Research and services

Brock’s Department of Earth Sciences is well equipped with both facilities and researchers.

The Department’s research laboratories include facilities such as radiocarbon dating, a recirculating sediment flume, a dendrochronology laboratory, a glacial micromorphology laboratory, palynology laboratory, sedigraph, cathodoluminescence microscopic analysis, atomic absorption spectrometry, petrographic image analysis equipment, digitizer, water quality analysis equipment, fluorometric analysis, stable isotope preparation, and a vitrinite reflectance/fluorescence workstation. These are supported by rock specimen preparation and drafting facilities, cold rooms, core storage facilities and Departmental collections. Departmental as well as University computing facilities are available. SEM and ICPMS facilities are also available within the Faculty of Mathematics and Science. The department shares the facilities of electronic, woodworking and glass blowing shops with other departments.

Current Research

Studies of clastic sediment and sedimentary rocks, particularly shallow-marine storm deposits and sedimentary structures produced in a recirculating sediment flume. This research is conducted by Rick Cheel.

The study of geologic (natural hazards) and environmental processes and their influence on human activity, and the impact of human activity on the natural environment. Departmental research is conducted by Dan McCarthy (lichen monitoring of air quality), Uwe Brand (watershed studies, climate change in the geologic past), and Francine McCarthy (climate change of the Quaternary).

This involves the application of chemistry to the solution of geological problems, which requires knowing the distribution of chemical elements in the Earth and the solar system, and to assemble this information into geochemical cycles and processes and understand how these may have operated in the geologic past. Research is undertaken by Uwe Brand (low-temperature geochemistry).

Studies into glacial environments in terms of sediments and landforms with special relevance to the Laurentide Ice Sheet that covered most of Canada until about 10,000 years ago. Allied to this work is detailed ongoing research into subglacial environments, and subglacial landforms and landscapes. A major component is research into glacial sedimentology including the technique of micromorphology linked to glacial diamictons (tills). This research is conducted by John Menzies.

Igneous petrology is the study of the evolution of magma systems including their mineralogy and geochemical composition. Volcanic eruptions sample deep magma systems. By investigating the eruptive and compositional history of volcanoes, we track how magma systems evolve over time in order to interpret igneous processes, such as deep crustal contamination or fractional crystallization. In addition, the style of volcanic eruption is influenced by tectonic and environmental factors. Research on igneous petrology and volcanology in this department is focused on the Cascade Arc of western North America, the Rio Grande Rift of New Mexico, and Mars. This research is conducted by Mariek Schmidt.

Lichenometric dating and the use of lichens to monitor urban air pollution. This research is conducted by Dan McCarthy.

Palynology is the study of acid-insoluble microfossils and their modern counterparts, including pollen, spores, dinoflagellate cysts, and acritarchs. Marine deposits are palynologically investigated by the research groups of Martin J. Head (mostly Eocene to present) and Francine McCarthy (Quaternary).

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, at about 1.5 times the Earth to –Sun distance. It is a small planet with a mean radius of approximately 3,396 km, compared to Earth’s radius of 6.378 km. Today Mars is clearly a very different planet from the Earth. By studying the geology of Mars, we try to understand the evolution not only of Mars but also the terrestrial planets in general from orbital and in situ observations. Research into Martian geology is conducted by Frank Fueten and Mariek Schmidt.

Low grade metamorphism of the prehnite-pumpellyite and zeolite facies, and progressive metamorphism of high grade Precambrian terrains and the evolution of continental crust (Greg Finn) are the principal topics of interest. Study methods include investigation of petrography, geochemistry and mineralogy of these two types of metamorphic terrains.

A technique to investigate the microsedimentology, microtectonics and microstructural geology of in situ sediments. Brock University has one of the few micromorphology labs in the world. Over the past decade a vast collection of sediment thin sections have been built-up permitting a detailed broad understanding of both glacial and non-glacial sediments. This research, conducted by John Menzies and colleagues, has generated a world-wide demand for micromorphological expertise, with applications in Antarctica, Europe, Australia and North America. Allied to this work are ongoing international workshops run in various parts of the world to share this expertise.

Microfossils offer unique insights into environmental change within the geological record. Francine McCarthy studies planktonic foraminifera and thecamoebians respectively in reconstructing marine and freshwater paleoenvironments for the Quaternary.

Geology as it relates to the origin, migration, and accumulation of oil and gas, and to the discovery and exploitation of commercial resources. Research focuses on biostratigraphy, paleoenvironmental reconstructions, and thermal maturation studies, and is conducted within the research group of Martin J. Head. Facilities include a fully equipped palynology laboratory and a Leica vitrinite reflectance / fluorescence workstation.

The Quaternary represents the crucial past ca. 2.6 Ma of Earth history. The following faculty and their research groups are involved in this research: Uwe Brand (geochemistry), Martin J. Head (marine palynology, stratigraphy), Dan McCarthy (dendrochronology, lichen studies), Francine McCarthy (marine and terrestrial palynology, micropaleontology) and John Menzies (glacial geology, micromorphology).

Rocks deform as the result of any number of conditions imposed upon them. Those conditions can vary from the relatively slow collision of continents to the very fast deformation imposed during meteorite impacts. During deformation the rocks respond in a variety of ways, such as by the bending of originally straight layers or fracturing of intact rocks. Deformation can be observed on the microscopic mineral grain scale or on the crustal scale, involving thousands of cubic kilometers. Structural geology is the branch of geology that seeks to describe, analyze and understand the deformation of rocks at all scales. Structural geology research is conducted by Frank Fueten.


The Petrographic Thin-sectioning Lab offers a well-established service for the production of thin-section microscope slides. We can produce large 5 x 7 cm or small 2.5 x 4 cm thin sections of around 30 µm in thickness. We also make polished thin sections, which are used primarily in the observation of microstructures in reflected light.

Thin sections facilitate microscopic study under bright field or polarized transmitted light to determine the composition, textural and/or structural relationship of minerals in rock, unlithified sediment, sediment or concrete cores, archaeological material and ceramics. Samples, if unlithified, are dried, impregnated with resin and then processed into thin sections for the client.

Here is what a recent customer said about our service: “Again thank you for the thin sections. Not only were you fast, but you did a beautiful job. The sections are clearly labeled with a sticker, as opposed to being etched into the slide, thereby making them easier to read. Moreover, the rock chips and cut surfaces serve as nice “maps” for locating that part of the rock from which the section was cut. A beautiful job!!!” (August, 2009).

Services and Rates

  • A pdf file downloadable here provides current services and rates.
  • Descriptions and interpretations of thin sections are also available. A sample report is provided here.


Martin Ouellette
905 6885550 x5699

John Menzies
905 6885550 x3865

The Radiocarbon Dating lab closed in August 2010 with the retirement of Howard Melville.  We are grateful to Howie for his many years of devoted service.  The following has been kept online for information only.  It includes a file of all records produced by this lab.  M.J. Head (Chair, Department of Earth Sciences, 12 September 2010).

Thank you to all of my customers over the last 39 years.  The lab will be closing down at the end of this summer.  In order to facilitate this please contact me as soon as possible if you are planning on submitting samples for Radiocarbon Dating. Best wishes to everyone.
– Howard Melville

File of all radiocarbon dates

The following file includes the record of all radiocarbon dates that have been processed at Brock University since the lab began operation in 1971. The data are listed by BGS file number and include the name and affiliation of the person who submitted the sample, the nature of the sample and the resulting radiocarbon age and range. Additional information is also presented but varies from sample to sample.

View file of all of the records (html) NOTE: This file is over 12MB