Vancouver for Visitors

I know we have a huge number of scientists in town this weekend for AAAS 2012. If any of you visitors want to check out some local geoscience, here’s an introduction:

Geological Context

Fire and Ice are the local theme:

Fire:Vancouver is located in an active subduction zone (yes, we have the potential for megaquakes like Japan), and is part of the Ring of Fire. Our volcanoes are dormant, although you can see Washington’s Mount Baker to the south on a clear day. The combination of heat and stress characterizes almost all the rocks you’ll see: keep your eyes peeled for volcanic flows, columnar basalts, and dikes, as well as crazy folding and metamorphism jumbling everything up.

Ice:Our most recent glaciation was 15,000 years ago. Glaciers act like geological sandpaper, smoothing and polishing everything, scattering implausibly huge debris everywhere.

For a broader context, check out the geologic and disaster history of British Columbia.

Vancouver Convention Centre

The convention center is a lesson in ecology, climate change, and sustainability. Read the plaques around the interior to get the story of British Columbia’s mountain pine beetle infestation, and if you feel like braving the constant drizzle, check out the roof for active beehives on the urban green roof experiment.

From north windows and balconies, you get a fabulous view of the North Shore (ok, that’s a western view, but same idea!), highlighting the mountains polished by glaciers. Try to spot the line where smooth topography transitions to jagged peaks: that’s the ice line where everything polished was scoured by glaciers, and everything jagged poked out above the ice.

Local Fieldtrips

  • Like most downtown city cores, our building materials feature quite a bit of local geology.
  • Stanley Park is on the northwest corner of downtown, accessible via a moderate walk along the sea wall, or via public transit. The park features lovely old forests preserved to repair ships, but more importantly, 20 million years of history.
  • The University of British Columbia is southwest of downtown, separated from the city by the Endowment Lands (a huge park totally worth an afternoon stroll). The university is located on glacial outwash sands compacted by later glaciers (glaciers everywhere!), resulting in a loosely cemented sandstone. Head down to the beaches to check out huge erratics (boulders dropped casually from melting glaciers), sandstone cliffs with delicate crossbedding features, and the occasional stray nudist (although it’s getting a bit chilly for them). You’ll see many small landslides; check out “A Vanishing Cliff” (page 29) for info on the Grand Campus Washout.
  • Lighthouse Park is on the north shore, and is accessible via public transit.
  • Lynn Canyon is the public-park alternative to Capilano. On the north shore, free, and accessible via public transit, this wooded mountain park is another great place to check out glacier features (and to cross a suspension bridge above a rushing baby river).
  • Cypress is pretty much covered in snow, but is another public park on the north shore if you want to go snowshoing (rent from Mec).
  • The Sea-to-Sky Corridor between Vancouver and Whistler travels along a stunning fjord, with all sorts of stunning destinations. My favourites are Shannon Falls (a quick from-the-parking-lot hike to a towering waterfall over glacially-polished cliffs; also home to deaf frogs), the Chief (the go-to local mountain climbing destination just shy of Squamish), and constant variations of columnar basalts.
  • Any highway in BC is a mini-lesson in disaster mitigation, particularly for landslides and avalanches. The interior routes pass over a brand-new river delta, the catastrophic Hope Slide, and, depending on route-choice, into the abruptly vertical Fraser Canyon.

Vancouver International Airport (YVR)

Even when leaving town, you’ve still got a few bits of geoscience to eyeball:

Additional Resources

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