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Geology on the edge

Fogo Island’s geologist-in-residence program big draw for alumni

By Kelly Foss

You’ve heard of writers-in-residence and artists-in-residence, but how about geologists-in-residence?

Since 2013, Memorial University alumni have played a large role in a unique variation on the residency program on Fogo Island, through a project developed in conjunction with the Shorefast Foundation and the Fogo Island Inn.

Geological heritage

Geology at the Edge is a geologist-in-residency program sponsored by the Shorefast Foundation, and was established to add to the body of knowledge on and about Fogo Island and Change Islands, N.L. It aims to combine the understanding of geological heritage with sustainable economic development focused upon geotourism, tourism that creates conditions for the socio-economic well-being of communities while maintaining their cultural and ecological integrity. It is Canada’s first community-focused geology residency program.

Dr. Andrew Kerr is an adjunct faculty member with the Department of Earth Sciences and a Memorial alumnus (PhD ’90). He worked for many years with the Geological Survey of Newfoundland and Labrador, and first did research on the islands in the early ’90s. He’s had an interest in the area ever since, and continues to be involved through his adjunct position.

Geologic formations on Fogo Island.
Ancient ripple marks in the sedimentary rocks of Fogo Island.
Photo: Submitted

When the Shorefast Foundation started up its projects in 2008, he became involved with the group, giving advice on local geology and looking for ways to integrate natural history with the foundations’ vision for geotourism. The idea of a geologist-in-residence program modelled on artist residency programs eventually came about through discussions with Shorefast’s founder Zita Cobb, and it has since grown. Dr. Kerr was the official geologist-in-residence in Fogo, and has been followed by several other Memorial alumni.

Community engagement

“The idea behind a geologist-in-residence program was to have researchers like us engaged with visitors and the public,” said Dr. Kerr. “There are usually three parts to the program. Participants do a research project on something of interest to them, or provide outreach materials for local schools.

“Then there are public presentations at the inn for guests, other visitors and local residents. In the end, it’s a hands-on program in which geologists take guests out hiking to places that have interesting sights, and can provide visitors with new perspectives.”

He says the tours work in both directions, because geologists have opportunities to learn a lot about about local history, birds, botany and archaeology.

An example of geologic formations on Fogo Island.
An example of complex tectures that result when two liquid magmas attempt to mix kilometres deep below the Earth’s surface.
Photo: Submitted

The program covers travel costs and provides the geologist with a house to live in for the duration of the stay and a stipend for food and other expenses. Participants are encouraged to bring their families or accommodate visits by professional colleagues. The program is open to Canadian and international scientists and welcomes applications from Memorial alumni, faculty and graduate students.

The program is administered on behalf of the Shorefast Foundation by geologist Paul Dean (B.Sc. ’72, M.Sc. ’78) and is overseen by a committee which includes geologist Frank Blackwood (B.Sc. ’73, M.Sc. ’76). The pair have had long careers with the Geological Survey and other government agencies; Mr. Blackwood now works with the Research and Development Corporation.

Natural classroom

Other Memorial alumni who have held the geologist-in-residence title include Sheridan Thompson (M.Sc. ’14), Kevin Sheppard (B.Sc. (Hons.) ’97, M.Sc. ’00), Jane Wynne (M.Sc. ’83), Scott Schillereff (PhD ’92) and Jack Botsford (PhD ’87).

“We’ve had a whole succession of scientists go through the program and we’ve all brought a different perspective,” said Dr. Kerr. “Kevin wanted to understand the glacial history of the island while Jack was interested in sedimentary rocks. Scott researched well water and hydrogeology and I’m interested in everything.

Visiting students from Cambridge and Oxford Universities on Fogo Island.
From left are visiting Cambridge University students Clare Donaldson, Rhea Sood, Harriett Christie and Anna Barth.
Photo: Submitted

“A few of us have enjoyed it so much we’ve gone back more than once. The region is a wonderful natural classroom and laboratory.”

Other student research projects on Fogo and Change Islands benefit from the existence of the program and the input of geologists-in-residence; these include an ongoing Earth Science master’s project at Memorial, and undergraduate geologist mapping projects by students from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. There have also been other initiatives, including work on a geological interpretation centre housed in a renovated church, with financial support in part from Husky Oil.

“In a wider sense, the Shorefast Foundation is keen to facilitate and help out with research projects by Memorial faculty in other disciplines and specialties,” said Dr. Kerr. “Rocks are one of the more obvious scenic components of the Fogo Island landscape, but there are many other things to learn about and explore.”

To find out more about the geologist-in-residence program, visit the Shorefast Foundation website. Information about how to apply and previous activities can be obtained from Andrew Kerr or Paul Dean.


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