Dr. Phil Thurston teaches
at Laurentian University
Those of you who attended Ontario universities in the 1980s and worked summers for the Ontario Geological Survey (OGS) would remember the rigorous field training provided by the survey and especially its most notorious taskmaster, Dr. Phil Thurston.
Phil, an expert in greenstones and current adjunct professor at Laurentian University, made a point of visiting the government - sponsored field camps dotted across northern Ontario to ensure mapping and orientation skills measured up to the high OGS standard. That early experience entrenched lifelong mapping discipline: our Brunton compasses became appendages that we didn't dare leave home without.
Phil's name came up recently in a discussion thread within Earth Explorer's new LinkedIn Group on the demise of structural mapping. Bert De Waele, a consultant for SRK in Perth, put forward the argument that the emphasis on environmental geology in universities is resulting in a dearth of economic geology graduates with the skills or impetus to record structural measurements and observations. Despite living in a "drill, drill, drill" era, he believes that structural mapping using modern technological tools (e.g. GIS) remains the most cost-effective means of mineral exploration and should be encouraged.
"Many moons ago, I spent a month navigating Northern Ontario (compass and pacing!) and lugging rocks for Phil Thurston,"responded Ian MacLeod, chief technologist for Geosoft."It would be great if some of those practical mapping skills were captured in a web-accessible way."
But is it possible, or even necessary, for the industry to revive the dying art of structural mapping? Some of the solutions to this systemic challenge that came out of the discussion include:
Industry sponsorship of summer and graduate students
While government surveys such as the OGS continue to fulfill a training role, the industry should have a formal practice of hiring summer students so that by the time they graduate, they will have a solid foundation of mapping experience and know if they have what it takes to be a career geoscientist. Equally important is industry sponsorship of graduate research projects that emphasize fieldwork.
Better science training in high school
A couple of group members suggested that the problem lies not with the universities or industry, but begins much earlier than that: in high school. Without more emphasis on the hard sciences such as chemistry and physics, few high school graduates acquire the knowledge or skills necessary to tackle university-level economic geology programs.
Veteran geologists must be available to mentor the new crop of graduates so that they acquire the skills necessary to be competent in the field. In other words, the exploration sector needs more Phil Thurstons. Social media could be used as a matchmaking tool for mentors and mentees, while web-accessible field mapping guides could facilitate learning.
Tell us what you think. Are structural mapping skills still necessary to exploration or is it possible to learn all you need to know from geophysical interpretation and drill core? Does your employer make a practise of hiring and providing mapping training to summer students?