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Studying the common history of granite in Newfoundland and Ireland

Between a rock and a hard place

by Michele Osmond

The connections between Newfoundland and Ireland have been long documented. Cultural, genealogical, social and geographical similarities have been the subject of much research.

In fact, Memorial University is home to a Canada Research Chair in Irish Studies and an Irish Studies Collection, consisting of 15,000 books and more than 60 subscriptions to magazines and scholarly journals, reflecting the richness of Newfoundland’s Irish heritage.

Dr. Derek Wilton, a professor in Memorial’s Department of Earth Sciences, first became interested in the geological similarities between Newfoundland and Ireland in 2006 when Dr. Martin Feely at the National University of Ireland in Galway contacted him. Dr. Feely wondered if he’d be interested in applying to the Irish-Newfoundland Partnership for a collaborative research grant to compare molybdenite-bearing granites between Newfoundland and Ireland.

“I jumped at the opportunity,” said Dr. Wilton. “While I had heard that the partnership funded research, I was under the mistaken impression that the program was restricted only to social science and arts projects.” They were awarded 10,000 Euros and were the first Earth Sciences project to receive funding in this program.

Dr. Wilton, Dr. Feely and Dr. David Selby from Durham University (UK) recently completed field work on the Burin Peninsula, the Terrenceville-Rencontre East and south of Buchans areas.

“Last October I spent three weeks visiting and sampling various occurrences in remote areas along the south coast of Newfoundland with Dr. Selby, along with a post doc and grad student from NUIG and Dr. Andy Kerr from the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Natural Resources,” explained Dr. Wilton. “

Dr. Selby is world expert on Re-Os dating of molybdenites and a key component of the research will be to date the granites and their mineralization.”

They are comparing Newfoundland and Labrador, and Irish molybdenite-bearing granites, because it’s been documented that they all formed about the same time in a common continent, and were, at least in part, contiguous.

By comparing the chemistries and ages of the granites and molybdenites, the team is hoping to either define similarities or differences between the crusts that underlay the ancient, ancestral (now dismembered) continent. All of which will add to knowledge of how the planet works and how it has changed over time.

“Newfoundland and Ireland were once in proximity as part of the Gondwanan supercontinent. They were subsequently separated 180 million years ago with the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. Just like reconstructing human geography following the separation of Irish (and UK) people from their descendants in eastern North America, we will attempt to reconnect the family history of granites, and their associated mineral showings, in that ancient continent which existed before the forces of plate tectonic separated them,” said Dr. Wilton.

Dr. Wilton is heading to Ireland this month to study granites there and give a lecture on the project.