John Shimeld

Natural Resources Canada

Learn about the super volcano that shaped the Alpha Ridge and the importance of this scientific research to Canada.


To have the opportunity go to places where no human has ever been…to see parts of the earth…to be one of the first people to actually see what's beneath the sea floor in an unexplored area…it’s just thrilling.

It's an absolutely incredible opportunity that we’re collecting scientific information about the margin offshore Canada and in fact a very significant part of Canada's landmass. I think it might be up to 40% of Canada's landmass that is in the offshore.

These are resources and there's an environment and so forth that requires stewardship and management. And if you don't understand what's there, then there is no opportunity to actually make decisions about how the resources might or might not be used or extracted, what kind of environmental regulations might be necessary to ensure that we have a safe operation, a clean environment.  If you don't know what is there, you can't manage it.

My role is essentially as a geophysicist to collect data in the Arctic and along the Atlantic margins. I've been involved in every field program and data acquisition project pretty well since 2005, working both on icebreakers and sea ice at times, and also staying in remote areas such as the research stations Alert or Eureka.

My job essentially is to make sure that we’re getting the seismic data that's needed to measure the thickness of the sediments offshore.

The United Nations convention depends on a measurement of how thick the sediments are offshore and in order to do that you need to collect seismic data. In analyzing the data that we’re collecting, for example, were discovering the fact that Alpha Ridge (which is an absolutely massive volcanic sub-marine complex) is essentially a mega-volcano.  At various times in Earth’s history, there have been absolutely gigantic volcanic explosions and extrusion of lava. All the major extinctions of life through geologic times have been associated with these super volcano events and, in the Arctic Ocean, we very likely had something like that. But until we started this work in 2006, even something like that was very poorly known.

The United Nations convention is an amazing example of integrating science into essentially international diplomacy. It's absolutely incredible. We have what is essentially a constitution of the oceans that's allowing countries to define boundaries without any kind of aggression and we're able to establish an internationally recognized boundary around our entire land mass. To me that's a profound effect on human society.

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