had significant impact on mining and mineral exploration.

The nomination was a collective effort between colleagues Frank Blackwood, Peter Dimmell, and I, and we received numerous letters of support from other colleagues that were critical to the nomination’s success. I would like to thank all letter writers: Dr. Jim Franklin, Dr. Jeremy Hall, Dr. John Hanchar, Mr. Bob Kelly, Dr. Tom Lane, Dr. Bill Mercer, Mr. Gerry Squires, Dr. David Strong, Dr. Scott Swinden, Dr. Geoff Thurlow, Mr. Roger Wallis, and Dr. Richard Wardle. In addition, Dr. Bill Roscoe is thanked for his support during the nomination process.

Outlined below is an edited version of the nomination presented here as a tribute to Hank, but also to illustrate how Hank’s basic geological observational data and big picture thinking were relevant not only to understanding geological processes, but also had a longer term impact on mineral exploration and development.

Dr Harold (Hank) Williams (1934-2010), FRSC – Nomination for the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame

Dr. Harold (Hank) Williams was one of Canada’s most preeminent geoscientists .  His work greatly influenced the thinking of generations of geoscientists, especially those working in regional mapping and metallogeny.

His fundamentals-based approach to Geoscience through mapping, regional geological synthesis, and tectonic reconstructions of mountain belts laid the framework and thought processes behind predictive metallogeny.  This approach to mineral discovery has become a fundamental tool that has led to exploration and development successes in Canada, and continues to be used in the modern mining and exploration sectors globally.  While Hank was not a classic Economic Geologist, nor directly involved with the mining industry, his work and the extensions of this work provided fundamental geological knowledge used in modern mineral exploration and mining.

Career Overview, Contributions, and Legacy

Dr. Hank Williams was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and obtained BSc (1956) and MSc (1958) degrees from Memorial University.  He undertook a PhD at the University of Toronto (1961); his thesis involved geological mapping and metamorphic work in the Chisel Lake area, host to numerous deposits in the Snow Lake Mining Camp.  His thesis results were published as maps, a Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) Memoir, and an article in the Canadian Mining Journal.  This work was instrumental in putting the important deposits of the Chisel Lake area in regional context and,  to the surprise of many, he argued that the massive sulfides were exhalative, not replacement deposits as was in vogue at the time.  Following his PhD, Hank became a geologist in the Appalachian Section of the Geological Survey of Canada where he undertook regional mapping in various locations in the Appalachians.  During his time at the GSC, he published a seminal paper entitled “The Appalachians in Northeastern Newfoundland: A Two-Side Symmetrical System” in the American Journal of Science (1964).  His 1964 paper, and his 1967 synthetic geological compilation map of the Island of Newfoundland, were landmark contributions.  They were the first on-land syntheses of an orogenic belt to be placed in a plate tectonic framework.  The theory of plate tectonics was in its infancy at this point, and Hank’s work in Newfoundland greatly influenced the work of others, including Canadian Mining Hall of Famer Dr. J. Tuzo Wilson.  Dr. Wilson went on to publish his landmark paper (Nature, 1964) on the opening and closing of the Atlantic after Hank’s 1964 publication.  Hank’s on-land contributions were synchronous with Wilson and others, and they were critical in moving the plate tectonic revolution forward.

In 1968 Hank moved back to St. John’s to become an Associate Professor in the newly rejuvenated Department of Geology at Memorial University.  Hank continued his research in the Appalachians, often in conjunction with the GSC, and was promoted to Professor in 1971, University Research Professor from 1984-1989, Alexander Murray Professor from 1990-1995, and then as a Professor until his official retirement in 1999.  During his time at Memorial Hank received numerous awards.  He was one of the youngest individuals to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and was also awarded the Miller Medal from the same group for his contributions to geoscience.  He was also awarded the Logan and Past President’s Medal of the Geological Association of Canada; the R.J.W. Douglas Medal and Special Service Medal of the Canadian Society for Petroleum Geologists (it being recognition from the oil industry of the impact of his tectonic syntheses on petroleum exploration); and was named University Research Professor from 1984-1989 at Memorial University, an award given only to the top researchers.

The numerous awards received reflected the ground-breaking work that he undertook at Memorial.  One of his greatest contributions was his synthesis of the Appalachian mountain chain from Alabama to Newfoundland, published in 1978 (Tectonic – Lithofacies Map of the Appalachian Orogen) by Memorial University.  This map was one of the first continental-scale compilations of an ancient orogen, and it was the geological basis for his 1979 paper in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences (Appalachian Orogen in Canada – cited over 450 times).  The lithofacies map and paper provided a new approach to subdividing orogens based on the assemblages of rocks and their tectonic affinities; this significantly influenced the suspect terrane and tectonic assemblage concept that was utilized in many orogens globally (e.g., Cordillera – Coney et al., 1980 – Nature).  In addition to his synthesis work, Hank contributed greatly to understanding the emplacement of ophiolites, rift-drift transitions and the breakup of continents, collisional and accretionary tectonics, and the significance of mélanges in orogenic belts.  He continued to produce papers and maps into his retirement, including editing the Decade of North American Geology volume on the Appalachians.   In one of his final papers (Tectonics of Atlantic Canada – Geoscience Canada), he wrote about the “Harry Hibbs Effect” named after well-known Newfoundland accordion player Harry Hibbs.  Hank compared the geological formation of Atlantic Canada to the opening and closing of an accordion, whereby the opening and closing of oceans resulting in the formation of the Grenville and Appalachian orogens, and the modern Atlantic Ocean.

The Harry Hibbs Effect illustrated Hank’s ability to take complex information, synthesize it, and make it accessible not only to scientists, but the general public.  Hank gave public lectures on the Appalachians to numerous community groups up until his death in 2010.  While formally talking about geology and tectonics, after the talks he would also commonly play various instruments and entertain audiences with his musical talents.  His innate ability to connect on both a professional and personal level allowed his message about the Appalachians and Geoscience, in general, to be well received by diverse audiences, thereby increasing the impact of our discipline on the general public.

Impact on Canadian (and Global) Mineral Exploration and Mining

Dr. Williams’ work  influences mining and mineral exploration in Canada and globally.  Hank was a preeminent field geologist whose work was based on careful field observations, and then using these outcrop-scale relationships to decipher regional tectonics and the evolution of the Appalachian-Caledonian Orogen, from southern US to Scandinavia.  His groundbreaking synthesis and tectonic lithofacies map of the Appalachians was one of the first of its kind globally and provided one of the first plate tectonic syntheses of an ancient orogen.   His map placed different mineral deposit types, ranging from massive sulfide (e.g., Bathurst, Buchans, ophiolite-hosted VMS deposits), carbonate-hosted Pb-Zn (e.g., Daniel’s Harbour), to syngenetic and orogenic gold deposits (e.g., Carolina Slate Belt, Meguma, Baie Verte district), in a regional tectonic context, which had never been done in the Appalachians, or in other orogens globally.   As stated in the support letter of Mr. Gerry Squires, modern mineral exploration “lives and dies with the compilation”, and Hank’s compilation of the Appalachians, born from careful observations, coupled with his geological insight and innovation, has significantly influenced exploration geologists in the Appalachians.  It helped them focus their exploration strategies and define explore targets, which ultimately resulted in the discovery of new deposits, some of which have subsequently gone into production (e.g., past-producing Duck Pond mine).

Hank’s regional tectonic synthesis, placing deposits in a plate tectonic framework, was groundbreaking, influencing many of his colleagues in academia, government, and industry, and it was the seed for the concept of regional metallogeny.   Up to this time most Economic Geologists did not think of ore deposits in a regional tectonic context, and his research resulted in the dawn of predictive metallogeny and a greater understanding of the regional to local scale controls on ore deposit localization.  Industry luminaries embraced this concept utilizing it for area selection,  global terrane selection, thereby cementing regional metallogeny as an important component of research and exploration (e.g., Dr. Richard Hutchinson (a CMHOF inductee), 1973 – Economic Geology on VMS and Their Metallogenic Significance; Dr. David Strong – 1976 – Metallogeny and Plate Tectonics; Dr. Duncan Derry (a CMHOF inductee) – 1980 -World Atlas of Geology and Mineral Deposits).  The Appalachians and Hank’s work thus became the example of how to link regional mapping and tectonic syntheses to metallogeny.  Furthermore, Hank’s integrated approach became the basis for numerous government and industry-funded projects that have been of great significance to the mining industry of Canada and Canadian Geoscience, including:

Hank has also been responsible for training a generation of geologists to read the rocks, training both undergraduate and graduate students to use field relationships, obtained through mapping and outcrop-scale observations, to understand processes on regional tectonic scales.  His cross-island fieldtrips of the Newfoundland Appalachians allowed student, industry, and government geologists to understand how to tackle the synthesis of an orogenic belt, such that the Newfoundland Appalachians has become a key field location for students and professionals to understand tectonic processes and where mineral deposits fit into a regional tectonic framework.  Hank taught and trained his students with an enthusiasm and excitement for the rocks that was unparalleled, and influenced a generation of students that had a real interest in rocks and relationships (i.e., mapping skills), not just laboratory or computer-based information.   These skills and thinking were critical in creating geologists, many of whom went into industry, and utilized their knowledge in exploration and mining.  Furthermore, he created a legacy of mentorship, both at Memorial University and in his former students, that continues to be passed on: in that field observations, geological relationships, and geological maps remain the fundamental building blocks of effective mineral exploration and development.


Dr. Harold Williams is the father of the synthesis of ancient orogenic belts and placing them in a regional tectonic framework.

His work was the seed that spawned the concept of regional metallogy, and of using tectonic lithofacies assemblages for predicting potentially fertile ground for mineral exploration and development.   In some cases, this work led directly to deposit discoveries and eventual mines (e.g., Duck Pond mine).  His scientific endeavours were paralleled by a career of training geoscientists and influencing his peers to use field observations, mapping, and intellectual intuition to understand the evolution of orogenic belts and the mineral deposits in them.

This has been a great benefit to our country and to the mining and mineral exploration industry of Canada.   He has made outstanding Technical and Supporting Contributions (categories 2 and 3) to Geoscience knowledge, and is a more than worthy candidate for the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.

Stephen J. Piercey, R. Frank Blackwood, and Peter M. Dimmell.

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