Post by Allegra Whistler

We received generous founding from Geoscience BC, the Association for Mineral Exploration and the Canadian Geological Foundation for two epic trips around B.C. in 2019.

One province, 42 days, 11,500 kilometers and over 700 rock samples – all in the name of creating a buzz around British Columbia’s beautiful, diverse, and complicated geology. Have you ever wondered why fossils of ancient sea creatures, hundreds of millions of years old, can be found in the Rocky Mountains? Or why scientists are studying the relationship between melting glaciers and volcanic activity near Pemberton? How does mining relate to your everyday life? Whatever your answer is, Below BC has you covered; we’re here to spark your interest and answer questions… about rocks. This summer, Below BC, a non-profit earth science outreach organization, received a grant from Geoscience BC to help kick off its latest endeavor, the BC Geological Heritage Project.

The BC Geological Heritage Project aims to share the geology of British Columbia and its importance – past, present and future – to engage and educate geologists and non-geologists alike using high-quality, interactive images. These images include rotating 360° photos of rocks, minerals and fossil specimens, ultra-wide angle 360° images of museums and roadside geology, and high resolution GigaPan images of rock exposures from a distance. Of course, producing these visuals required an abundance of equipment, access to private geological collections, collaboration, and manpower to do it all.

With our Jurassic Park decaled van packed to the brim, my colleague, Jacob Moffat, and I set off on a two-part series of road trips through southern and northwestern B.C. to digitally document and preserve B.C.’s rocks. Throughout our journey we encountered volcanos, glaciers, limestone caves, natural hot springs, hoodoos, an ammonite fossil the size of a smart car, active and abandoned mines, exploration sites, ghost towns, and fossil beds – only a fraction of the geology that B.C. has to offer. We connected with local geologists, prospectors, rock-hounds, museum curators and mineral exploration companies. We teamed up with the Smithers Exploration Group, another recipient of the Geoscience BC grant, to digitize their Rock Room containing over 4,000 rock samples. Finally, after 42 days on the road we successfully documented over 700 rocks, mineral and fossil specimens from locations all throughout the province. But it’s not over yet.

The visual data we collected on the road will be combined with rock descriptions and illustrations to create a digital museum and virtual field trips to help tell the story of B.C.’s geological legacy. The online aspect of the project will allow easy accessibility, enabling anyone, anywhere, at any time to access rock collections and exposures otherwise unattainable. In addition, digitization of specimens allows them to be preserved in case they become lost or destroyed. Once completed, the material can be used by a range of audiences for research, outreach, and education.

So, what’s next for us? Another road trip planned for Vancouver Island, appearances at gem and mineral shows, and workshops for local schools and community groups. On top of that, putting together the existing material and getting it online in time for Roundup, the annual mining and mineral exploration conference in Vancouver.

The BC Geological Heritage Project continues and is taking on a life of its own as other organizations reach out to us with ideas to expand. For myself, this project is a unique experience, privilege and opportunity. It has given me the chance to explore my province and to incorporate three of my favourite things: art (photography and writing), earth science and science communication. Thank you to everyone who has participated in the project thus far. Stay tuned for everything else that is yet to come, and ROCK ON!

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