Searching for gem deposits on Baffin Island, Nunavut

Museum mineralogist Paula Piilonen and research assistant Glenn Poirier have been invited to be part of a large geological mapping project in Nunavut. They will be searching for gem deposits as part of their first-ever field season in the Arctic. 

New research projects come from all sorts of directions—an idea sparked from reading a scientific publication, interesting samples picked up in the field, or discussions with other mineralogists. Sometimes they literally come knocking!

In 2011, I was asked to take part in one such project.

Woman standing by rock outcrop.

Paula Piilonen, shown during fieldwork in Norway in 2011, is heading North for her first-ever field research in Canada’s Arctic. Image: Paula Piilonen © Canadian Museum of Nature

Fast forward 11 months and Glenn Poirier and I are now in Iqaluit, Nunavut for our first field season in the Arctic. We’ve spent the last months preparing for this trip in ways that I have not experienced before. We completed a wilderness first aid course and firearms safety course, obtained a firearms permit, and took “bear awareness” training—all very different from the training required for fieldwork in Thailand and Cambodia, my last research destination!

We are part of a large, interdisciplinary project spearheaded by the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office that includes geologists, geochemists and geophysicists from universities and government research laboratories across Canada.

The aim of the project is to map the Hall Peninsula, on Baffin Island, Nunavut. This vast area, one of the last unknown geological frontiers in the Canadian Arctic, is located northeast of Iqaluit.

The team will collect new bedrock, as well as surficial, geophysical and geochemical data from the Peninsula in order to produce a 1:250,000 scale map of the area. The map will be the first of its kind.

Man sitting on ground looks at GPS device in his hand.

Glenn Poirier takes a GPS reading during fieldwork in Norway in 2011. Paula and Glenn will make use of GPS as they search for gem deposits on the Hall Peninsula. Image: Paula Piilonen © Canadian Museum of Nature

As mineralogists, our role in the project is to locate, describe and sample gem deposits. These may be used for lapidary, carving and jewellery by the local Inuit in Iqaluit’s Arctic College jewellery program.

We will spend a week camping on the Peninsula and will be flown by helicopter to potential gem sites each day—not to mention keeping a close lookout for polar bears!

Evenings will be spent in discussions with other geologists in camp, reviewing the mapping data collected during the day, examining rock specimens, and planning the next day’s forays into the field.

A woman swings a small hammer against a chisel on a rock face.

Paula Piilonen uses a hammer and chisel to gather samples during field research in Norway. Similar techniques will be used as she and Glenn Poirier search for gem deposits on Baffin Island. Image: Paula Piilonen © Canadian Museum of Nature

We will also have the opportunity to visit a new diamond prospect in the area (Chidliak), which is owned and operated by Peregrine Diamonds Ltd. We plan to talk to their geologists and perhaps obtain samples for research.

The countdown has begun! More from Canada’s North when we return from the field and decamp in Iqaluit.

About Paula Piilonen

A mineralogist with the Research Division at the Canadian Museum of Nature.
This entry was posted in Arctic, Fieldwork, Research, Rocks and minerals and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Searching for gem deposits on Baffin Island, Nunavut

  1. Pingback: Ice and Land—Impressions from Baffin Island, Nunavut | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

  2. Pingback: New Mineral Discoveries on Baffin Island, Nunavut | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

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