University of Calgary

What made Arctic climate change 280 million years ago?

UToday HomeJune 28, 2013

Daniel Calvo Gonzalez, Eric Pelletier and Benoit Beauchamp left for a three-week trip to the Arctic to study rocks and what they might reveal about climate change in the area. Photo by Marie-Helene ThibeaultDaniel Calvo Gonzalez, Eric Pelletier and Benoit Beauchamp left for a three-week trip to the Arctic to study rocks and what they might reveal about climate change in the area. Photo by Marie-Helene ThibeaultFor the past 30 years, Benoit Beauchamp — former executive director of the Arctic Institute of North America and currently a professor in the Department of Geoscience — has packed his bags in the summertime to venture north and uncover the mysteries of the Arctic’s mountains.

Beauchamp, who led major field expeditions for the Geological Survey of Canada until 2004, now oversees a unique Arctic Geoscience program run at the University of Calgary.

On June 21, Daniel Calvo Gonzalez from Spain and Eric Pelletier from Calgary — two geoscience students set to start their Masters this fall — joined Beauchamp for a three-week field experience to Otto Fiord, northwest Ellesmere Island in Nunavut.

“The purpose of our trip is to study an abrupt climate and oceanographic event in the area now occupied by the Arctic some 280 million years ago,” explains Beauchamp. “This event led to a major cooling of the area, while the rest of the world was getting warmer due to CO2 increase in the atmosphere.”

Beauchamp attributes much importance to this project because “it can generate ideas and a better understanding of some of the issues associated with climate change in the modern world. It can also provide new information about the energy potential of the Arctic to the benefit of all Canadians,” he adds.

Over the last six years, the unique program — funded in large part by Natural Resources Canada, NSERC, PCSP and Total E&P Canada — has allowed seven professors and 21 students to visit the Arctic for meaningful sedimentary research.

The Geoscience team from the University of Calgary will study Otto Fiord on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut. Photo by Benoit BeauchampThe Geoscience team from the University of Calgary will study Otto Fiord on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut. Photo by Benoit BeauchampFor Calvo Gonzales, a native of Spain, joining this trip represents a major accomplishment.

“Maybe one or two individuals from my country have even been there before, which is pretty unbelievable,” he says. “Only one other member of my family has gone to university so I’ll be thinking of this amazing chance throughout my entire trip.”

“I’ve always had an interest in climate paleontology and looking at climate changes through time,” admits Pelletier. “Going to the unexplored and the Arctic will be an incredible experience. I’m just trying to tame the excitement!”

With dozens of professors and students in many faculties conducting research in and about the North, the University of Calgary is considered a hub of Arctic research and scholarship through the Arctic Institute of North America and several university departments.