April 30, 2021

Science prof honoured for significant contributions to petroleum geology science

Benoit Beauchamp receives prestigious award from Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists
Benoit Beauchamp on Ellesmere Island
Beauchamp on Ellesmere Island Supplied

For his varied and adventurous career researching sedimentary basins in the Arctic and around the world, Dr. Benoit Beauchamp, PhD, is the newest recipient of the R.J.W. Douglas Medal, awarded yearly by the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists for outstanding scientific contributions to petroleum geology in Canada. Over the years, Dr. Phil Simony (1992) and Dr. Debbie Spratt (2010) also received this award.

“Dr. Beauchamp has made tremendous contributions to research in sedimentary geology pertaining to petroleum systems, and he is highly deserving of this recognition” says Bernhard Mayer, interim dean in the Faculty of Science.

Beauchamp, who spent 18 years working as a research scientist for the Geological Survey of Canada, joined the University of Calgary in 2005 after he was offered the executive directorship of the UCalgary-led Arctic Institute of North America (AINA), which came with a secondment to a teaching role in the Faculty of Science’s Department of Geoscience. He served as AINA’s executive director for six years before transitioning to teaching in 2011 and returning to the geology research he loves.

Ancient arctic sedimentary rock basins can offer a glimpse at Earth’s future

Beauchamp’s research focuses on ancient sedimentary basins — accumulations of sedimentary rock over long periods of geological time, and the rock layers in which oil and gas reserves are found. Specifically, his research centres on the Carboniferous and Permian eras, a time interval between 360 to 250 million years ago.

“The basin we study in the Arctic is more than 10 kilometres thick by about 1,300 kilometres wide,” he says. “I study the fossils and the clues in the rock that can tell us about temperature and climate change in the time period.”

Beauchamp on Axel Heiberg Island

Beauchamp on Axel Heiberg Island.


Beauchamp has published extensively in science journals in the area of basin analysis, with significant contributions in the areas of sedimentary geology, regional tectonics, earth systems dynamics, and petroleum geology, with a strong emphasis on the Late Paleozoic time interval when the super-continent Pangea came together through various plate collisions.

Despite his research data coming from hundreds of millions of years ago, Beauchamp says that studying the ancient past “gives us a wonderful opportunity to take a glimpse at the future” and is a valuable contribution to modern-day climate science.

He and his students have worked not only in the arctic, but also around the world in China, Austria, Spain, Russia, the Middle East, the Bahamas, the United States, and Western Canada. While the flora, fauna, and rock characteristics vary, Beauchamp says the basics of what they are discovering remains the same.

“Once you understand the whole makeup of the planet at that time, you can see how the pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere — which at that time was a natural phenomenon — changed the climatic system and the ocean. It’s a fabulous analogy and metaphor for what we’re doing right now in our environment. We’re observing the exact same things happening now that were happening 280 million years ago, but they are happening over a much shorter span of time.”

Though he believes Earth has proven itself to be very resilient, Beauchamp says, “The rate at which we’re pumping CO2 into the atmosphere has very few equivalents in the rock record; maybe only a few major volcanic eruptions did it at that rate. The problem is that ecosystems don’t have enough time to react to this. We’re causing a huge imbalance in the earth system. Eventually, something will have to give.”

A video interview and profile of Beauchamp for the R.J.W. Medal Citation can be found online via the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists website.