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Vol 39  No 4
Oct. 12, 2006


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The Nature of Things comes to Memorial

A Big Land adventure

by Deborah Inkpen

Dr. Derek Wilton, left, and the film crew from The Nature of Things.

When CBC’s popular science television series The Nature of Things came knocking on geologist Dr. Derek Wilton’s door, he was more than a little enthusiastic. “What a phenomenal opportunity, not only for me and my colleagues but for the university,” he said. “Having a film production crew follow you around with a camera in your face all the time was a real eye-opener but a lot of fun and a great adventure.”

Dr. Wilton was initially contacted by the CBC in November 2005 about a five-part series they wanted to do on how the earth works and the geology of the Canadian Shield.

“I guess they wanted to get a different perspective on the shield,” related Dr. Wilton. “Most people know about Northern Ontario and Quebec ­ the CBC wanted to do something on the Torngat Mountains in Labrador and somehow they had heard about the work I had been doing there. So they contacted me to see if I was doing anything up there this summer because they wanted to get a film crew to tag along on an expedition.”

The CBC subcontracted the production company Tutti Fruiti Films out of Montreal to work on the segment in the Torngats.

“Yanick Rose from the company came down in May just to scope it all out to make sure it was a credible,” said Dr. Wilton. “He went away and created his story line for the show based on what we showed him.”

Along with Dr. Wilton and the film crew, the team included fellow geologist Dr. Paul Sylvester from Earth Sciences and the Inco Innovation Centre (IIC), undergrad student Angie Paveley, who’s working in the laser ablation lab in the IIC, Lawrence Winter, a former student of Dr. Wilton’s who is now working with Altius Resources, a Newfoundland and Labrador exploration company with extensive interests in Labrador, and Dr. Wilton’s old friend and colleague from the Smithsonian Institute, Dr. Stephen Loring, a renowned archaeologist.

Dr. Loring has been working with Wilton on Ramah chert, a unique rock found in the Ramah area of Labrador, part of the Torngat Mountains. The Maritime Archaic Indians had been using the Ramah chert as a stone tool about 4,000 years ago.

Archaeologists have found artifacts made from the stone as far south as New England.

“Stephen and I have been working to fingerprint even older 10,000 year old artifacts to figure out whether they came from Ramah,” said Dr. Wilton. “He came along on the expedition to give the human perspective on the geology of the Torngats ­ to show the connection to the people who have passed through the region and broaden interest in the show.

The film crew also wanted to capture the adventure of an expedition to the far north. “They were quite taken with flying up there in a small plane and what’s its like to be a geologist in the field,” Dr. Wilton said. “It was great because now people will see what we do. We can tell people we collect rocks but that tells them very little. In the film, we talked about the science behind our work; I hope it will make people interested in geology. It will also show people what a great place Labrador is.”

The premise of the segment on Dr. Wilton and his group concentrates on the science of mountain building.

“The Torngats are mountains right now but as geologists we can see that they were mountains probably three or four times before that,” he explained. “The idea is that mountains rise, then erode and rock gets transported somewhere else and is incorporated into new rocks and new rocks turn into new mountains. So it’s about the cyclicity of mountain building and the movement of the Earth’s crust or surface, so-called plate tectonics.”

Dr. Wilton said that this is the fundamental theory of geology which suggests that the Earth’s surface consists of a series of plates that are in constant movement.

“Where the plates crash together, mountains are formed. The Himalayas, for instance, formed where the Indian plate has smashed into the Asian plate. The Torngat Mountains are one of the best places on the planet to see this because the rocks are so well exposed due to the fact that no vegetation will grow there and the mountains rise directly out of the ocean.

“One 19th century geologist who worked up there once said, ‘the rocks revel in their freedom.’ I think that’s perfect,” said Dr. Wilton.

The show will air sometime in early 2007 on the CBC main network and will also be aired on Radio Canada, The Discovery Channel in the US and NHK in Japan.

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