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Explore province with GEOExplore Saskatchewan – a virtual, interactive geological map

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: August 18, 2020 5:00 a.m.

The Great Sand Hills northwest of Swift Current formed by wind moving over glacial deposits after the last ice sheet retreated 10,000 years ago.
The Great Sand Hills northwest of Swift Current formed by wind moving over glacial deposits after the last ice sheet retreated 10,000 years ago. Photo: SGS/Tourism Saskatchewan/Dave Reede Photography

There is much more to Saskatchewan than the flat, seemingly endless prairie that motorists see as they drive the Trans-Canada highway through the southern part of the province. 

So, when Saskatchewan’s geology community – including faculty and researchers from the University of Regina - set out to tell the stories of the Saskatchewan’s geoscientific wonders to a new generation, they started by brushing the dust off with the paper geological highway map published in 2002 by the Saskatchewan Geological Society (SGS).  

The map featured Saskatchewan’s 651,900 square kilometres remarkable geoscientific gems, including: Castle Butte, the Great Sand Hills, and Cypress Hills in the south; the lakes and waterfalls of the Canadian Shield, the Athabasca Sand Dunes, active uranium exploration and mining in the north; and, the meandering Qu’Appelle Valley and underground potash mines of east-central Saskatchewan. 

And while the decades-old map included pictures along with fascinating details about the geological processes that had occurred thousands of years ago to form these geological features and landmarks to be found throughout the province, it was time to move the map into the digital age.  

Nearly 20 years after the previous geological highway map of the province was created, thanks to funding from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan (APEGS), present-day members of the Saskatchewan Geological Society launched the interactive GeoExplore Saskatchewan.  

“GeoExplore Saskatchewan is a website that brings the old Geological Highway Map into the digital era and makes the beautiful landscape and interesting geological features of Saskatchewan more accessible,” APEGS' Director of Academic Review, Dr. Kate MacLachlan says. “If people can’t get out and drive around the province, they can use the interactive map to take a virtual road trip and explore places near and far and to learn how geology has shaped the natural beauty and provided the abundant resources of this wonderful province.” 

Imagine a virtual visit to the Canadian Shield with a vast boreal forest in northern part of Saskatchewan and expanses of Precambrian rocks and lakes, covering about 40 per cent of the province.  

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The Canadian Shield in northern
Saskatchewan is home to thousands of
lakes and hundreds of waterfalls. At 15
metres high and 60 metres wide,
Hunt Falls is Saskatchewan’s largest
waterfall. Photo courtesy of SGS

"The rocks of the Canadian Shield are between 3,300 million and 1,100 million years old. These rocks record the formation of this part of the North American continent, including the opening and closing of oceans; periods of active volcanism; the collisions of continents and resulting rise of mountain ranges; and, the formation of mineral deposits on the ocean floor and in the heart of the mountain ranges," writes Ralf Maxeiner, the Government of Saskatchewan’s Precambrian Research Geologist for Minerals and Northern Geology and volunteer project lead. 

“While APEGS and SGS are spearheading the development of this website, the people working on this project are all volunteers who are geoscience professionals from various organizations, including the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan,” says University of Regina geoscientist Dr. Janis Dale. “Other collaborators who contributed photographs, expertise, and/or time include staff from the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, the Saskatchewan Mining Association, Tourism Saskatchewan, and the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.” 

Maxeiner describes the new project, officially launched during Engineering and Geoscience Week in March 2020, as a new digital tool that will enable teachers, tourists and anyone from anywhere around the globe to explore the intriguing geoscientific features of Saskatchewan from their classroom, lab or living room. 

At the launch, APEGS and SGS demonstrated the website to more than 500 Regina and area students to provide a hands-on learning experience. They’ve also developed resources for schools, teachers, and students through Lesson Plans that are linked to the website content, and hope to see GeoExplore used as a learning tool in Saskatchewan schools this Fall. 

“Photos and short explanations from about 80 geoscience points of interest are superimposed on a digital road map of the province. Additional thematic panels further explain geoscience in relatively plain language,” Maxeiner states. “One of the ideas behind the project is to share with the people of Saskatchewan how many unexplored geoscience treasures there are in our province, in places that are not easily reached.” 

For instance, Dale contributed the picture of one of the places of interest around Regina, an aerial photo of Boggy Creek, which meanders across the prairie landscape of southern Saskatchewan. “The flat landscape is the former lake bottom of glacial Lake Regina, which existed approximately 15,200 to 14,100 years ago, at the end of the last glacial advance,” Dale says. 

Little did APEGS and SGS know at the time of the new website’s release that it could become an incredible digital resource for individuals and families who can no longer travel as freely as they once could due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fresh content will be added regularly and anyone with photographs of Saskatchewan’s cool geoscience features and landscapes of Saskatchewan are invited to share them by contacting SGS at sask.geol.soc@hotmail.com

More information about this project is available at: https://sgshome.ca/outreach/geoexplore-saskatchewan.

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