Marine and Coastal Processes

Canada has the longest coastline in the world, and 40% of its landmass lies under the ocean. Evaluating the resource potential and assessing the natural hazards on its submerged lands, and understanding the geological composition and environmental sensitivity of its coastlines, are an integral part of NRCan’s scientific research. NRCan’s scientists study the deep structure of Canada’s passive continental margins to identify prospective areas for oil and gas exploration. They also study active spreading ridges and subduction zones to better understand plate tectonic processes and the mechanisms of earthquake generation. Seafloor surveys, carried out in conjunction with the Canadian Hydrographic Service, reveal regions where the seafloor may be unstable. Such regions may be prone to underwater landslides, which may generate tsunamis and may damage underwater infrastructure, such as oil rigs and power lines.

Rivers and streams erode gravel, sand, silt and clay particles and transport them to the ocean. When these sediments arrive in the ocean at river mouths they are dispersed along the coast or towards the offshore and are eventually deposited on beaches, tidal flats or on the seafloor. An understanding of the sensitivity of coastlines to the environment requires knowledge of the geological materials comprising coastlines and an understanding of the evolution of coastal landforms. Sedimentary rocks host economically-important oil and gas reserves and their interpretation depends on a fundamental understanding of sediment dispersal processes and deposits. Many ocean management issues and geohazard assessments also depend on detailed studies of sedimentary processes. Canadian coastlines host concentrations of people and structures that are sensitive to changing coastlines and to sea level. NRCan actively conducts research in these areas to facilitate responsible resource development and reduce the risks to people and infrastructure.

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