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Geological processes model to help assess Arctic resource potential, scientists say

The project includes experts from four countries

ST. PETERSBURG, April 21. /TASS/. Scientists of the St. Petersburg State University as part of a team of experts from four countries began creating a dynamic model of geological processes, which have continued inside the Earth in the Arctic for millions of years. The model may be used to obtain new data and to analyze existing information on the Arctic’s geology to assess the region’s resource potential, the University’s Head of the Department of Regional Geology Viktoria Yershova told TASS.

"Our project’s purpose is to summarize existing information about the Arctic’s geological structure, as well as to collect new data. This is a major cross-border study, and such projects are important for understanding the structure and history of the geological development in the entire Arctic region," the expert said.

The project participants will put together a digital map, based on a huge database, factoring in the specifics of the geological structure and various processes (climate, volcanoes, shifts of lithosphere layers, etc.) in Arctic territories of different countries over millions of years.

"From the fundamental point of view we hope to determine the role and nature of magmatism in the Arctic’s geological history and to analyze its influence on the geological structure and tectonic history," she continued. "In addition to that, new information about the Arctic’s geological structure will help assess more accurately the region’s resource potential."

The project features experts from four countries, which have been the most active in studying the Arctic: Russia (the St. Petersburg State University), Norway (the University of Oslo and University Centre in Svalbard), the US (the University of Texas at Austin, the Sonoma State University and the University of Alaska), and Canada (the University of Ottawa and the University of Victoria). The project, supported by a grant from Norway’s National Science Foundation, will take four years.

Data collection and processing

Work on the project continues in various directions from studying the deep structure of the Arctic, specific features of magmatism and tectonics to climate changes. "Our project is multidisciplinary: that is, researchers are engaged in the Arctic studies in a variety of fields: geophysics, geology and paleoclimatology," the scientist said. "And together with other experts we solve the common task to create a geodynamic model."

Under the project, experts will travel to the Arctic to collect materials there. Besides, the scientists continue testing the samples, collected in 2017-2020 as part of an earlier project, she said. Back then, scientists from St. Petersburg registered stratigraphic data on changes in ancient animals’ remains and on some other indicators on Spitsbergen. By using those data scientists will study the climate of 150-120 million years ago (Jurassic, Cretaceous periods).

The St. Petersburg University’s scientists also collected data during an expedition to the Russian Arctic zone in the North-Western Federal District. The data were based on zirconium. Having analyzed those samples they could identify, for example, where volcanoes were located in the past. In order to reconstruct processes inside the Earth, scientists use geophysical methods, where by using magnet fields they can describe various processes, which are impossible to see any other way. Later on, scientists set out on a few more expeditions, including to Spitzbergen.

In early 2021, St. Petersburg scientists began studies of hard-to-reach igneous rocks in the east of the Kara Sea, which are more than 225 million years old. The researchers analyze the igneous samples of acidic rocks (granites) from collections formed during eastern Arctic studies of previous years. The scientists will describe their properties and will date those objects by using the isotope-geochronological method. They will collect additional rock samples during expeditions to the Taimyr Peninsula.

Intensive courses and expeditions for students

An educational part is the project’s important component. Students from partner universities will be invited to intensive courses and expeditions to the Arctic region, mostly to Spitzbergen. They will also work at research laboratories. In all, the project involves a few dozen people.

"The courses will continue for one month, and they will feature students from all participating countries," the expert said. "In 2020, a few our students participated in studies on Spitzbergen, they stayed there for a month. Our students also took short-term courses in the US where they worked in labs <...>, as joined by students from Canada and Norway. Our university, in its turn, welcomed foreign lecturers, who read lectures for Russian students. We hope, when the pandemic restrictions are lifted, such international educational programs will continue."

The St. Petersburg State University is a world-class scientific and educational center, a biggest center of Russian sciences and culture. It is the oldest university in Russia.