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Puzzle pieces

Scholarship supports research connecting N.L. and Ireland

Research

By Kelly Foss

Newfoundland and Labrador’s ties to the Emerald Isle go back centuries and continue today in song, story and lifestyle.

The Dobbin Atlantic Scholarship Program, named after late businessman Craig Dobbin, builds on this shared heritage, with a view to developing a new generation of academic, artistic, cultural and economic links between Atlantic Canada and Ireland.

Each year, scholars receive awards to support research which seeks new ways for these regions to work in partnership on common challenges and shared opportunities.

Dr. Stephen Piercey, Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Science, was one of this year’s recipients. Thanks to the scholarship, he travelled to Ireland for three weeks in May. While there, he focused on two projects with collaborators at Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin.

After the breakup

The first project investigated physical ties between Newfoundland and Ireland.

Dr. Piercey worked with Dr. Julian Menuge, an associate professor, and Dr. Steven Hollis, a post-doctoral fellow, both of University College Dublin, to determine geological similarities between rocks in Ireland that are part of the Caledonide mountain system, and those in the Newfoundland and Atlantic Canadian Appalachian mountain system.

A map showing the Appalachian Mountain chain in Newfoundland.
A map showing the Appalachian Mountain chain in Newfoundland.
Photo: Steve Piercey

Parts of Ireland and Newfoundland were once connected and part of the supercontinent Pangea; the land forms separated from one another around 180 million years ago when Pangea started to break apart and form the modern Atlantic Ocean.

Specific pieces of rocks often have distinctive geochemical and isotopic signatures, particularly so for the isotopes of lead, which are often distinctive for different parts of the mountain chain.

“One of the things we wanted to test was, if we could correlate these signatures to figure out which piece of real estate in Newfoundland connected to which part of Ireland,” explained Dr. Piercey.

“What we were trying to do is say this piece of real estate has the same lead isotope signature in lead-bearing minerals as that piece, therefore they must have been next to each other at some point. So, we were using these isotope signatures as chemical fingerprints to figure out what pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit together.”

Layered sandstone and shale at White Ball looking towards Canalough, Ireland.
Layered sandstone and shale at White Ball looking towards Canalough, Ireland.
Photo: Steve Piercey

Where there’s smoke(rs)

Dr. Piercey’s second project was undertaken with Dr. Balz Kamber, a professor and chair in mineralogy and petrology at Trinity College Dublin.

It focused on writing up results from a project looking at lead isotopes in shales for understanding the genesis of zinc-lead-copper mineralization associated with shales.

“The black smokers in Central Newfoundland are different from those that formed in Ireland, but the same fluid process occurred in both.” — Dr. Stephen Piercey

The research used lead isotopes to map out past ore-forming fluid pathways, the sources of metals in these deposits and their application as a tool in mineral exploration.

“Basically, when the crust extends on the sea floor, you get magma, and that drives fluid circulation,” explained Dr. Piercey.

“Sea water goes through the crust and comes up in hydrothermal vents known as black smokers. But as it goes through, it heats up, and the fluid extracts lead out of the crust, which precipitates, or falls, on the sea floor as it comes from these black smokers. This starts forming deposits which can be mined for lead.

“The black smokers in Central Newfoundland are different from those that formed in Ireland, but the same fluid process occurred in both,” he added. “We were trying to figure out the venting process as an exploration tool, looking for the distinct signatures of these sediments as we get closer to the vent complex.”

Irish ambassador

The trip also included a reception in Ireland that brought together current recipients of the Dobbin Atlantic Scholarship Program with those receiving the Flaherty Research Scholarship.

“The idea of the fund is to foster long-term research collaborations and create reciprocal relationships.” — Dr. Stephen Piercey

Named for the late James M. Flaherty, Canada’s former minister of Finance, it supports emerging research scholars whose work has the potential to link Canada and Ireland.

“The reception took place in the Canadian ambassador’s house in Ireland, Kevin Vickers, the former Canadian Parliament sergeant at arms,” said Dr. Piercey. “That was kind of neat to go there and meet him and the Irish Foreign Affairs minister, who was also there, and to see the range of people who had received funding.”

Rock formations and some four-legged friends in Southwest Ireland.
Rock formations and some four-legged friends in Southwest Ireland.
Photo: Steve Piercey

While in Ireland, Dr. Piercey took the opportunity to do fieldwork with his Irish colleagues to create new opportunities for future co-operation.

“I have had a strong relationship with the Irish geoscience community since 2007,” he said. “I have consulted for companies in Ireland and undertaken collaborative research with colleagues in industry and universities.

“The idea of the fund is to foster long-term research collaborations and create reciprocal relationships and this trip has allowed me to create the momentum and synergy to do just that.”


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