Geoscientists embark on ambitious pan-Canadian research experiment

EON-ROSE has the potential to unify the national earth science community

Photo of Jason Droboth during visit to Tuktoyaktuktuk as part of a trip focusing on community engagement for EON-ROSE.

Jason Droboth during a visit to Tuktoyaktuktuk, NT as part of a trip focusing on community engagement for EON-ROSE.

Imagine the possibilities when a network of approximately 1,400 observatories across the Canadian land mass provide real time, openly available data monitoring entire Earth systems ― everything from the formation of the northern lights in the magnetosphere through the solid crust of our planet deep into the underlying semi-molten mantle. This has been the dream of Katherine Boggs, PhD, associate professor in Mount Royal University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, since she attended the 2015 U.S. EarthScope workshop.

In January 2011, Popular Science named EarthScope (2004 to 2020) first in its “10 Most Ambitious Experiments in the Universe Today,” ahead of the Hadron Collider and the International Space Station. The largest science project on the planet, one part of EarthScope used an array of seismometers, which measure vibrations on the Earth’s surface (some caused by earthquakes), to provide a telescope into the planet. As the project is coming to a close, most of the 36 EarthScope stations currently in northwestern Canada will be removed next summer. The remaining 11 stations will form the backbone for the Canadian Cordillera Array (CCArray) which is the pilot phase for EON-ROSE, extending across the mountainous region west of Calgary from the Beaufort Sea to the U.S. border.

An October story in Nature describes three proof of concepts for the pan-Canadian EON-ROSE (Earth-System Observing Network - Réseau d’Observation du Système TerrestrE) program. Mount Meager, a volcano north of Vancouver, has become Canada’s most instrumented mountain in order to evaluate the potential for Canada’s first geothermal energy power production while also monitoring possible volcanic activity and landslides. The Kiskatinaw Monitoring Array network surrounding Fort Saint John in northeastern B.C. will enhance real-time monitoring of induced seismic activity. A mineral exploration collaboration is being coordinated, possibly in the footprint of the CCArray.

The goal of EON-ROSE is to develop the capacity to examine entire Earth systems by adding a variety of sensors to the Earth Systems Observatories; including cameras (still and video), weather stations, permafrost monitors, atmospheric gas sensors, and a variety of geophysical sensors. The EON-ROSE collaboration intends to expand the “telescope into the planet” focus of EarthScope to include the Critical Zone (from the top of the tree canopy to the bottom of aquifers ― the zone critical for supporting much of life on our planet) and the Earth’s atmosphere.

“We’re trying to beat down traditional research silos to get people collaborating across disciplines,” Boggs says. Ideally, this includes numerical weather modellers, space physics, oceanographic, atmospheric, hydrological, cryospheric and ecosystem sciences. EON-ROSE is an open collaboration that involves Canadian universities; federal, provincial and territorial government research agencies; industry partners and international collaborators.

A significant focus for EON-ROSE will include the Community Science Liaison (CSL) program designed to interweave place- and curriculum-based citizen science projects into K-12 schools across Canada; running parallel to the EON-ROSE scientific programs. Boggs and MRU alumnus Jason Droboth (who is starting a graduate program at the University of Calgary focusing on science communication), recently returned from the Yukon and Northwest Territories where they recruited the first CSLs. The EON-ROSE scientific team will provide mentorship and guidance for these CSLs and K-12 citizen science research teams. These teams will be welcome to present their findings at the annual EON-ROSE meetings, starting with the EarthScope transition to EON-ROSE meeting May 15 to 21 in Juneau that includes a field trip to Whitehorse.


Wood Street School in Whitehorse, YT has played a vital role in testing and adopting curriculum and place-based science programs.

“The Community Science Liaison Program will get the public involved in doing some of the science. They can drive some of the questions,” Droboth says. Ultimately, continues Droboth, the project will promote a better understanding of complex systems and earth processes “using Canada as the laboratory” to better mitigate natural hazards, deal with demand on natural resources and focus on global change, primarily climate change.

Seismologist and director of EON-ROSE, David Eaton (University of Calgary) described EON-ROSE to Nature as “completely aspirational and ambitious.” Boggs points to a history of success with the Canadian LITHOPROBE program that supports the powerful potential when the Canadian geoscience community is united behind one large research initiative. LITHOPROBE (1985 to 2005) used technology developed in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (the petroleum basin around Calgary) to image deep crustal structures along a 6,000 kilometre transect across Canada. Nearly 1,000 geoscientists produced approximately 1,500 scientific publications throughout the history of LITHOPROBE. “As far as we know, no other Canadian scientific program has been so prolific,” Boggs says. “And we do not know of anywhere else on our planet where there has been such an extensive transect completed across an entire continent. Today there is no one unified geoscience program across the country and the geoscience community is very fragmented.”

EON-ROSE could help reunify the Canadian geoscience community, but Boggs says it “is so big that it’s very challenging to find funding.” She is just back from the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco (the largest Earth and space science conference) where she joined with the director general of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) to solicit support from the EON-ROSE community to develop a National Earth Systems strategy for Canada. Such a document, developed through the earth science community, and potentially calling for the support of the Canadian Council of Academies, could have multiple benefits, among them to orient future science investments by federal and other levels of government granting agencies and build a coalition of the willing from the private, academic and government sectors for large proposed undertakings such as EON-ROSE.

Jan. 6, 2020 ― Peter Glenn

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