According to a new study, Alaska’s mountainous Brooks Range might have been transported from Greenland and part of the Canadian Arctic to the east. This is a part of Dartmouth-based studies which focused on over 300 million years of the Arctic’s history. The discovery of the mountain range in Northern Alaska being connected to Greenland could change our views on the Arctic’s history.
The findings could revise the geological evolution of the Arctic Ocean and could help give insight about the Arctic’s oil, gas and other mineral wealth. The study could also explain the formation of the ocean in the Western hemisphere, also called the Amerasian Basin.
“This is arguably the most important place for the United States from the perspective of Arctic economic development,” said Justin Strauss, an assistant professor of earth science at Dartmouth in a statement. “The geology of this region, which is directly connected to its ancient history, will help revise our knowledge about natural resources in the Arctic.”
The current model which explains how the Arctic Ocean formed along the U.S. and Canada border region and how seismically active it was, had activity known as faulting, which caused Alaska to rotate away from the western band of islands in the Canadian Arctic, an event that started 125 million years ago. Before the rotation scenario, scientists believed that the Brooks Range could perfectly match with Canada’s Banks Island and Victoria Islands.
However, the new study which was conducted over a period of ten years, reveals that the area has rocks which originate as far away as 1,200 miles east, which is more than the original 450 miles away. The results were published by the Geological Society of America. This connection of mountain range in northern Alaska could change our knowledge of the Arctic’s history and how we approach its resources.
“The geology of the northeastern Brooks Range does not match anything that we’ve studied in the neighboring region of North America,” said Strauss, the research lead of the study. “This complicates previous models for how you open this major ocean basin.”
Scientists believe the area formed because of different seismic activities that took place in the area, similar to the San Andreas Fault in California.
“Relationships on the northwestern margin of North America have long been poorly understood and poorly documented,” said Bill McClelland, a professor of earth and environmental studies at the University of Iowa and co-investigator of the study. “The results of these studies have significantly enhanced our understanding of the tectonic processes that formed the Arctic margin of North America and will be instrumental in pushing forward on new research frontiers.”
While the Arctic continues to offer oil, gas and other mineral resources, the mountain range in northern Alaska sheds light on a lot of the Arctic’s history, and gives a better understanding of its geology, as well as how much resources the experts can expect it could offer.
Right now, the United States Geological Survey estimates that 6% of the world’s oil and 25% of the world’s natural gas is located in the Arctic. The team that worked on the study studied the region within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is an area that could be exposed for oil drilling in the future.
“If countries are going to make legal claims based on geology or geophysics, they should consider these much older boundaries that we are highlighting. Governments will to need to confront the complexities of geology meeting politics,” said Strauss.