Mapping the Belly River Group in Alberta: Contributions to a New Digital Geological Atlas of Alberta

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

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 according to their recognizable rock-type associations and include, from oldest to youngest, the Foremost, Oldman and Dinosaur Park formations.

Rock Chips is published four times a year by the Alberta Geological Survey in the spring, summer, fall and winter. 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 Fax: (780) 422-1918 E-mail: Clients in the Calgary area may view AGS publications at Energy Resources Conservation Board Library Suite 1000, 250 – 5 Street SW Calgary, Alberta T2P 0R4 Tel: (403) 297-8242.

Outcrop of sandstone on the South Saskatchewan River typical of the Oldman Formation. Staff (lower right) is 1.5 m long.

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 River at Dinosaur Provincial Park. The contact is at the level of the person’s head (far right, red jacket).

New Alberta Provincial Geologist Named Matt Grobe (780) 427-2843 History of the Provincial Geologist Matt Grobe (780) 427-2843 Staff may also be contacted via e-mail by typing the first name.last Comments and suggestions for Rock Chips may be sent to Maryanne Protz at

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 Belly River Group is necessary to effectively regulate the energy industry, as the rocks of the Belly River Group contain significant coal and natural gas resources. Furthermore, knowing the distribution of resources
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and their spatial relationship to aquifers is necessary to protect the groundwater resources of Alberta. The Belly River Group also interests paleontologists, because certain formations—particularly the Dinosaur Park Formation (named after Dinosaur Provincial Park located by the Red Deer River)—is rich in dinosaur fossils, which tell paleontologists about life in coastal swamps during the Late Cretaceous. Subsurface Mapping—How Do We Do It? 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.

Stratigraphic intervals, which include formations, members or beds, as well as the contacts (e.g., sandstone overlying shale) between them, commonly have characteristic geophysical signatures (log responses) that can be identified on geophysical well logs. Once a log response has been recognized, geologists determine if the same response can be recognized on well logs from adjacent wells. This process of matching geophysical signatures from well to well is known as correlation. It is one of the fundamental tools used by geologists working in the subsurface.

Lithostratigraphy of Upper Cretaceous rocks in central and southern Alberta.

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 subsurface.
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 To gain additional information about the rocks being studied, geologists look for areas where the particular strata rise to the surface and become exposed as an outcrop. Mapping the distribution of rock types exposed at outcrops is a fundamental bedrock geology mapping technique. Also, the distribution of strata at the surface (known as ‘map patterns’) can provide additional information about the regional geological structure and how it affects the distribution of rocks in the subsurface. An example would be two different rock types juxtaposed by a fault. A geologist that mapped a fault (or any other structure, such as a fold) at the surface would know to look for one in the subsurface as well.

can use the picks to create a three-dimensional model of the stratigraphic surface. A two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional surface is called a structure map. It is very similar to a topographic map, which is a twodimensional representation of the ground surface, except that the lines on a structure map show the location of points of equal elevation (measured above sea level) of the geological surface instead of the ground surface. In addition, geologists use maps that show the thickness between two surfaces (an isopach map) or the total amount of sand within a certain interval. What’s Next? 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 finingupwards 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 laterally. 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
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Structure map of the top of the Belly River Group showing major structural elements in southern and central Alberta.

New Alberta Provincial Geologist Named
On December 13, 2010, Dr. Matthias (Matt) Grobe was appointed to the position of provincial geologist with the Alberta Geological Survey. In this role, Matt will ensure that technical information generated by the AGS is of a high quality and provide technical guidance on the direction of AGS activities. Reporting to the manger of the Alberta Geological Survey, the provincial geologist will liaise on technical matters with external government departments, technical societies and academic institutions on geologyrelated matters. Matt was born in Germany where he completed his M.Sc. in geology prior to moving to Edmonton in 1993 to embark on his Ph.D. studies at the University of Alberta. In 1998, Matt joined the AGS and has worked on multiple projects, such as mapping Paleozoic evaporite strata, working on the geology of Alberta's oil sands deposits (carbonate and siliciclastic), managing a group of geoscientists working on acid gas disposal and carbon dioxide geological sequestration in the Alberta Basin, and mapping the connected pore space in saline aquifers. Matt is recognized as an expert on the geology of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin and is often called upon to represent the Energy Resources Conservation Board and the Government of Alberta about carbon dioxide geological storage and the geology of geothermal energy. In the course of his career, Matt has collaborated with scientists from provincial, national and international science organizations and academic institutions to improve the technical understanding of Alberta's geology. He continues to be actively involved with local, national and international technical societies, reviewing technical papers and reports, participating in and chairing committees, convening technical sessions at conferences, and authoring and editing peer-reviewed publications. v

Alberta's Provincial Geologist — History of the Title and Role
The establishment of geological surveys was an integral part of the industrial development of the early 19th century. In many parts of the world, government-funded geological surveys were set up, albeit sometimes only temporarily, with the specific purpose of uncovering new sources of mineral wealth, particularly iron and coal. These materials were the cornerstones of the industrial revolution because factories required abundant sources to keep in full production. The first use of the title provincial geologist in what is now Canada is associated with Abraham P. Gesner, who became the first government geologist in a British colony. In 1838, he was appointed provincial geologist of New Brunswick to examine areas for coal. Dr. Gesner, a physician and surgeon by training, but geologist and inventor by heart, conducted fieldwork and wrote annual reports summarizing his findings until 1842, when the New Brunswick government decided to no longer fund his work. In 1840, Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Lower Canada (now Quebec) joined to form the Province of Canada. In 1841, the legislative assembly of the newly created Province of Canada approved funding to conduct a geological survey. In 1842, William E. Logan was appointed provincial geologist for the Province of Canada. He was charged with undertaking a geological survey of the province, an assignment that was characterized as a “Herculean task” by the famous British geologist Adam Sedgwick. In contrast to the short-lived funding of the geological surveys in New Brunswick and many American states, the Canadian government renewed the mandate and funding for the Geological Survey of Canada with Logan as its director in 1845, laying the foundation for the national Geological Survey of Canada that continues to the present day. 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
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mineral resources of the province. From 1921 to his retirement in 1949, he also led the geology section (what is now the Alberta Geological Survey) of the Scientific and Industrial Research Council of Alberta (later the Alberta Research Council, now Alberta Innovates Technology Futures), which the Alberta government created by Order in Council in 1921. It is uncertain if his title indicated anything more than recognition of his outstanding expertise and experience. The growth of Alberta’s petroleum industry in the first half of the 20th century precipitated the need for a regulatory agency that would oversee the safe, responsible and efficient development of oil and gas in the province. This led to the creation in 1938 of the 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. 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 Board, represented Alberta on this J.R. Pow committee during the 1950s and into the 1970s, thus acting as Alberta’s provincial geologist. In the 1970s, a new geological unit was established within Alberta’s Department of Energy, headed by assistant deputy minister Michael Day. It is believed that Michael Day, or one his staff, acted as the provincial geologist but shared the responsibility with the head 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 liaison with industry on matters relating to mineral exploration and development. The committee consists of the directors or equivalents of each provincial and territorial geological survey or mineral resources division.
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In the early 1980s, Grant Mossop, head of the expanding Geology Department within the ARC, actively promoted this department to become the Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) and subsequently assumed the title of provincial geologist. Representation on the NGSC and CPG was shared with Alberta Energy (AE) staff until 1990. Since then, only the head of the AGS has represented Alberta on these committees. Alberta Provincial Geologists (1983–2010) 1983 Grant Mossop (AGS), Ivo Tyl (AE) (Grant Mossop photo courtesy of the Geological Survey of Canada)

1983 Wylie Hamilton (AGS), Ivo Tyl (AE)

1984–1985 Jan Boon (AGS),Ivo Tyl (AE) 1986–1987 Jan Boon (AGS), Director Mineral Agreements (AE) 1988–1989 Jan Boon (AGS), Diana Purdy (AE) 1990–1991 Rand Harrison (AGS)

1991–1998 Jan Boon (AGS)

1999–2004 Rick Richardson (AGS)

Released Publications
Digital Datasets DIG 2010-0026 DIG 2010-0027 DIG 2010-0028 DIG 2010-0029
Surficial Geology of the Yates River Area (NTS 84N/NE) (GIS data, polygon features) Surficial Geology of the Yates River Area (NTS 84N/NE) (GIS data, line features) Surficial Geology of the Yates River Area (NTS 84N/NE) (GIS data, point features) Surficial Geology of the Yates River Area (NTS 84N/NE) (GIS data, permafrost polygon features) Surficial Geology of the Lesser Slave River Area (NTS 83O/SE) (GIS data, polygon features) Surficial Geology of the Lesser Slave River Area (NTS 83O/SE) (GIS data, line features) Surficial Geology of the Lesser Slave River Area (NTS 83O/SE) (GIS data, point features) Surficial Geology of the Faust Area (NTS 83O/SW) (GIS data, polygon features) Surficial Geology of the Faust Area (NTS 83O/SW) (GIS data, line features) Surficial Geology of the Faust Area (NTS 83O/SW) (GIS data, point features)

2005–2009 Kevin Parks (AGS)

2010 Matt Grobe (AGS)

DIG 2010-0030 DIG 2010-0031 DIG 2010-0032 DIG 2010-0033 DIG 2010-0034 DIG 2010-0035 Maps

During the mid-1990s, the head of AGS, Dr. Jan Boon, had to navigate through major structural changes within the Alberta government. In 1995, AGS was transferred from ARC to the Alberta Department of Energy and, in 1996, joined the Energy and Utilities Board (newly formed in 1995 by the merger of the Energy Resources Conservation Board and the Public Utilities Board) as a group in the Resources Branch. Since 2001, the title of provincial geologist has been consistently used by the manager of AGS. In late 2010, a provincial geologist position that was separate from that of the manager of AGS was created, with a clear emphasis on technical expertise and leadership internally within ERCB and externally through working relationships with the Geological Survey of Canada, neighbouring provincial, territorial and state geological surveys, universities, and technical and professional societies. v

MAP 550 Bedrock Topography of Alberta, Canada. Scale 1:1 500 000 MAP 551 Thickness of Quaternary and Neogene Sediment in Alberta, Canada. Scale 1:1 500 000 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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