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Nick Eyles

Nick Eyles


University of Toronto
Department of Geology

University of Toronto Scarborough
Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences


Nick Eyles P. Geo holds a Ph.D (East Anglia) and D.Sc. (Leicester) and is Professor of Geology at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) where he has taught for more than 33 years. His prime research interest is in glacial sedimentology and has over 30 years’ experience of field work on modern glaciers and ice sheets from Antarctica to the Arctic. He has worked at the universities of Leicester, Newcastle upon Tyne and East Anglia in Great Britain, at Memorial University in Newfoundland and has been at Toronto since 1981 when he was awarded a prestigious NSERC University Research Fellowship. He has authored more than 150 publications in leading scientific journals on ice age geology and environmental geology and has worked with the International Ocean Drilling Program on board the drillship Resolution. Recent research sabbaticals have been held in Brazil, Australia and Italy.

Nick has edited books on glacial geology (‘Glacial Geology: An Introduction for Engineers and Earth Scientists’ published by Pergamon), co-edited a book on paleoclimate (‘Earth’s Glacial Record’ published by Cambridge University Press) and urban geology (‘Environmental Geology of Urban Areas’) published by the Geological Association of Canada.

Nick is well known for his public outreach activities and the ‘Rocks’ series of books published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside such as ‘Toronto Rocks’ (1998 with L. Clinton), ‘Ontario Rocks’ (2002) and ‘Canada Rocks: The Geologic Journey’ (2007; reprinted 2016) with Andrew Miall (which was awarded the Toronto Star’s ‘Science Book of the Year’). ‘Canadian Shield – The Rocks that Made Canada’ appeared in early 2011 and ‘Road Rocks Ontario: More than 250 Geological Wonders to Discover’ was published in 2013 and received the Geoscience Information Society’s Best Guidebook Award.

A new book on Georgian Bay is currently in the works.

He was on the road with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for seven months in 2009-10 as host of Geologic Journey –World a five part ‘Nature of Things’ series with David Suzuki. ‘Tectonic Europe’, ‘Along the African Rift’, ‘Pacific Rim West’, ‘Pacific Rim: The Americas’ and ‘Asia: Collision Zone’ aired in late October 2010. The series is based on shooting in 23 different countries and has been one of the most watched CBC documentaries to date: a re-airing of ‘Pacific Rim West’ in the wake of the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake in Japan had more than 1 million viewers. The series was nominated for 3 Gemini awards and according to the Geological Association of Canada ‘No other single Canadian Earth Science outreach effort has ever reached as many people, or has had as great an impact as the Geologic Journey series.’ It was the culmination of much work under the leadership of Michael Allder, the then Executive producer of the Nature of Things and was a life-altering experience for many of those who worked on it. A new program on the Californian drought ‘Running on Empty’ hosted by Nick will air on CBC’s Nature of Things in the fall of 2016.

Nick was awarded the 2012 Geosciences in the Media Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists currently the world's largest professional geological society. The award is presented for notable journalistic achievement in any medium, which contributes to public understanding of geology, energy resources or the technology of oil and gas exploration.

In 2013, he was the recipient of the McNeil Medal of the Royal Society of Canada for his outstanding ability to promote and communicate science to students and the public across Canada. Previous award winners include Jay Ingram and David Suzuki. In 2015, Nick was awarded the E.R.Ward Neale Medal by the Geological Association of Canada for sustained outstanding efforts in sharing earth science with Canadians and outstanding efforts to communicate and explain geoscience to the public.

In 2016, Nick was awarded an inaugural Award of Merit by the Association of Professional Geoscientists of Ontario which honors members ‘who have made significant contributions to the geoscience profession during the course of their career.’ He was presented with the 2016 Principal’s Research Award, University of Toronto at Scarborough for ‘sustained research excellence,' and was also awarded a Geoscientists Canada Fellowship for ‘professional excellence through exceptional contributions to the geoscience profession in Canada and abroad’.

When not looking at rocks in the field or writing about their history, he is an avid adventure motorcyclist (with a BMW 1200GS which he uses to explore new field areas), and ice hockey player.

Current Research Projects

I have a long term interest in the relationship between ancient glaciations and tectonics and am currently working with Kirsten Kennedy (Ph.D in progress) on the 1 km thick Neoproterozoic diamictites (Grand Conglomerat) that host the world-class Kamoa Copper deposit in Congo, and the well-exposed Kingston Peak Formation of the Death Valley area of California. Shannon Carto (Ph.D completed, 2011) worked on ‘Squantum Tillite’ of the Boston Basin. We are testing the rock record against the Snowball Earth hypothesis (SEH) which posits that Earth froze entirely on at least three (some say four) occasions 750-590 million years ago. In our opinion, SEH overstates the case for dramatic freezing and synchronous global glaciations by downplaying the sedimentary record where there is clear sedimentological evidence for regional ‘wet-based’ glaciation and the selective preservation of glacially-influenced but not glacially deposited marine sediments. The character of the diamictites, their often unusual thickness and related deep marine facies typically turbidites can be explained as a consequence of tectonic setting and mass flow. Our work is based on detailed analysis of sedimentary facies and the broader plate tectonic setting of glaciation and is rooted in long experience working in modern glacial environments. In short, the rock record indicates diachronous regional glaciations driven principally by tectonics and basin evolution during the protracted breakup of Rodinia.

I continue to work on modern glacial settings and have just published work with a post-doctoral fellow Dr. Niko Putkinen from Finland on the subglacial landforms exposed by the retreat of Saskatchewan Glacier the Rockies.

In May 2015, I and Dr. Martin Ross (U. Waterloo) hosted a special session on ‘ice stream beds’ at the Geological Association of Canada meeting in Montreal. In that regard, Shane Sookhan, Mike Doughty, Lina Arbelaez-Moreno and Niko Putkinen and I have been collaborating to work up new imagery (LiDAR) that throws new light on the origin of drumlins and megaridges.

I continue to work with local communities in Ontario on the hydrogeological and hydrological impact on waterfronts of urban sediments and contaminants (mostly metals and road salt) focusing on lagoons along the Lake Ontario waterfront (e.g., Frenchman’s Bay). Several publications with Dr. Mandy Meriano have identified the very large volumes of salt that reach these lagoons and these findings have received widespread media interest.

Over the last 20 years I have conducted a wide variety of geophysical cruises on lakes in Canada and with Michael Doughty have just a series of papers on the extensive record of ongoing faulting and tectonic activity in Lake Timiskaming along the Timiskaming Graben. Some 16 lakes have been surveyed to date. I have access to a full range of marine geophysical equipment (sub bottom profiler, side scan) and a 26 foot research boat.

Kathy Wallace has just (2014) completed a Ph.D on seismites in Paleozoic and Pleistocene strata in Ontario to better constrain seismic risk; a recent Insurance Bureau of Canada report puts the likelihood of M7 earthquake in the Toronto-Montreal corridor at 1:500.

Louise Daurio (M.Sc) has recently completed work on unusual debris flows we discovered in Ubehebe volcanic crater in Death Valley, California. This has implications for understanding similar forms within impact craters on Mars.

Tom Meulendyk (Research Technician UTSC) and I are working on the application of ground penetrating radar to understand the deep subsurface structure of Holocene sand dunes in Ontario and California.

If you are interested in graduate work please contact Nick directly by email. Remember to plan ahead by 12 months as the deadlines for applications for postgraduate scholarships (NSERC, U of T., etc.,) must be submitted in the Fall semester of your last undergraduate year i.e., the year before you intend to commence graduate work.

Finally check out our web site and app developed with Shane Sookhan and Richard Gao: and enjoy the great outdoors of Ontario.

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