Earth Sciences professor digs in the dirt for clues to the past

John Menzies in a laboratory at Brock University

John Menzies

John Menzies, professor of Earth Sciences at Brock, has been playing in the dirt for decades.

That’s not an insult, but an honour.

His research centres on sediments left behind by ice sheets and glaciers and, in particular, subglacial sediments and landforms.

Part of this research involves the microscopic examination of sediments that have been impregnated with resin, then thin sectioned.

This research could not have been accomplished without the state-of-the-art thin-section laboratory in the Department of Earth Sciences. There are only three or four labs of this type worldwide and Brock is the only lab in Canada, which does this work, from sample to thin section.

“The thin-section laboratory is the basis of our work,” said Menzies.

He recently received special recognition from the publishing giant Elsevier. The company responsible for publishing the international geosciences journal Geomorphology notified Menzies that his paper, co-authored with Jaap van der Meer and Jim Rose, has been acknowledged as one of the “Top 50 most-cited articles” published in the journal between January 2006 and February 2011.

The paper, “Till as a glacial ‘tectomict’, its internal architecture, and the development of a ‘typing’ method for till differentiation,” published in Geomorphology volume 75, issue 1-2 (2006), is a major review of research he has conducted over the past decade on the micromorphology of sediments shaped by the actions of ice sheets and glaciers.

“I’m delighted (with the Elsevier recognition). It is validation. The area of research is fairly new, there are maybe only of 100 of us in the world doing this kind of work,” said Menzies.

“Science is only as good as other people view it and test it. If no one else picks up on it, it dies.”

Others use your research as a validation of their research, which is rewarding, added Menzies.

Watch video of Menzies discussing other scientists referring to his research

Menzies has several ongoing research projects dealing with a range of glacial sediments from modern way back to the Precambrian.

One such project involves the examination of a 1,000 metre core from near Heidelberg in the middle Rhine Valley, Germany. The core sediments date back 600,000 years. It is being analyzed for climate change as viewed through the myriad of processes that have affected the upper Rhine Valley basin sediments over this time period.

Looking at a thin section is “like opening a door into a new world. You never know what you may find. It’s exciting stuff.”

Menzies is also pleased that his thin section lab has found a niche with a host of business clients. He has done research, for example, for concrete companies, various Geological Surveys worldwide, and archeologists working on Roman kitchen tiles from Jordan in the Middle East.

Menzies is an international expert whose research has taken him around the world, including New Zealand, Norway, Austria, and Death Valley. He guest lectures, attends workshops, supervises graduate students and teaches several courses. He’s a prolific writer of books, book chapters and articles.

“I’ve always enjoyed writing as much as research,” Menzies said. “It is lost unless it’s published…why keep it to yourself?”

Past research profiles

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