Surficial Geology

Surficial Geology


Surficial geology refers to the study of unconsolidated sediments lying on top of the bedrock. It is also referred to as Quaternary geology since sediments on the surface of the Earth were typically deposited during the Quaternary period (2.6 million year ago to present), older sediments have usually turned to bedrock by now. In Canada, most sediment were created, transported and deposited by the glaciers that used to cover a large portion of North America. Surficial geology is therefore strongly linked to the study of past glaciations.

Surficial geology map index


Surficial geology maps are available for a large portion of the Northwest Territories. Maps vary from regional scale (1 to 1 million) to some detailed scale (1 to 25 thousands). Current surficial geology investigations by the NTGS are taking place in various regions of the NWT such as the central Slave geological province, the western Slave geological province, the Great Bear magmatic zone  and the Jeanne Marie River area.

Naturally occurring perched bolder are an evidence of glacial sediment transport. Credit: NTGS.


Surficial geology investigations have a wide range of applications. They are a major part of an informed decision making process in infrastructure development as well as mineral exploration. Knowledge of surficial geology is beneficial to granular resource evaluation, a crucial part of road planning and building, as well as soil sciences, permafrost research and surface geochemistry. Surficial geology is also the pillar to drift prospecting, an exploration method applicable to diamond bearing kimberlite and metal deposits widely use in the Northwest Territories. Innovations in surficial geology investigations promote and facilitate the use of this proven low impact exploration technique.

Glacial sediments being remobilized by modern drainage. Credit: NTGS.


The NTGS leads and participates in multiple surficial geology projects in collaboration with Canadian Universities, local or locally involved industries and other Northern or Canadian research oriented organizations. Field investigations, sampling and mapping are performed continuously in various areas of the Northwest Territories. Surficial geology maps are available for a large portion of the Northwest Territories. Maps vary from regional scale (1 to 1 million) to some detailed scale (1 to 25 thousands). The NTGS also provide surficial geology expertise to the public as a standing service. Contact our Surficial Geologist.

Traditional 3D interpretation of air photos. Credit: NTGS.


Ongoing surficial geology related projects include; the Slave Province Surficial Material and Permafrost Study (SPSMPS), a CanNor funded NTGS initiative (2015 to present) and the Western Slave VMS project. Surficial geology mapping is being conducted by NTGS partners from the GSC in the Great Slave Region as part of the Transportation Risk in the Arctic to Climate Sensitivity (TRACS) project (2011 to present) and within the Rae province as part of the South Rae mapping project (2012 to present). Development of innovative drift prospection technics are also taking place using data from the Geo-mapping for Energy and Minerals (GEM) IOCG Great Bear Project (GSC) and South Wopmay Bedrock Mapping Project and Integrated Studies (NTGS) (2010 to present) as well as with kimberlite samples provided by partners from industry in collaboration with Dalhousie University (2015 to present).


Teaching glacial sediment sampling techniques to young geologists. Credit: NTGS.

Partners and Support

Surficial geology science and innovations are made possible by the Northwest Territories Mineral Development Strategy and our in-house ITI-NTGS mapping division as well as contributions from various partners to NTGS projects. In kind field support and voluntary data releases are valuable resources regularly obtained from our partners from the industry. In turn, the NTGS is able to attract and support leading-edge academic and applied surficial geology research projects. Our partners include: University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, The Canadian Mining Industry Research Organization, Carleton University, Dalhousie University, Diavik Diamond Mines Inc., Dominion Diamond Ekati Corp., Geological Survey of Canada, GGL Resources Corp., Saskatchewan Research Counsel, Simon Fraser University, McGill University, New Nadina Explorations Limited, Artic Star Exploration Corp., North Arrow Minerals Inc., Overburden Drilling Management, Ltd., Peregrine Diamonds Ltd., University of Waterloo.

Glacial striations on bedrock indicating glacial flow direction. Credit: NTGS.


Surficial geology, Quaternary geology, glaciation, surficial sediments, glacial sediments, surficial geology maps, surface geochemistry, drift prospection, indicator minerals, granular resources.