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Rock Hard Science

It’s not Beakerhead, but for Canmore, it’s close. This past weekend, the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre held its twelfth annual Rock and Fossil clinic. The event drew in more than 400 visitors to the museum to identify rocks and fossils as well as learn about dinosaurs, meteorites and natural history. Younger students could smash geodes, dust through a sandbox with a paintbrush looking for fossils, pan for gold or be challenged to put dinosaur bones together. The grown-up science junkies were presented with the maps and details a geophysicist might use to determine where to drill for oil and look on with geologists to interpret core samples from deep below the earth’s surface. There were also three very interesting science-related presentations over the weekend.

On Friday night, to a full house, Canmore local and internationally recognized water conservation expert Robert W. Sandford (EPCOR Chair for Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health) described the importance of the Columbia Icefield as a thermostat for the continent and the globe.

Saturday’s talks started with Ben Borkovic from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology regaling us with the massive task after the 2013 floods in Southern Alberta of seeking out newly exposed fossils. Time is of the essence after a flood when new fossil beds are exposed but not yet deteriorated by the exposure. More than 300 new fossil beds and trackways were catalogued through this process.

The final presentation of the day, Hunting for Meteorites, was made by Doug Hayden. I met him earlier in the day at his booth. Doug was so totally excited about meteorites that it was contagious. I couldn’t wait for his talk to begin. As promised, his talk was not technical. It was all about the thrill of hunting for meteorites. He did indicate the importance of finding the pieces quickly so that they can be examined by experts before being contaminated by any living organisms, bacteria or human in the hope of finding clues to the beginnings of life. One thing I learned from Doug’s talk was that when a meteorite falls in Canada, the fragments belong to the land owner. The scientists have forms at the ready which explain the rights and request the opportunity to hold the specimens for a specific time in order to study them. He also explained why when we see a ‘falling star’ and think it came down just ‘over there’ that in fact it probably came to land several hundred kilometres away. He also explained how the recent technological developments of GPS, dashcams and security cameras have greatly advanced the hunting for meteorites.

If you missed the Rock and Fossil clinic this year, I recommend you mark your calendar for next October to remind you to look for next year’s event.

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