Quebec crater is out of this world
Revered by local Inuit for its clear waters, scientists hope to
unlock 120,000 years of secrets about climate change
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
May 25, 2007
MONTREAL -- A massive crater in Northern Quebec has been luring the
curious for over 50 years. Diamond prospectors, Second World War pilots
and National Geographic all made pilgrimages to the distant natural wonder.
Now, an international team led by Laval University in Quebec City has
journeyed to the Pingualuit Crater near the Hudson Strait in hopes of
unlocking 120,000 years worth of secrets about climate change.
The four-country expedition has just returned with sediments from the
crater, formed 1.3 million years ago when a meteorite crashed to Earth
with 8,500 times the force of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
"This is like a natural archive of climatic and environmental change,"
said lead researcher Reinhard Pienitz, a Laval University geography
Prof. Pienitz is the latest in a string of scientists and adventurers
drawn to the haunting formation, described by a Globe and Mail
correspondent on a 1950 expedition as the eighth wonder of the world.
Largely unknown to the outside world, the lake-filled crater had long
been revered by local Inuit and known locally as the Crystal Eye of
Nunavik for its limpid waters. Second World War pilots used the
perfectly circular landmark as a navigational tool during reconnaissance
Their observations spurred expeditions sponsored by the Royal Ontario
Museum and later the National Geographic Society, whose 1952 magazine
featured at story entitled, "Solving the Riddle of Chubb Crater." The
article's title referred to pioneering Ontario prospector Fred Chubb,
who initially believed the crater could be a source of diamonds.
The crater was later renamed New Quebec Crater and, finally, Pingualuit
The crater is considered a scientific treasure trove because it's one of
the deepest lakes in North America, fed almost exclusively by the skies
"It's like a huge rainwater collector set out in the tundra, catching
rainwater for 1.3 million years," said Prof. Pienitz, whose expedition
was funded by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric
Sciences. "This lake is really special."
Working with Inuit from the nearby community of Kangiqsujuaq, Prof.
Pienitz's team travelled in freezing temperatures by snowmobile to the
edge of the crater rim. They then slid down the rim and trekked to the
centre of its ice-covered surface. They travelled on foot because the
crater, located in a new provincial park, is subject to stringent
conditions that ban fuel-powered vehicles.
The team then drilled a hole through the ice to open a window into
Lowering their equipment through the ice, scientists reached into the
extreme depths of the lake bottom to extract a nine-metre sediment core.
A scientific time capsule, it's filled with fossils of pollen, algae and
tiny insect larvae that researchers hope will yield clues about climate
change dating to the last interglacial period 120,000 years ago.
"These fossils will tell us the story about the past environment," Prof.
Pienitz said. "We can learn about the fragility of the climate system,
and how it responds to external forces."
Until now, most clues about Earth's climatic past have come from the
ocean floor or from ice cores from Greenland and the Antarctic. The
crater sediment provides another piece of the puzzle. Ultimately,
scientists hope the various clues will help shed light on current
"To read the past," Prof. Pienitz said, "makes it much easier to read
The crater, largely unknown outside Canada, was formed by a meteorite
1.3 million years ago.
Diameter: 3,44 km
Depth (total): 400 m
Depth (lake): 267 m
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