Meeting the Resource Challenge: Back to the Future

Professor Mark Hannington seated inside the submersible JAGO, a manned underwater vehicle, exploring underwater volcanoes off the coast of the Canary Islands.

Professor Mark Hannington (University of Ottawa), Laurentian University, and the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research (GEOMAR)

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

The already limited supply of raw materials that are easily accessible on Earth are rapidly declining, and this will soon be a major problem for the ever-growing population that calls this planet home.

Funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, and led by Laurentian University, the Metal Earth project is a strategic alliance of scientists from Canadian and international universities, governments and industry who have partnered to achieve a better understanding of the Deep Earth and its resources – knowledge that is urgently needed to access tomorrow’s raw materials. The University of Ottawa is proud to contribute to this effort in Canada’s largest-ever research initiative on the future of mineral resources.

The present is the key to the past: while researchers at Laurentian University are probing the ancient crust of the Canadian Shield to better understand where resources formed in the distant geological past, Professor Mark Hannington and his team in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences are heading into the oceans to study modern plate tectonics and its role in global resource distribution. They are using deep-sea technologies to reveal how mineral-rich continental crust might have formed in ancient oceans before becoming part of the Canadian landmass. The work of Metal Earth is a first big step towards a solution for the discovery of future raw materials. New images of the tectonic plates in the oceans are generated to test ideas about crustal growth and ore formation. In the “ocean laboratory”, the team can directly observe the processes that endowed ancient continental crust with ore deposits, and with that insight they are able to better predict where future resources may be found on land. As Prof. Hannington says, “The easy discoveries have already been made; we now need much better models of the Earth’s crust to find the resources for the future”.

Photo credit: JAGO Team, GEOMAR - Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel.

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