Chair's Message

A message from the Chairman:

Tim Patterson Chair Earth Sciences Carleton University

Welcome to Carleton Earth Sciences.

In 1953, the Department of Geology was founded at what was then Carleton College, although the first Geology courses were offered as early as 1942. A group of forward-thinking educators, led by Professor Patrick Arthur Hill, who served as the chairman and the only faculty member, along with four part time lecturers, all employees of the Geological Survey of Canada, taught a small group of students. They laid the foundation for what has grown into a department that has not only survived the test of time but thrived in it. This marked the beginning of an exciting journey of exploration, learning, and discovery. The department has undergone many changes through the intervening years, but it remains a bastion of excellence, and it’s a privilege for me to be a part of this now 70+ -year-long legacy.

We are proud of the contributions of our many alumni to science, industry, and academia, and their dedication to the betterment of our planet. We are grateful for the continued engagement of alumni, adjuncts, research associates and retirees with the department and we celebrate your achievements. The unwavering commitment of faculty and staff, past and present, to the pursuit of knowledge, has been the bedrock of our success. The countless hours spent teaching, mentoring, and researching has inspired generations of students and has advanced the frontiers of earth sciences. This dedication is the heart of the department and is a reminder that the bonds forged within these walls endure, and that this collective wisdom will continue to guide us. 

Our students represent the promise of the future. To the students… as you navigate your academic journey in the Department of Earth Sciences, remember that you are part of a tradition of excellence. The challenges you face today will be the stepping stones to your future accomplishments. Our hope is that you will carry the torch of earth sciences forward, making discoveries that will shape our world for the better. 

Our world faces critical environmental challenges, from climate change to a shortage of the critical mineral resources required for the green transition. It is in our hands, as earth scientists, to seek solutions and drive positive change. We must remember that the earth is not just our field of study, it is our home. Our work is not merely scientific research, it is the pursuit of a sustainable, thriving planet for all. It is a testament to our duty to protect and preserve the beauty and wonder of the natural world. 

There are some key features of the earth sciences training received at Carleton that sets us apart from other earth sciences programs in North America. Top of the list is our emphasis on experiential learning including hands-on data collection in the laboratory and field, original student research, field mapping courses and field trips. During our 70th anniversary celebration weekend in September 2023 I had an opportunity to speak with alumni from the “1972 and 1973 expeditions to Spain”. Those back-to-back trips were very important as they set the stage for a progressively increased emphasis on experiential learning in the department that continues to this day. In the years since our students have gone all around the world as participants in our capstone field trips. As we all know there is no substitute for comprehensive field training for students to develop the independent problem-solving skills and self-confidence required to become a successful geoscientist. 

To that end we supplement the day trips that are part of many conventional courses with mapping, economic geology, vertebrate paleontology, environmental geoscience, and sedimentology field schools at every level from 2nd to 4th year. In addition, each year we offer a 4th year-graduate level capstone course that, in the tradition of the 1972 and 1973 Spain field courses, may travel to destinations anywhere in the world. Trips in the last decade have taken place in locales as far as far afield as Antarctica, Chile, Europe, Iceland, and New Zealand as well as North American destinations.  We had a gap in field trip offerings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but thankfully the world is now back to normal. In May 2023 we put on a special Department of Earth Sciences 70th Anniversary faculty-staff-alumni-student trip, under the leadership of Lyle Nelson, that examined the geology of the Grand Canyon from white-water rafts. In February 2024 I taught for the fifth time a carbonate geology field course at the Gerace Research Center on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. In the May 2024, Brian Cousens introduced students to the volcanic terrain of Hawaii and in September 2025 Fred Gaidies will lead students on a traverse through the Alps. 

Critically important to the success of these field courses is the ability of students to be able to afford to take them. We are enormously privileged to have two field course endowments that have been established in the department, which partially offset the costs of these important field experiences; the W. H. Collins Memorial Scholarship established in 1994, and the K. Sethu Raman Endowment for Field Education in Earth Sciences, established in 2018. We are extremely grateful to those donors who have made it possible for all our students, many of them with limited means, to be able to participate in at least one of our upper division field courses. 

The Department of Earth Sciences has always adapted with the times. In 1987 we rebranded from being the Department of Geology to the Department of Earth Sciences, in recognition that our teaching and research cover the entire earth system. As we all know there is an increased awareness of environmental issues, and earth scientists have the background that permits them to significantly contribute to nearly every area of environmental concern. For that reason, we are introducing a B.Sc.H. program with a concentration in Environmental Geoscience that meets requirements for professional accreditation. Armed with this degree our students will have the tools that they need to succeed in the job market of the early 21st century, with its focus on resource exploration (particularly critical minerals), water resources, sustainable hydrocarbon exploration, environmental mitigation and remediation, hazard mitigation, conservation sustainability and many other subdisciplines. We envision that this new area of focus will have a strong uptake from amongst our undergraduate population and will attract students to study at Carleton University. 

In addition to our focus on teaching, research is a very important departmental activity, and for decades we have had a reputation as an important research nexus. As we launch into our next 70 years, we are undergoing a rapid generation shift at present, and we have tasked ourselves to up the ante, with our current goal to become the top ranked mid-sized earth sciences department, not just in Canada, but in North America. 

For prospective students… whether you're seeking a place to earn a top-notch undergraduate degree, or to immerse yourself in research we invite you to embark on a journey of discovery and to become part of our Department of Earth Sciences family.

- Tim Patterson

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