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A Geological Detective

Alexei Parinov at the Niagara Escarpment

Hi. I'm Alexei Parinov. Long before I became an environmental geoscience student at UTSC, I started going on weekend hiking trips. The Niagara Escarpment, the serene getaway just a short drive fromToronto, seemed a logical destination. At first, I was attracted solely by the aesthetic appeal of the place; its numerous waterfalls, towering cliffs and picturesque vistas. But eventually, I began to think about the processes that had shaped the landscape I was enjoying so much.

As I realized that the escarpment originated near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago and during its evolution traveled thousands kilometres north by plate tectonics, only to be frozen, scoured and incised by the cycles of glaciation, the enormous spatial and temporal scale of the planet's geological processes astonished me. I could no longer see the rocks as some unassuming substance. To me, they became portals into the deep past. My weekly trips started to be akin to detective work, aimed at discovering the evidence of ancient history, hidden in plain view. One just needs to examine the surroundings a bit closer to see the things like ripple marks left by the waves in the tropical seas that dried out long ago, or fossils of the marine creatures that flourished at the time when no animals lived on land.

As I expanded my trips farther north, into the domain of the Canadian Shield, my fascination with the geological marvels of Ontario only grew. Many locations provide insights into the grandiose landscapes of the past. A billion years ago, the glistening white quartzite rocks of the La Cloche Range at the Killarney Provincial Park were the roots of the colossal Grenville Mountains, rivalling the present day Himalayas in height. Staring into the depths of the Barron Canyon, one can easily imagine a raging glacial melt stream, carrying so much water at the end of the last Ice Age that it can be compared to a thousand Niagaras.

When I started at UTSC, I had no clear idea of what I want to pursue. I was initially apprehensive of exploring my interests in an academic manner, afraid of being mired in boredom. Thankfully, it was an unjustified fear; I was elated to find out that field trips are an integral part of many geology courses offered there. No matter how well the concepts are described in a classroom setting, it's hard to fully understand and appreciate them without seeing how they work in the real world. Of special value is the field camp course, held at different locations every year, where in 10-14 days, one can learn more than during a whole semester. Throughout my years at UTSC, I've develop an awareness of how intricately connected geology is to understanding and managing many critical environmental issues affecting the planet. This is the area in which I endeavour to further my studies.

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