Conveying geoscience research a challenge

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Art, poetry, folklore all encouraged as means of framing scientific information

An Inukshuk is shown outside the Johnson GEO Centre on Signal Hill Tuesday afternoon adjacent the entrance to GEO Park where delegates attending this week’s joint annual meeting of the Geological Association of Canada and the Mineralogical Association of Canada, were inside touring the GEO Centre. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

On the last day of the joint meeting of the Geological Association of Canada and Mineralogical Association of Canada in St. John’s, sessions featuring scientific research continued to be mixed with sessions on how to condense and convey that same research to the public.

Posters at the event for geoscience professionals showed specific, scientific information on topics such as “a late Neoproterozoic igneous complex in the eastern Avalon” and others that don’t quite roll off the tongue.

Moving discussion on the same topics into the public sphere — as has been recommended by Stephen Rowins, president of the Geological Association of Canada — requires careful selection of key topics. From there, the bridge, according to Sophie Préteseille of the Copper Coast Geopark in Ireland, is found in the culture of a place.

“It is important to actually link in all the other facets of heritage,” she said, while offering tips on how to establish a successful centre for geoscience promotion.

Connecting the science to a location and a local story ultimately provides the public with, “a better sense of place and pride of place,” she said.

Geoscience and folklore in Fogo

There are opportunities out there for professional geoscientists looking to find windows through which to explain their work.

When The Shorefast Foundation’s Zita Cobb spoke about the foundation’s geoscience residency program during the conference on Tuesday, she began by briefly laying out the story of Fogo Island and Change Islands.

The pure science to be conducted by, say, a geologist working under the program, would not happen in a vacuum, she said. The residency itself is in a restored home, with traditional architecture.

Local residents, Cobb said, freely offer local tales. In other words, after studying an odd colouration in the rock of Oliver’s Cove Trail, one might hear stories of the same location as it is known by the locals, “The Devil’s Heart.”

Visual art, poetry used to convey theme

The Shorefast Foundation program is open to all geologists (more information is available by email at:

Outside this type of program, archives and historical societies can provide information that might be used to engage the public.

The Johnson Geo Centre has become the go-to for linking geoscience work and the public in this province.

Geology and art

Throughout the conference in St. John’s, presenters with ties to the province referenced local visual art and poetry to help convey a theme, illustrate a piece of geoscience research or bring home a specific argument.

There were at least two references to poetry, for example, from separate sessions attended by The Telegram: “Brimstone Head” by Al Pittman and “Erosion” by E.J. Pratt.

In terms of artwork, having worked with the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador and been recognized by the Canadian Museums Association in 2010, Patricia Grattan was at the conference, offering up copies of her book “City Seen.” As part of a National Gallery of Canada Fellowship, Grattan is currently researching the relationships between geology and visual art, specifically Canadian landscape art, from 1800 to present.

“Geologists are an unusual crowd,” she told The Telegram.

“The whole capacity to read things visually is important to them.”

That appreciation, she said, links them and that link can be pursued in the interest of public education.

Organizations: Mineralogical Association of Canada, Geological Association of Canada, The Shorefast Foundation The Telegram Johnson Geo Centre Canadian Museums Association National Gallery of Canada Fellowship

Geographic location: Canada, Eastern Avalon, Ireland FogoThere Fogo Island Change Islands Newfoundland and Labrador

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