Earth Sciences, Department of

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How Important Are Those Fracture Zones? Scale Dependent Characteristics Revealed Through Field Studies and an Integrated Hydrological Model of a Mountain Headwater Catchment

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Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-12-02
Abstract: 

Modeling groundwater flow in bedrock can be particularly challenging due to heterogeneities associated with fracture zones. However, fracture zones can be difficult to map, particularly in forested areas where tree cover obscures land surface features. This study presents the evidence of fracture zones in a small, snowmelt-dominated mountain headwater catchment and explores the significance of these fracture zones on groundwater flow in the catchment. A newly acquired bare earth image acquired using LiDAR identifies a previously undetected linear erosion zone that passes near a deep bedrock well at low elevation in the catchment. Borehole geophysical logs indicate more intense fracturing in this well compared to two wells at higher elevation. The well also exhibited a linear flow response during a pumping test, which is interpreted to reflect the influence of a nearby vertical fracture zone. The major ion chemistry and stable isotope composition reveal a slightly different chemical composition and a more depleted isotopic signature for this well compared to other groundwaters and surface waters sampled throughout the catchment. With this evidence of fracturing at the well scale, an integrated land surface – subsurface hydrologic model is used to explore four different model structures at the catchment scale. The model is refined in steps, beginning with a single homogeneous bedrock layer, and progressively adding 1) a network of large-scale fracture zones within the bedrock, 2) a weathered bedrock zone, and 3) an updated LiDAR-derived digital elevation model, to gain insight into how increasing subsurface geological complexity and land surface topography influence model fit to observed data and the various water balance components. Ultimately, all of the models are considered plausible, with similar overall fit to observed data (snow, streamflow, pressure heads in piezometers, and groundwater levels) and water balance results. However, the models with fracture zones and a weathered zone had better fits for the low elevation well. These models contributed slightly more baseflow (~14% of streamflow) compared to models without a weathered zone (~1%). Thus, in the watershed scale model, including a weathered bedrock zone appears to more strongly influence the hydrology than only including fracture zones.

Document type: 
Article

The Northern Termination of the Cache Creek Terrane in Yukon: Middle Triassic Arc Activity and Jurassic–Cretaceous Structural Imbrication

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Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-04-16
Abstract: 

The northernmost part of the Cache Creek terrane lies in south-central Yukon and comprises metavolcanic rocks, hemipelagic chert and shale, newly identified volcaniclastic and clastic rocks (Michie formation, informal), pyroxenite and gabbro intrusive rocks with an arc to back-arc geochemical signature, as well as tectonized and serpentinized ultramafic rocks. The proximally sourced Michie formation yielded zircon from two samples with unimodal peaks at 245.85 ± 0.07 and 244.64 ± 0.08 Ma. These dates are likely close to the depositional ages and compare favourably with those from the Kutcho assemblage of northern British Columbia. The Michie formation is exposed along the northwestern flank of Mount Michie and represents singular detrital input from a nearby eroding island-arc. The Cache Creek terrane rocks are imbricated with epiclastic and carbonate rocks of the Stikinia and Lower Jurassic siliciclastic rocks of the synorogenic Whitehorse trough. This imbrication records two compressional deformation phases in the region: (1) an initial phase of west-verging thrusting along the Judas Mountain fault that placed the Cache Creek terrane rocks over the arc and basinal rocks of Stikinia and Whitehorse trough; and (2) a second phase of east-verging thrusting along the Mount Michie fault that repositioned rocks of Stikinia and the Whitehorse trough structurally above those of the Cache Creek terrane. Deformation in the centre of the study area was followed by emplacement of a coarse-grained syenite that yielded 40Ar/39Ar biotite and muscovite cooling ages of 165–160 Ma.

Document type: 
Article

The Distinct Metamorphic Stages and Structural Styles of the 1.94–1.86 Ga Snowbird Orogen, Northwest Territories, Canada

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Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-07-20
Supervisor(s): 
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF)
Abstract: 

Palaeoproterozoic orogenesis within the Archean southeastern Rae craton is related to the initial amalgamation of Laurentia. Characterizing the accompanying tectonic processes during this time has been complicated due to polymetamorphism, which results in the obscuring of the age record of the terranes involved. To improve the knowledge of the tectonic evolution of the South Rae Craton, petrologic and structural analyses are applied in conjunction with in situ trace element chemistry, inclusion barometry, U–Pb monazite and titanite, and Lu–Hf garnet chronology. The data robustly constrain Palaeoproterozoic pressure–temperature–time paths of major deformational events along the southeastern Rae craton margin. D1 occurred between 1.94 and 1.93 Ga in the Dodge-Snowbird domain, which included prograde burial of metasedimentary rocks, deposited at 2.2–2.0 Ga, and the development of migmatitic layering and east-southeast trending folds (S1, F1). Peak metamorphism is recorded in metasedimentary units at c. 1.93 Ga when rocks reached conditions of 9.0–10.5 kbar and 810–830°C. Within the Dodge-Snowbird domain, D2 imparted north-northeast trending open folds and associated axial planar cleavage (S2, F2) between 1.93 and 1.90 Ga during east-west compression that appears to have been synchronous with cooling and exhumation. Later D2 deformation, localized within the Wholdaia Lake shear zone (WLsz; ST1), developed in the footwall of this thrust-sense structure at 1,873 ± 5 Ma at conditions of 9.5–11.0 kbar and 820–850°C. The hangingwall Dodge-Snowbird domain had already cooled to below 300°C by then, indicating a significant structural and metamorphic break across the domain's western boundary. A new phase of unroofing (D3) involved pervasive amphibolite- to greenschist facies extensional shearing (ST2) within the WLsz, which overprinted ST1 foliations between 1.87 and 1.86 Ga. Continued greenschist facies shearing younger than 1.86 Ga likely ended by c. 1.83 Ga when lamprophyre dykes cut the structure, which was followed by cooling until c. 1.80 Ga. This work highlights the utility and application of multiple chronometers (zircon, monazite, titanite, garnet) along with structural and petrologic analysis that together can resolve precise orogenic cycles in polymetamorphic terranes that may otherwise be undetected. The time-resolved P–T–D histories derived here enable more robust interpretations regarding the nature and evolution of 1.9 Ga tectonism along the southeast Rae craton margin, which may be used to refine models for Laurentian terrane amalgamation.

Document type: 
Article

Comparing Approaches for Reconstructing Groundwater Levels in the Mountainous Regions of Interior British Columbia, Canada, Using Tree Ring Widths

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Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-12-19
Abstract: 

Observed groundwater level records are relatively short (<100 years), limiting long-term studies of groundwater variability that could provide valuable insight into climate change effects. This study uses tree ring data from the International Tree Ring Database (ITRDB) and groundwater level data from 22 provincial observation wells to evaluate different approaches for reconstructing groundwater levels from tree ring widths in the mountainous southern interior of British Columbia, Canada. The twenty-eight reconstruction models consider the selection of observation wells (e.g., regional average groundwater level vs. wells classified by recharge mechanism) and the search area for potential tree ring records (climate footprint vs. North American Ecoregions). Results show that if the climate footprint is used, reconstructions are statistically valid if the wells are grouped according to recharge mechanism, with streamflow-driven and high-elevation recharge-driven wells (both snowmelt-dominated) producing valid models. Of all the ecoregions considered, only the Coast Mountain Ecoregion models are statistically valid for both the regional average groundwater level and high-elevation recharge-driven systems. No model is statistically valid for low-elevation recharge-driven systems (rainfall-dominated). The longest models extend the groundwater level record to the year 1500, with the highest confidence in the later portions of the reconstructions going back to the year 1800.

Document type: 
Article

An Imbalancing Act: The Delayed Dynamic Response of the Kaskawulsh Glacier to Sustained Mass Loss

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Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-12-29
Abstract: 

The Kaskawulsh Glacier is an iconic outlet draining the icefields of the St. Elias Mountains in Yukon, Canada. We determine and attempt to interpret its catchment-wide mass budget since 2007. Using SPOT5/6/7 data we estimate a 2007–18 geodetic balance of −0.46 ± 0.17 m w.e. a−1. We then compute balance fluxes and observed ice fluxes at nine flux gates to examine the discrepancy between the climatic mass balance and internal mass redistribution by glacier flow. Balance fluxes are computed using a fully distributed mass-balance model driven by downscaled and bias-corrected climate-reanalysis data. Observed fluxes are calculated using NASA ITS_LIVE surface velocities and glacier cross-sectional areas derived from ice-penetrating radar data. We find the glacier is still in the early stages of dynamic adjustment to its mass imbalance. We estimate a committed terminus retreat of ~23 km under the 2007–18 climate and a lower bound of 46 km3 of committed ice loss, equivalent to ~15% of the total glacier volume.

Document type: 
Article

Genetics of Century-Old Fish Scales Reveal Population Patterns of Decline

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Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-08-20
Abstract: 

Conservation scientists rarely have the information required to understand changes in abundance over more than a few decades, even for important species like Pacific salmon. Such lack of historical information can underestimate the magnitude of decline for depressed populations. We applied genetic tools to a unique collection of 100‐year‐old salmon scales to reveal declines of 56%–99% in wild sockeye populations across Canada's second largest salmon watershed, the Skeena River. These analyses reveal century‐long declines that are much greater than those based on modern era abundance data, which suggested that only 7 of 13 populations declined over the last five decades. Populations of larger‐bodied fish have declined the most in abundance, likely because of size‐selective commercial fisheries. Our findings illustrate how a deep historical perspective can expand our understanding of past abundances to a time before species incurred significant losses from fishing, and help inform conservation for diminished populations.

Document type: 
Article

Late Cretaceous to Paleocene Tectonometamorphic Evolution of the Blanchard River Assemblage, Southwest Yukon: New Insight into the Terminal Accretion of Insular Terranes in the Northern Cordillera

File(s): 
Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-09-21
Abstract: 

The Intermontane-Insular terrane boundary stretches over 2000 kilometers from British Columbia to Alaska in the western Cordillera. Juxtaposed between these terranes is a series of Jura-Cretaceous basinal and arc assemblages that record a complicated and contested tectonic evolution related to the Mesozoic-Paleocene accretionary history of northwestern North America. In southwest Yukon, west-verging thrust faults facilitated structural stacking of the Yukon-Tanana terrane over these basinal assemblages, including the Early Cretaceous Blanchard River assemblage. These previously undated compressional structures are thought to be related to the final collapse of the Jura-Cretaceous basins and the tectonic burial of the Blanchard River assemblage resulting in amphibolite facies metamorphism. New in situ U-Th-Pb monazite ages record at least three tectonic events: (1) the tectonic burial of the Blanchard River assemblage to amphibolite facies conditions between 83 and 76 Ma; (2) peak burial was followed by regional exhumation at ca. 70-68 Ma; and (3) intense heating and ca. 63-61 Ma low-pressure contact metamorphism attributed to the intrusion of the voluminous Ruby Range suite, which is part of the northern Coast Mountains batholith. The tectonometamorphic evolution recorded in the Blanchard River assemblage can be correlated to tectonism within southwest Yukon and along the length of the Insular-Intermontane boundary from western British Columbia through southwestern Yukon and Alaska. In southwest Yukon, these results suggest an asymmetric final collapse of Jura-Cretaceous basins during the Late Cretaceous, which relates to the terminal accretion of the Insular terranes as they moved northward.

Document type: 
Article

Melt Inclusion Vapour Bubbles: The Hidden Reservoir for Major and Volatile Elements

File(s): 
Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-06-03
Abstract: 

Olivine-hosted melt inclusions (MIs) provide samples of magmatic liquids and their dissolved volatiles from deep within the plumbing system. Inevitable post-entrapment modifications can lead to significant compositional changes in the glass and/or any contained bubbles. Re-heating is a common technique to reverse MI crystallisation; however, its effect on volatile contents has been assumed to be minor. We test this assumption using crystallised and glassy basaltic MIs, combined with Raman spectroscopy and 3D imaging, to investigate the changes in fluid and solid phases in the bubbles before and after re-heating. Before re-heating, the bubble contains CO2 gas and anhydrite (CaSO4) crystallites. The rapid diffusion of major and volatile elements from the melt during re-heating creates new phases within the bubble: SO2, gypsum, Fe-sulphides. Vapour bubbles hosted in naturally glassy MIs similarly contain a plethora of solid phases (carbonates, sulphates, and sulphides) that account for up to 84% of the total MI sulphur, 80% of CO2, and 14% of FeO. In both re-heated and naturally glassy MIs, bubbles sequester major and volatile elements that are components of the total magmatic budget and represent a “loss” from the glass. Analyses of the glass alone significantly underestimates the original magma composition and storage parameters.

Document type: 
Article

Physical Volcanology of Tseax Volcano, British Columbia, Canada

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Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-05-12
Abstract: 

Tseax volcano erupted ∼ 250 years ago in NW British Columbia, Canada producing tephra deposits and lava flows. Field mapping has defined the stratigraphy of Tseax and the lava flow morphologies. Aerial photogrammetry and bathymetry surveys were used to create a high resolution digital elevation model of the volcano to facilitate mapping and estimates of erupted material volumes. Tseax volcano (∼ 10.4 ± 0.7 × 106 m3) comprises an outer breached spatter rampart and an inner conical tephra cone. Tseax is associated with a 32 km long and 0.49 ± 0.08 km3 basanite-to-tephrite lava flow field covering ∼ 36 km2 and divided into 4 distinct lava flows with heterogeneous surface morphologies. We present a volcanological map of Tseax volcano at a scale of 1:22,500. This will serve as supporting information for further research on the eruptive history of Tseax volcano and the lava flow field emplacement.

Document type: 
Article

Multi-decadal Reduction in Glacier Velocities and Mechanisms Driving Deceleration at Polythermal White Glacier, Arctic Canada

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Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2017-02-27
Abstract: 

Annual and seasonal surface velocities measured continuously from 1960 to 1970 at White Glacier, a 14 km long polythermal valley glacier spanning ~100–1800 m a.s.l., provide the most comprehensive early record of ice dynamics in the Canadian Arctic. Through comparison with differential GPS-derived velocity data spanning 2012–16, we find reductions in mean annual velocity by 31 and 38% at lower elevations (600 and 400 m a.s.l.). These are associated with decreased internal ice deformation due to ice thinning and reduced basal motion likely due to increased hydraulic efficiency in recent years. At higher elevation (~850 m a.s.l.) there is no detectable change in annual velocity and the expected decrease in internal deformation rates due to ice thinning is offset by increased basal motion in both summer and winter, likely attributable to supraglacial melt accessing a still inefficient subglacial drainage system. Decreases in mass flux at lower elevations since the 1960s cannot explain the observed elevation loss of ~20 m, meaning that ice thinning along the glacier trunk is primarily a function of downwasting rather than changing ice dynamics. The current response of the glacier exemplifies steady thinning, velocity slowdown and upstream retreat of the ELA but, because the glacier has an unstable geometry with considerable mass in the 1300–1500 m elevation range, a retreat of the ELA to >1300 plausible within 25–40 years, could trigger runaway wastage.

Document type: 
Article