Most people, when they look down at their feet, are looking for something they lost or dropped, maybe an earring or a contact lens. Then again, they could be admiring their brand new sneakers or high heels but let’s say, generally, they are fixated on the feet, not what’s under it. Or maybe you are watching the road or the path ahead of you to avoid tripping or stepping in dog crap. If you’re a gardener, well that’s different and we need to bracket what earth scientists do too. And unless you’re Carole King, I don’t know anyone who thinks about the earth underneath their feet, as they go about their daily business.
We take the earth for granted. I was reminded of this when I made a tantalizing discovery. Where I live is home to the oldest rock formation on the planet. It was only 6 years ago scientists from McGill University, the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC identified the rocks on the Northern Quebec coast of Hudson Bay [i]. Just 40 kilometers south of Inukjuak, the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt contains “faux-amphibolites” estimated to be 4.28 billion years old. That’s a mere 300 million years after earth was formed. I find this fascinating, for one, because that single discovery changed humanity’s knowledge or understanding about our planet; prior to this, geologists thought there was no rock older than 3.8 billion years because of intense meteorite bombardment that would have destroyed any crust on the earth.
More difficult to explain is why I find this fact – that I live in a province of the oldest rock formation on the planet – so personally edifying. This rock upon which I stand has stood the test of the earth’s major cataclysms. There is something oddly reassuring, the immensity of its steady course, its permanence unlike most any other encounter with life forms, and that solidity and reliability that goes with being virtually indestructible.
I am slightly envious of the geologists who get to unlock the secrets that lie deep and dormant in this ancient rock. What else will it tell us about who we are and where we came from in our connectedness to this mysterious, infinitely regenerative universe?
For now, all I care about is, if anybody asks where I live, the truth is I live on ultra rock-solid ground!
[i] Jonathan O’Neil. The Geology of Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt and its Implications for the Early Earth’s Evolution. Ph.D. Thesis, McGill University, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Montreal, Quebec. October, 2009.