Our Centennial Anniversary

The Alberta Geological Survey was established over a 2-year period, beginning with the 1920 publication of Report 1, First Annual Report on the Mineral Resources of Alberta, and the formalization of a geological survey function in the newly-formed Scientific and Industrial Research Council of Alberta in 1921. Over the past 100 years, the Geological Survey has grown and transformed into what it is today - the Alberta Geological Survey.



History of the Alberta Geological Survey - A Timeline


Our Beginning

Although our beginning is set in 1921, our roots extend back to 1912 at the University of Alberta when Dr. John Allan was appointed the head of the Department of Geology, where he would teach for 37 years. The Alberta Geological Survey was established in 1921 when the Scientific and Industrial Research Council of Alberta was formed by the Government of Alberta and Dr. Allan of the University of Alberta was appointed head of its Geological Survey department. This was one year after Dr. John Allan published the first annual report on minerals in Alberta in 1920 – Report 1, the results of Dr. Allan leading a government request to conduct a survey of Alberta resources.

Our Identity

Alberta’s Geological Survey has been housed within other government departments and these have changed over the years with our changing governments. We were originally established within the Scientific and Industrial Research Council of Alberta, which became the Alberta Research Council (ARC) in 1930. Some years later, the geological survey function at the Alberta Research Council became the Alberta Geological Survey with its own identity. In 1996 the AGS was relocated into the Energy Utilities Board. The Alberta Geological Survey to this day is housed within the Alberta Energy Regulator, providing geoscience knowledge and advice to the Government of Alberta, the Regulator, and all Albertans.

The work we completed in the 1940s and 1950s established crucial foundational knowledge for Alberta:

  • Studies of the different coal areas outlined areas in the province of up to 200 billion tons of surface-minable coal for power and other industrial uses.
  • An exploratory soil survey program found areas suitable for agricultural and road development.
  • The Ground Water Well Network was drilled throughout the province and a series of about 30 groundwater reports identified groundwater for use by municipalities, agricultural communities, and industry.
  • Detailed mapping of the Precambrian Shield resulted in one of the best-mapped and sampled studies of a Precambrian Shield in the world. 
  • The geology of the McMurray area led to publishing Memoir 1, the first publication on the oil sands.
  • Our oil sands were studied by geologists around the world as it was essentially an oil reservoir exhumed for hands-on study.

In the 1960s and 1970s, we built on our foundational knowledge, establishing extensive geoscience programs for Alberta:

  • Work on placer gold deposits led to the first report on placer gold as the province looked for ways to diversify.
  • Detailed geological work on the Clear Hills ironstones began and continues for nearly 50 years.
  • Dr. Joe Tóth developed new concepts and a theory for groundwater flow-systems that were fundamental to the emerging field of hydrogeology, he is now acknowledged as the “Father of Modern Hydrogeology”.
  • We hired a palynology expert who used plant microfossils to age-date and build the Cretaceous geological framework where much of the province’s hydrocarbon resources reside.
  • Rock kits with accompanying booklets and maps were created using bedrock collected from 24 Alberta locations. These kits were later reused for teaching students about rocks and minerals.
  • The Cold Lake oils sands deposits were mapped on a formation basis, greatly extending our knowledge of Alberta’s oil sands accumulations.

The work we completed in the 1980s and 1990s expanded our knowledge, building on past foundations and branching into new areas:

  • Publications on the oil sands flourish in the 1980s and continued for many years after that time.
  • Regional aggregate inventories are completed, assessing sand, gravel, clay, and crushed stone resources in many areas of the province. Approximately 30 surficial geology and aggregate reports were published.
  • Comprehensive coal inventories were completed, prompted by a dramatic increase in demand for coal in the early 1980s. This work was later used in coalbed methane research.
  • Shale and clay evaluations became part of the surficial mapping program as the need for industrial clay for brick and tile products increased; a more systematic approach to its research was accomplished.
  • The first minerals database was created, storing all the known mineral occurrences in the province.
  • We teamed up with the Geological Survey of Canada to conduct a small drilling program that studied the Mountain Lake intrusion, and we stored the first kimberlite core at the Mineral Core Research Facility.
  • We began research on different types of petroleum and natural gas. Up to this point, much of our work on petroleum focused on bitumen and heavy oil.
  • The Geological Atlas of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin is published and will later be made available on our website where it becomes our most accessed publication for many years.
  • The Diamond Potential of Alberta was published, highlighting three areas in the province with diamond potential.
  • The first digital geological map of Alberta was published.

The work completed in the 2000s to now was possible because of technological advances in industry, data abundance in the province, and years of research:

  • We began releasing data to the public in digital formats, making provincial data accessible. Some of these data include the sand and gravel database, ironstone and coal data, and shale gas data.
  • We conducted subsurface research in several areas including coalbed methane, carbon sequestration, buried channels, shale gas, and aquifers.
  • Our geological hazard investigations included landslides in the Peace River area, Turtle Mountain monitoring, and induced seismicity.
  • We created the Turtle Mountain Monitoring Program designed to provide notification to different agencies in case of mass rock movements on the mountain - this network is still running today.
  • Notable mineral investigations we conducted during this time include diamonds, uranium, and surficial mapping for mineral exploration.
  • On water research front, we created the Base of Groundwater Protection, built the Edmonton-Calgary Corridor Atlas of groundwater resources, and conducted research on aquifer connectivity related to abandoning gas field wells.
  • Growing interest in alternative energy and diversifying Alberta’s economy prompted our research in geoexchange/geothermal systems, lithium, and helium.
  • We began research on earthquakes and induced seismicity, which built and grew both our network of seismic stations and our expertise in this area, supporting with regulations and monitoring.
  • We developed the Geological Framework of Alberta program which focused on integrating geospatial data and information in the province, and building 3D models of Alberta’s subsurface.
  • Our experts continue to learn and grow with technological advances in many areas including 3D modeling, interactive maps and applications, using satellite imagery for monitoring, and finding new ways to communicate like our Minecraft models, and 3-D print files of geological models.