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Understanding the Banff Hot Springs – a review

Chas Yonge was not fully satisfied with the popular explanation of the water flow at the Banff Hot Springs. As one of Canada’s top karst scientists, he decided to use his expertise to investigate the karst hydrogeology and the movement of water through the Sulphur Mountain Thrust. He has now put that research into book form, Understanding the Banff Hot Springs, making it available for us to learn more about how water flows through the earth. The book is also an excellent example of the scientific method in action. Yonge collects and interprets a wide swath of data and then develops a very credible explanation.

Early in the book Yonge mentions epigene and hypogene, and he is referring to water sources in the hot springs. Since I read a lot about epigenetics, I found my mind getting bent out of shape a bit. Then I recalled in my early years as a teacher being encouraged to help young students with all those words that have very different meanings in different sciences. A classic example is mole (animal), mole (skin growth) and mole (chemistry measurement). In the context of geology, epigene refers to ground water as a water source. I was fascinated by Yonge’s explanation of how the rocks and the water can be dated based on the use of various isotopes.

In 2013, on this blog I wrote “I think that scientists will find the interaction between the biosphere and the lithosphere to be much greater than perhaps initially thought.” Recent studies have focused on iron deposits to learn about the earth’s history and astrobiology. In one such study, a collaboration between the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia, the researchers reported that: “Ancient ancestors of modern microbes played a critical role in setting the stage for life on a dimly lit early Earth, and in creating the world’s largest iron ore deposits”. The lead author is quoted as saying that: “The fundamental knowledge we’re gaining from studies using modern geomicrobiological tools and techniques is transforming our view of Earth’s history”. Chas Yonge has an entire chapter devoted to ‘Cave formation by microbes’. Geology and Biology are indeed coming together.

I have frequently hiked Sulphur Mountain and spent time walking around the interpretive trails of the Cave and Basin. After reading Yonge’s book, I can hardly wait until next summer to redo these trails with his book in hand. In the appendices he provides a self-guided tour of the trails complete with a great explanation of hot springs ecology and aerial photos with numbers indicating exact spots to view the various features.

You can also find me on Twitter @GWardis

Understanding the Banff Hot Springs – a review

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