Marc Robert St-Onge

Marc Robert St-Onge
Geological Survey of Canada

2016 GSA Geologic Mapping Award in Honor of Florence Bascom

Presented to Marc Robert St-Onge

Citation by David R.M. Pattison

If one were to imagine a scientific award designed to honor one specific individual, it would be the GSA Geologic Mapping Award for Dr. Marc St-Onge of the Geological Survey of Canada.

St-Onge has been arguably the world’s most prolific and productive geologic mapper in the late twentieth–early twenty-first centuries. In 2015, he was the first and only geologist to be honored as one of Canada’s “Great Explorers” by the Canadian Geographic Society. Since 1977, he has authored or co-authored over 100 maps covering literally thousands of square kilometers of poorly to unknown bedrock terrain in the remote, rugged, trackless wilderness of Canada’s far north. The region comprises Archean cratons assembled during the Paleoproterozoic Trans-Hudson orogeny, the most important episode of continental amalgamation in North America’s geologic history.

The impact of St-Onge’s mapping goes beyond the almost unbelievable number of maps and reports he has authored or co-authored, ranging in scale from 1:50,000 to 1:1,500,000. His maps are detailed, rigorous, data-intensive, integrated syntheses of geological information incorporating modern geochronology, geochemistry, petrology, and geophysics. They form the foundation of a hitherto unimagined understanding of the tectonic evolution and natural resources of these regions. At the same time, his maps maintain and enhance the centuries-old tradition of the Geological Survey of Canada in providing priceless geoscientific knowledge of Canada’s vast land mass, freely available to the public, whether mineral explorationists, land-use planners, or historians.

St-Onge is widely published in the international literature, has given numerous international addresses, and has held senior international scientific positions, perhaps most notably those related to the geologic map of the Arctic, a major international initiative.

2016 GSA Geologic Mapping Award in Honor of Florence Bascom — Response by Marc Robert St-Onge

It is an honor and a pleasure to have been named the 2016 recipient of the Geologic Mapping Award in Honor of Florence Bascom. Not only was Florence Bascom (1862–1945) the second woman to earn a Ph.D. in geology in the United States (1893), the first woman hired by the U.S. Geological Survey (1896), the first woman to present a paper before the Geological Society of Washington (1901), the first woman elected to the Council of the Geological Society of America (GSA, 1924), and the first woman officer of the GSA (1930), she was an expert in crystallography, mineralogy, and petrography, and interested in mountain-building processes (Schneiderman, J.S., 1997, A life of firsts: Florence Bascom: GSA Today, v.7, no.7, p. 8–9). In other words, she was also a metamorphic petrologist, thus mirroring my own training.

Although the kind citation provided by David Pattison refers to a scientific award honoring one individual, it is on behalf of all field mapping geologists at the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), past, present, and afar, that I accept the GSA Geologic Mapping Award. Indeed, without the expertise, mentorship and training provided by renowned field geologists Paul Hoffman (Harvard University), Ray Price (Queen’s University), and Mike Searle (University of Oxford), it remains likely that I would not have known to view geologic mapping as a method to generate “falsifiable predictions” to be tested with every traverse and on every outcrop. In fact, what better way to generate the quantitative, detailed, integrated syntheses of geological information required by modern stakeholders and users of geologic maps! And clearly, without the many contributions by GSC and Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office (CNGO) colleagues (Bob Baragar, Boyan Brodaric, David Corrigan, Eleanor Everett, Celine Gilbert, Simon Hanmer, Christopher Harrison, Garth Jackson, Don James, Dianne Paul, Nicole Rayner, Mary Sanborn-Barrie, Holly Steenkamp, Dan Utting, Natasha Wodicka, and others), post-docs (Owen Weller), university colleagues (Tim Byrne, Dugald Carmichael, Don Francis, Herb Helmstaed, Rebecca Jamieson, John Ludden, David Pattison, Joe White, and others) former graduate and undergraduate students (Murray Allan, Normand Bégin, Janet Dunphy, Brendan Dyck, Simon Gagné, Janet King, André Lalonde, Stephen Lucas, Patrick Monday, Dave Scott, Diane Skipton, Jacques Stacey, and others) camp cooks, helicopter crews, Twin Otter pilots, and digital cartographic specialists, it would have been impossible to co-author over 100 maps in some of the most fascinating, breathtaking, and geologically significant regions of Canada’s far north.

Although every map is unique, in this age of queriable databases and ArcGIS platforms there is benefit in standardization and consistency of map architecture in terms of methodology, content, and attributes. To that effect, the new GSC Bedrock Data Model (BDM) has greatly contributed in providing a field-to-office context for digitally recording, integrating and interpreting bedrock geological data and observations using a consistent science language, standard feature attributes, and uniform line and point types (Brouillette, P., Girard, E. and Huot-Vézina, G., 2015, Generic Data Model Design and tools for geoscience mapping projects implemented in ArcGIS: Proceedings of the 17th annual conference of the International Association for Mathematical Geoscience [IAMG], Freiberg, Germany, 5–13 September 2015, extended abstract). The full mapping activity cycle, from community engagement and capturing legacy data, completing a summer of field work, to publishing full digital release packages for new bedrock geological maps can now be successfully concluded within a 12-month period.

Of the many maps I’ve authored or co-authored to date, perhaps the four that stand out are: GSC map 2159A, the “Geological Map of the Arctic,” which provides seamless, internally consistent, bedrock geological coverage of all onshore and offshore areas of the circumpolar Arctic down to latitude 60°N at 1:5M scale; GSC Open File 4930, “Cape Smith Belt and Adjacent Domains, Ungava Peninsula,” which presents a synthesis of the bedrock geology of the southern margin of the eastern Trans-Hudson Orogen in northern Quebec at 1:300K scale; Canadian Geoscience Map 187, the “Tectonic Map of Arctic Canada” (TeMAC), which documents 4 billion years of Earth history in the Canadian Arctic at 1:4M scale; and Canadian Geoscience Maps 253S to 262S, a set of geological maps of south-central Baffin Island published in Inuktitut at 1:100K scale, a first in Canada.

And in tandem with the publication of maps and reports, a requirement at the GSC, as in most national surveys, is the publication of external journal papers all of which in my case originated with original field work and further integrate the inherently complementary fields of tectonostratigraphy, geochronology, petrology, and geochemistry. Recent examples include: “Eclogite in the Trans-Hudson Orogen reveals cold thermal gradients in the Paleoproterozoic” (Nature Geoscience, 2016); “Tectonothermal evolution of the middle crust in the Trans-Hudson Orogen, Baffin Island, Canada: Evidence from petrology and monazite geochronology of sillimanite-bearing migmatites” (Journal of Petrology, 2016); “Miocene magmatism in the Western Nyainqentanglha mountains of southern Tibet: An exhumed bright spot?” (Lithos, 2015); and “Integrated pressure-temperature-time constraints for the Tso Morari dome (Northwest India): Implications for the burial and exhumation path of UHP units in the western Himalaya” (Journal of Metamorphic Geology, 2013).

In spite of undeniable progress, many areas of Canada and elsewhere are still in need of finer-resolution geological map coverage than currently available, and certainly better geochronological and geophysical characterization. That in turn requires continued leadership by, and public funding for, national, provincial/territorial and state geological surveys.