The Earth is home to many unique metals and precious stones.
In this article, we’ll be looking at three kinds of minerals you can find in Alberta, Canada.
Types of Rocks Found In Alberta, Canada (EXPLAINED)
One aspect that Alberta is known for is being home to several fossils that paleontologists use to unravel the secrets of Earth’s past.
An example of such a fossil is ammolite.
It’s an “opal-like” precious stone found mostly in the Rocky Mountains along the eastern slopes.
Ammolite is formed from the fossilized shells of an ancient creature, an ammonite, and contains aragonite and nacre, more commonly known as mother of pearl.
This gemstone is “biogenic,” a special class of minerals that also includes pearl and amber.
When you get down to its chemical composition, the formula can vary.
The aragonite (commonly CaCO3), can be mixed with pyrite, silica, calcite, or other minerals.
There can also be various trace elements such as vanadium, magnesium, iron, barium, aluminum, copper, chromium, manganese, titanium and strontium.
The actual ammolite is usually very thin, about 0.5-0.8 millimeters (0.02-0.03 inches).
It’s also commonly found to be bound with chalky clay, limestone, or even grey to brown shale.
Ammolite has a special microstructure that interferes with light to create brilliant shades of red and green.
The thicker the ammolite, the more red and green, the thinner, blue and violet dominate.
When put under a UV light, the stone glows a mustard yellow.
Ammolite comes from fossilized ammonites, ancient Cretacous disk-shaped cephalopods that thrived in tropical seas until their extinction at the end of the Mesozoic era.
The sea itself was an inland subtropical sea that once ran along the Rocky Mountains, also called the Western Interior Seaway.
Once these ammonites died, they sank to the bottom and became buried by several layers of bentonitic mud, and became shale over long periods of time.
For many years before European settlers, the Blackfeet tribe described ammolite as “iniskim,” which means “buffalo stone.”
For them, hunters of the tribe believed the stone gave them an advantage in hunting buffalo, hence the name.
It was also used in various ceremonies due to their belief in its healing powers.
The gemstone didn’t enter the western market until the early 1970s, and ever since then, ammolite has been made into cabochons, which are combined with gold and diamonds to make specialized jewelry.
Ammolite is extracted commercially using backhoes to dig shallow pits.
The excavated pits are then examined by hand for potential gem contents.
Any ammolite and other precious gems found are then sold to several local gem companies.
Another place that contains ammolite is St. Mary River area.
However, finding it on your own is quite a rare occurrence, and only around 20% of ammolite found are considered gemstone quality.
If digging for the gemstone yourself sounds like too much hassle, consider visiting one of several specialized jewelry shops found in Calgary and Edmonton, two of Alberta’s largest cities.
One such shop you can try is Korite International, which is located in Southern Calgary.
If going north is your preference, then try a shop like Forest of Jewels in Edmonton.
Another type of gem that Alberta is known to have are diamonds.
This gemstone is made when carbon undergoes extreme pressure and heat, sometimes as high as 950 degrees Celsius with an addition of 4.5 gigapascals.
To be considered a diamond, the carbon atoms must be arranged into a crystal structure, sometimes called “diamond cubic.”
Diamond is one of the hardest natural substances known, and also has a very high thermal conductivity.
The ones found in the ground can also be extremely old, with some being formed around 3.5 billion years ago!
Diamonds typically come in rounded octahedral and euhedral shapes due to how the carbon atoms are arranged.
They have many crystalline facets that are characteristic of octahedrons, cubes, tetrakis hexahedrons, disdyakis dodecahedrons, or even rhombicosidodecahedrons.
Diamonds usually come in colors such as brown, gray, yellow, or the well-known colorless variety.
While rarer, they can also be green, black, violet, purple, orange, red, pink, translucent white, or even blue, depending on the elements mixed inside them.
When looking for diamonds in the wild, it helps to look for a different kind of mineral, first and foremost, an igneous rock known as kimberlite.
Named after Kimberley, a town in South Africa, this mineral has been commonly associated with finding diamonds ever since.
Any major diamond mining today deals with finding kimberlite pipes, structures that form deep within the mantle, around 150 to 450Km (93 to 280miles) under the ground.
Due to Alberta’s unique geography, there’s a favorable potential for finding diamonds in this Canadian province.
A perfect 1 carat octahedral diamond was discovered by a farmer in west-central Alberta in 1958.
Two more, each weighing 0.14 and 0.17 carats respectively, were uncovered by a prospector at Etzikom Coulee, Southern Alberta in 1992.
Considering how many fossils are uncovered in Alberta every year, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that several ages of volcanic activity happened within this province in the ancient past, including the late Cretaceous, which is shown to have had a high probability of worldwide kimberlite volcanism.
In fact, up to 55 kimberlitic pipes have been discovered in Alberta so far.
These regions include Lake Buffalo Head Hills and Birch Mountains, all which reside in the province’s northern regions.
Out of these, the Buffalo Head Hills area has shown the most evidence of the presence of diamonds waiting to be unearthed.
Aside from being the go-to gemstone for countless marriage proposals, most diamonds mined today, around 80%, aren’t suitable for jewelry, and are instead used in many industrial applications.
Considering their hardness, diamonds are used to grind and cut any kind of material out there, including diamonds themselves.
From saws, drill bits, even high-pressure laboratory experiments, diamonds literally help shape our modern everyday world.
Getting the diamonds out, however, can be difficult.
Individual prospectors are allowed to search for them, provided there isn’t much “disturbance” to the natural landscape, and you’ll need permission to mine in the case of private land.
As most mines are of the open pit variety, you will need heavy machinery and other specialized tools to start removing them from the ground.
While Alberta has no diamond mines open to the public just yet, the potential for diamond mining in the province exists none-the-less.
Our third mineral will be magnetite.
With the chemical formula Fe3O4, it’s one of the main iron ores.
It’s also one of several iron oxides, and is ferromagnetic, meaning it’s easily attracted to magnets and can become a permanent magnet itself once magnetized.
Some of the first magnets that humanity ever used came from naturally magnetized magnetite, which is often referred to as “lodestones.”
Magnetite most commonly takes a rhombic-dodecahedra form and as octahedral crystals.
Due to its heavy iron content, this mineral will appear grey or black, and has a brownish tint when exposed to sunlight.
This mineral can occur within igneous rocks, banded iron formations, sedimentary rocks, and even within marine and lake sediments.
Within Alberta, most magnetite can be found in the southwestern region, paleoplacer beds. Other places include the Burmis magnetite deposits, Milvain, Boutry, the Marasek, which are all within the foothills and southern mountains.
Aside from being used for early compasses, magnetite also has several industrial applications, such as water filtration, a rich source of iron to make various chemicals (iron fertilizers, ferric chloride, and ferric sulphate), and even heavy concrete.
Under Alberta government law, anything that’s on “unoccupied public lands” can be explored without any restrictions.
However, any prospectors willing to go out into the Alberta wilderness should alert whichever local forestry office is closest to the chosen mining site as a precaution.
Also, if that person decides to continue mining for more than 14 days at a time, approval must be received from the Land Administration Division.
For private land, any prospector has to make agreements with the leaseholder or landowner.
Projects that will involve heavy machinery or any large “land disturbances” require exploration approval.
When looking for nifty new minerals to add to your collection, or finding a precious stone for your significant other, Alberta has several unique options you can find.
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