Bioethics Blogs

Geologists face off over Yukon frontier

Posted on behalf of Alexandra Witze. 

The walls of the Geological Survey of Canada’s Vancouver office are, not surprisingly, plastered with maps. There’s one of the country of Canada, one of the province of British Columbia, and even a circumpolar Arctic map centered on the North Pole.

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The Klondike schist of Canada (shown in green) stops at the border with the United States.

Alexandra Witze

All display that distinctive rainbow mélange so typical of professional geologic maps. Each major rock formation is represented by its own colour, so that pinks and purples and yellows swirl in great stretches representing mountain ranges, coastal plains, and every conceivable landscape in between.

But lying on the table of the survey’s main conference room is a much more problematic map. It shows part of the far northern boundary between the United States and Canada, along a stretch between Alaska and the Yukon territory. And the two sides, on either side of the international border, do not match.

It’s not a question of Canada using one set of colours for its map and the United States using another. The geology simply does not line up. To the east, Canadian mappers have sketched a formation called the Klondike schist, which is associated with the gold-rich rocks that fueled the Klondike gold rush in the late 1890s. To the west, US maps show nothing like it.

“We don’t know why,” says Jamey Jones, a geologist with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Anchorage, Alaska. “We have got to figure out why these aren’t matching.”

He and two dozen scientists from both sides of the border — but clad equally in plaid shirts and hiking boots — met in Vancouver on 20 October to try to hammer out the discrepancies.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.