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Treasure trove of state archives hides inside Geologic Materials Center in Anchorage

Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 9:53 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Hidden away in the Airport Heights neighborhood of Anchorage is a huge warehouse, housing history but perhaps also keys to the future.

“Thousands of people drive by every day,” said Alaska Geologic Materials Center Curator Kurt Johnson. ”Seven years ago, it was a Sam’s Club. It was purchased by the state of Alaska, and now we’re the GMC.”

The Geologic Materials Center – boasting the state’s largest geologic collection for researchers, industry workers and education communities, according to its website – holds a massive amount of geologic archives from across Alaska. Among those are 250,000 processed slides and thin cuts of sections of rock; more than half a million surface samples; 16.7 million “representative feet” of energy core and cuttings; and more, including small samples of fossils, gems and minerals.

“The materials center is a basically a research library full of rocks for geologists that came from across the entire state of Alaska,” Johnson said. “Geologists can go to our online interface, request materials, we pull them off the shelves, put them on the tables, and geologists can look at them more closely to try and answer geological questions.”

Johnson said he and his team had calculated that the materials in the facility, most of which are irreplaceable, would probably cost somewhere in the $35 billion range to reproduce. However, that’s with data attached. Most of the samples would lost their value and importance if the research that’s been done on them was lost.

“Rocks here have to have metadata associated with them,” he said. “Without the information about where they came from, the geologic formation they came from, they are basically rocks that you can put out in the driveway for fill. The metadata is an important part of what’s going on here.

“We get geologists from all disciplines, whether it’s environmental geology, mining, whether it’s energy, whether it’s pure research with academia,” he continued. “And so, because the state is so large, (and) it’s very difficult to get to, rocks here make it much easier for geologists to study what they need to study and keep the cost down.”

With a mission of permanently archiving, indexing, protecting and making available for public inspection all kinds of geologic materials and their corresponding data, the center has become a hub for those seeking further knowledge of Alaska’s natural resources. Some researchers have even turned it into their home base for ongoing projects.

On Tuesday, Asher Hopkins, a volunteer, was sorting through hundreds of slides of very thin rock samples that needed recording. Corey Ramstad, a geologist with Hilcorp, was analyzing rocks from the Prudhoe Bay area in an attempt to evaluate some reservoir characteristics and hopefully enhance recovery there. Erin Todd, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, was working on a set of samples that derived from the ocean.

“It’s important to be able to look at a complex place like Alaska, where we have bits and pieces from all over the Pacific Ocean, and put together a story,” Johnson said. “... You have to look at the geometry of what’s going on under the ground, you’ve got to figure out what events happened, and then you’ve got to put the events in order. If you can do that, you’ve got the pieces to tell a geologic story.”

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