Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pictures of the Moment - Highlights of Big Nickel, Sudbury

The largest city in northern Ontario, Sudbury is a city of superlatives.

I'm in town for a few short days on a business trip to Laurentian University.

One of the local features I immediately sought out was a first hand view of shatter cones resulting from an extraterrestrial impact approximately 1.85 billion years ago. These horsetail-shaped, shock-related geological structures only form in bedrock proximal to meteorite craters or underground nuclear explosions, radiating outward from the source of the shock-wave in concentric patterns. The Sudbury Basin is the erosional remnant of such an impact crater, the second largest on Earth. A catastrophic global-change event even larger than that responsible for the Chicxulub crater in Yucatán, Mexico (which is widely believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs), the Sudbury impact was directly responsible for the metal-rich impact melt that now makes Sudbury one of the word's largest mining centers. Mines of nickel and lesser copper have operated continuously since the beginning of the 20th Century.

The Inco Superstack at Copper Cliff is the prominent modern expression of this nickel mining and smelting that is still a bulwark of Sudbury's economy. Sudbury is very likely the source of some base metals in your household goods. At a height of 380 meters (1250 feet) Superstack is the second tallest chimney in the world, and one of the tallest free-standing structures. It doesn't look like much from a distance, but up close it's like trying to take the entire Empire State Building in your field of view when standing nearby. Emission controls have greatly reduced the pollution that was symptomatic of smelting at this site in earlier decades, and the very tall stack ensures the remainder is shared with somebody else.

Science North

The economy has diversified over the last thirty years, and Sudbury is now a well-known center of technology and scientific research in medicine, mining technology, nuclear physics and the environment. Emblematic of the transformation is Science North, recognized today as one of the world's best hands-on science discovery centers for families. It is also one of northern Ontario's major tourist attractions.

And the region remains the northern bastion of central Ontario's cottage country, the vast summer escape district abutting the eastern margin of Lake Huron from just north of Toronto. Even the mosquitoes are bigger.

Ramsey Lake, looking towards the Sudbury Yacht Club from Science North.