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Mapping the Belly River Group in Alberta: Contributions

to a New Digital Geological Atlas of Alberta

As part of its ongoing mandate to map that covered most of Alberta between 75 and 80
and understand the geology of Alberta, million years ago. The distribution of formations and
the Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) is members of the Belly River Group records the complex
currently conducting a multiyear project interaction between sediment supply from the rising
to create a new, three-dimensional digital mountains, fluctuating sea level and tectonically induced
geological atlas of Alberta. One of the major subsidence, which created accommodation space
components of the new atlas will be three- required for the deposition of sediment in front of the
dimensional stratigraphic surfaces. Mapping rising mountains.
the rocks of the Belly River Group, which
underlie large areas of southern Alberta,
represents an important step toward creating
the atlas.

Ben Hathway examining rocks of the Dinosaur Park

Formation outcrop.

Geology of the Belly River Group

The Belly River Group records the deposition

of clastic sediment shed from the rising
Cordilleran orogen into a shallow seaway Map of Alberta showing the distribution of the Belly River Group.
Across much of southern Alberta, the Belly River Group
can be divided into three distinct lithostratigraphic units
known as formations. These formations can be identified Rock Chips is published four times a year by the
according to their recognizable rock-type associations Alberta Geological Survey in the spring,
and include, from oldest to youngest, the Foremost, summer, fall and winter.
Oldman and Dinosaur Park formations.
Individual articles, statistics and other
information in this publication may be
reproduced or quoted as long as the ERCB/AGS
is credited.
Past and present issues of Rock Chips may be
viewed on the AGS website at
AGS reports are available for download for free
from our website at

Energy Resources Conservation Board

Alberta Geological Survey
#402, 4999 - 98th Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6B 2X3
Tel: (780) 422-1927
Outcrop of sandstone on the South Saskatchewan River typical of Fax: (780) 422-1918
the Oldman Formation. Staff (lower right) is 1.5 m long.

Clients in the Calgary area may view AGS

publications at
Energy Resources Conservation Board
Suite 1000, 250 – 5 Street SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 0R4
Tel: (403) 297-8242.

Story Contact Information

The following AGS staff members may be contacted
for further information on their articles or citations.

Mapping the Belly River Group in Alberta

Paul Glombick (780) 427-9923
The contact between the Oldman Formation and the overlying
Dinosaur Park Formation exposed in outcrop along the Red Deer New Alberta Provincial Geologist Named
River at Dinosaur Provincial Park. The contact is at the level of the Matt Grobe (780) 427-2843
person’s head (far right, red jacket).
History of the Provincial Geologist
Matt Grobe (780) 427-2843
Mapping the Belly River Group is important to
Albertans for a number of reasons. From an economic
point of view, having a detailed geological model for the Staff may also be contacted via e-mail by typing the
Belly River Group is necessary to effectively regulate first name.last
the energy industry, as the rocks of the Belly River
Group contain significant coal and natural gas resources. Comments and suggestions for Rock Chips may be
Furthermore, knowing the distribution of resources sent to Maryanne Protz at

2 • Rock Chips Winter 2010

and their spatial relationship to aquifers is necessary Stratigraphic intervals, which include formations,
to protect the groundwater resources of Alberta. The members or beds, as well as the contacts (e.g., sandstone
Belly River Group also interests paleontologists, overlying shale) between them, commonly have
because certain formations—particularly the Dinosaur characteristic geophysical signatures (log responses) that
Park Formation (named after Dinosaur Provincial Park can be identified on geophysical well logs. Once a log
located by the Red Deer River)—is rich in dinosaur response has been recognized, geologists determine if
fossils, which tell paleontologists about life in coastal the same response can be recognized on well logs from
swamps during the Late Cretaceous. adjacent wells. This process of matching geophysical
signatures from well to well is known as correlation. It is
Subsurface Mapping—How Do We Do It? one of the fundamental tools used by geologists working
in the subsurface.
Geologists who map layered rock units, or strata, in the
subsurface cannot examine the rocks directly, except
where they outcrop at the surface, such as along river
valleys. Geologists must therefore rely on a number of
indirect methods to recognize rock properties in the
subsurface. One of the most commonly used methods is
analyzing geophysical well logs.

When an oil or gas well is drilled, a suite of geophysical

tools is lowered down the well bore. As a tool is raised
to the surface, it records how certain geophysical
parameters, such as resistivity, sonic velocity, neutron
density or radioactivity, vary with depth. The plot of one
or more geophysical parameters varying with depth is
known as a geophysical well log.

Lithostratigraphy of Upper Cretaceous rocks in central and southern


Sometimes, during the drilling of a well, an interval of

rock is sampled (or cut) from the well bore—known as
drillcore—allowing geologists to directly examine the
rock in the subsurface. Core is particularly valuable.
Not only does it provide a direct link between the rock
and geophysical well logs, it can provide additional
information about the depositional environment in which
the sediment was deposited, as well as other data about
the rock, including porosity, permeability and grain
size. This information aids geologists in their mapping
and interpretation of the subsurface geology and helps
them determine whether a particular rock layer may
be a conduit or a barrier to the flow of fluids in the
Diagram showing a correlation between a gamma-ray log from an
oil and gas well (left) with a nearby measured outcrop section (right)
and gamma-ray curve measured from the outcrop (centre).

Rock Chips Winter 2010 • 3

Fieldwork can use the picks to create a three-dimensional model of
the stratigraphic surface. A two-dimensional projection
To gain additional information about the rocks being of a three-dimensional surface is called a structure map.
studied, geologists look for areas where the particular It is very similar to a topographic map, which is a two-
strata rise to the surface and become exposed as an dimensional representation of the ground surface, except
outcrop. Mapping the distribution of rock types exposed that the lines on a structure map show the location of
at outcrops is a fundamental bedrock geology mapping points of equal elevation (measured above sea level) of
technique. Also, the distribution of strata at the surface the geological surface instead of the ground surface. In
(known as ‘map patterns’) can provide additional addition, geologists use maps that show the thickness
information about the regional geological structure and between two surfaces (an isopach map) or the total
how it affects the distribution of rocks in the subsurface. amount of sand within a certain interval.
An example would be two different rock types
juxtaposed by a fault. A geologist that mapped a fault (or What’s Next?
any other structure, such as a fold) at the surface would
know to look for one in the subsurface as well. Alberta Geological Survey recently published Open File
Report 2010-10, which includes stratigraphic picks and
a structure surface of the top of the Belly River Group
in the Alberta Plains. Additional structure surfaces (and
pick datasets) are slated for release in 2011 or 2012,
including the top of the: Oldman Formation, Foremost
Formation, Lea Park/Pakowki formations and Milk
River ‘shoulder.’

The three-dimensional structure surfaces, the

stratigraphic picks and the geological model of the Belly
River Group created during this project provide a robust
geological framework that is essential for the responsible
management of energy and water resources. v

Outcrop of the upper Dinosaur Park Formation showing fining-

upwards sandstone overlain by mudstone and coal of the Lethbridge
coal zone. Seated geologist for scale (lower right in red vest).
To aid in the mapping of stratigraphic surfaces for
the digital atlas, AGS geologists visit key sites with
exposed strata. They study the rocks and record rock
types and properties across the vertical distance of the
outcrop. In addition, a hand-held spectrometer measures
the radioactivity of the rock. When the radioactivity
measurements are plotted against elevation, it gives
geologists a geophysical log of the outcrop section that
can be compared with well logs from nearby wells. This
links the physical properties of the rocks in the outcrop
with the geophysical well logs from the subsurface.
An outcrop also gives geologists the ability to study
relatively large areas of rock to see how the strata change

How are Surfaces Created?

Once geologists decide the depth of a stratigraphic

contact on a geophysical well log (known as a ‘pick’),
and correlate this pick over the area being studied, they Structure map of the top of the Belly River Group showing major
structural elements in southern and central Alberta.
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New Alberta Provincial Alberta's Provincial
Geologist Named Geologist — History of the
On December 13, 2010, Dr. Matthias (Matt) Grobe was Title and Role
appointed to the position of provincial geologist with the
Alberta Geological Survey. In this role, Matt will ensure The establishment of geological surveys was an integral
that technical information generated by the AGS is of part of the industrial development of the early 19th
a high quality and provide technical guidance on the century. In many parts of the world, government-funded
direction of AGS activities. geological surveys were set up, albeit sometimes only
temporarily, with the specific purpose of uncovering
Reporting to the manger of the Alberta Geological new sources of mineral wealth, particularly iron and
Survey, the provincial geologist will liaise on technical coal. These materials were the cornerstones of the
matters with external government departments, industrial revolution because factories required abundant
technical societies and academic institutions on geology- sources to keep in full production.
related matters.
The first use of the title provincial geologist in what
Matt was born in Germany where he completed his is now Canada is associated with Abraham P. Gesner,
M.Sc. in geology prior to moving to Edmonton in who became the first government geologist in a British
1993 to embark on his Ph.D. studies at the University colony. In 1838, he was appointed provincial geologist of
of Alberta. In 1998, Matt joined the AGS and has New Brunswick to examine areas for coal. Dr. Gesner,
worked on multiple projects, such as mapping Paleozoic a physician and surgeon by training, but geologist and
evaporite strata, working on the geology of Alberta's oil inventor by heart, conducted fieldwork and wrote annual
sands deposits (carbonate and siliciclastic), managing a reports summarizing his findings until 1842, when the
group of geoscientists working on acid gas disposal and New Brunswick government decided to no longer fund
carbon dioxide geological sequestration in the Alberta his work.
Basin, and mapping the connected pore space in saline
aquifers. In 1840, Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Lower
Canada (now Quebec) joined to form the Province
Matt is recognized as an expert on the geology of of Canada. In 1841, the legislative assembly of the
the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin and is newly created Province of Canada approved funding
often called upon to represent the Energy Resources to conduct a geological survey. In 1842, William E.
Conservation Board and the Government of Alberta Logan was appointed provincial geologist for the
about carbon dioxide geological storage and the geology Province of Canada. He was charged with undertaking
of geothermal energy. a geological survey of the province, an assignment that
was characterized as a “Herculean task” by the famous
In the course of his career, Matt has collaborated with British geologist Adam Sedgwick. In contrast to the
scientists from provincial, national and international short-lived funding of the geological surveys in New
science organizations and academic institutions to Brunswick and many American states, the Canadian
improve the technical understanding of Alberta's government renewed the mandate and funding for
geology. He continues to be actively involved with the Geological Survey of Canada with Logan as its
local, national and international technical societies, director in 1845, laying the foundation for the national
reviewing technical papers and reports, participating in Geological Survey of Canada that continues to the
and chairing committees, convening technical sessions present day.
at conferences, and authoring and editing peer-reviewed
publications. v In Alberta, John A. Allan, who
in 1912 established the Geology
Department at the University
of Alberta, is acknowledged as
Alberta’s first provincial geologist.
In 1920, Dr. Allan delivered to the
Legislative Assembly of Alberta
the first government report on the

Rock Chips Winter 2010 • 5

mineral resources of the province. From 1921 to his In the early 1980s, Grant Mossop, head of the expanding
retirement in 1949, he also led the geology section (what Geology Department within the ARC, actively promoted
is now the Alberta Geological Survey) of the Scientific this department to become the Alberta Geological
and Industrial Research Council of Alberta (later the Survey (AGS) and subsequently assumed the title of
Alberta Research Council, now Alberta Innovates provincial geologist. Representation on the NGSC
Technology Futures), which the Alberta government and CPG was shared with Alberta Energy (AE) staff
created by Order in Council in 1921. It is uncertain if until 1990. Since then, only the head of the AGS has
his title indicated anything more than recognition of his represented Alberta on these committees.
outstanding expertise and experience.
Alberta Provincial Geologists (1983–2010)
The growth of Alberta’s petroleum industry in the
first half of the 20th century precipitated the need 1983
for a regulatory agency that would oversee the safe, Grant Mossop (AGS), Ivo Tyl (AE)
responsible and efficient development of oil and gas (Grant Mossop photo courtesy of the
in the province. This led to the creation in 1938 of the Geological Survey of Canada)
Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board (later
the Oil and Gas Conservation Board), predecessor
agency to what is now the Energy Resources
Conservation Board. From the early 1940s onward, this
agency had a geology unit and operated a core storage
and sample laboratory headed by the chief geologist. 1983
Wylie Hamilton (AGS), Ivo Tyl (AE)
In the 1950s, the Geological Survey
of Canada established the National
Geological Surveys Committee
(NGSC) as a forum for co-ordination
and co-operation among government
geological surveys across Canada. It is
thought that J.R. Pow, chief geologist
for the Oil and Gas Conservation 1984–1985
Board, represented Alberta on this Jan Boon (AGS),Ivo Tyl (AE)
J.R. Pow
committee during the 1950s and into 1986–1987
the 1970s, thus acting as Alberta’s Jan Boon (AGS), Director Mineral
provincial geologist. Agreements (AE)
In the 1970s, a new geological unit was established 1988–1989
within Alberta’s Department of Energy, headed by Jan Boon (AGS), Diana Purdy (AE)
assistant deputy minister Michael Day. It is believed that
Michael Day, or one his staff, acted as the provincial 1990–1991
geologist but shared the responsibility with the head Rand Harrison (AGS)
of the Geology Department at the Alberta Research
Council (ARC).

The Committee of Provincial Geologists (CPG) was

created at the 1976 meeting of the Provincial Mines
Ministers, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, to provide a
forum for the discussion of geological affairs between
the provinces and territories and to maintain an effective 1991–1998
liaison with industry on matters relating to mineral Jan Boon (AGS)
exploration and development. The committee consists
of the directors or equivalents of each provincial and
territorial geological survey or mineral resources

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Rick Richardson (AGS) Released Publications
Digital Datasets

DIG 2010-0026 Surficial Geology of the Yates River

Area (NTS 84N/NE) (GIS data,
polygon features)
2005–2009 DIG 2010-0027 Surficial Geology of the Yates River
Kevin Parks (AGS) Area (NTS 84N/NE) (GIS data, line
DIG 2010-0028 Surficial Geology of the Yates River
Area (NTS 84N/NE) (GIS data,
point features)
DIG 2010-0029 Surficial Geology of the Yates River
Area (NTS 84N/NE) (GIS data,
2010 permafrost polygon features)
Matt Grobe (AGS) DIG 2010-0030 Surficial Geology of the Lesser Slave
River Area (NTS 83O/SE) (GIS data,
polygon features)
DIG 2010-0031 Surficial Geology of the Lesser Slave
River Area (NTS 83O/SE) (GIS data,
line features)
DIG 2010-0032 Surficial Geology of the Lesser Slave
River Area (NTS 83O/SE) (GIS data,
point features)
During the mid-1990s, the head of AGS, Dr. Jan Boon, DIG 2010-0033 Surficial Geology of the Faust Area
had to navigate through major structural changes within (NTS 83O/SW) (GIS data, polygon
the Alberta government. In 1995, AGS was transferred features)
from ARC to the Alberta Department of Energy and,
DIG 2010-0034 Surficial Geology of the Faust Area
in 1996, joined the Energy and Utilities Board (newly
(NTS 83O/SW) (GIS data, line
formed in 1995 by the merger of the Energy Resources
Conservation Board and the Public Utilities Board) as a
group in the Resources Branch. DIG 2010-0035 Surficial Geology of the Faust Area
(NTS 83O/SW) (GIS data, point
Since 2001, the title of provincial geologist has been features)
consistently used by the manager of AGS. In late Maps
2010, a provincial geologist position that was separate
from that of the manager of AGS was created, with a MAP 550 Bedrock Topography of Alberta, Canada.
clear emphasis on technical expertise and leadership Scale 1:1 500 000
internally within ERCB and externally through working
MAP 551 Thickness of Quaternary and Neogene
relationships with the Geological Survey of Canada,
Sediment in Alberta, Canada.
neighbouring provincial, territorial and state geological
Scale 1:1 500 000
surveys, universities, and technical and professional
societies. v MAP 552 Surficial Geology of the Yates River Area
(NTS 84N/NE). Scale 1:100 000
MAP 553 Surficial Geology of the Lesser Slave River
Area (NTS 83O/SE). Scale 1:100 00
MAP 554 Surficial Geology of the Faust Area
(NTS 83O/SW). Scale 1:100 000.
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Released Publications (cont.)
Open File Reports

OFR 2010-10 Top of the Belly River Group in the

Alberta Plains: Subsurface Stratigraphic
Picks and Modelled Surface.
OFR 2010-13 Nature of Uranium Mineralization in
the Oldman Radioactive Occurrence,
Southern Alberta (NTS 82H/14).
OFR 2010-14 Till Geochemistry in the Sawn Lake
Area, Southern Buffalo Head Hills,
Alberta (NTS 84B/13).
OFR 2011-01 Review of Metallic Mineralization in
Alberta with Emphasis on Gold Potential.

All reports may be downloaded from our website at

AGS Locations
Alberta Geological Survey is part of the ERCB
Edmonton office.

#402, 4999 - 98th Avenue

Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6B 2X3
Tel: (780) 422-1927

Please call in advance to meet with one of our staff

members or to visit our library.

Mineral Core Research Facility (MCRF)

4504 Eleniak Road
Edmonton, Alberta

For information on the MCRF or to book a visit, contact

Rob Natyshen at (780) 466-1779 or

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