In this episode, we hear more from Kent Brooks, Emeritus Professor at the Geological Museum in Copenhagen. After a sabbatical working in Papua New Guinea in the mid-1980s, Kent returned to working in East Greenland and the next phase in the story of understanding the Skaergaard intrusion – discovering gold .
16: Kent Brooks: Discovering gold in the Skaergaard intrusion
Based on interviews held on January 9–10, 2020 in Kendal, England
Note: Polar Podcasts are designed to be heard. If you are able, please listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that is not evident in the transcript.
It counts among the biggest gold deposits in the world. And now er, what is it, thirty years after we first found the deposit, it still er, hasn’t been worked in any way. We could say nobody’s yet put a shovel in the ground.
Welcome to Polar Podcasts, where you’ll hear stories from geologists who’ve spent their careers, their lives, exploring and studying the remarkable and remote geology of Greenland. Why did they become fascinated with Greenland? What were the problems and the discoveries that drove them? And what was it like working in these remote places, where few people venture, even now? I’m Julie Hollis.
In this episode, we hear more from Kent Brooks, Emeritus Professor at the Geological Museum in Copenhagen. After a sabbatical working in Papua New Guinea in the mid-1980s, Kent returned to working in East Greenland and the next phase in the story of understanding the Skaergaard intrusion – discovering gold.
Well I’d returned from, from Papua New Guinea in the summer of 1986. And er, GGU were having an expedition to East Greenland at that time and er, I was hired to er, as a sort of economic geologist. And the idea was that the mapping geologists, when they went around, if they found something of economic interest, they would not waste time on that but they would tell me about it and I would go and look at, look at it. And in this way I came to look at er, look at er, a number of things like, like rubies in er, metamorphic rocks south of Ammassilik, beryls in the granites around, around er Sermiligaaq and er, several, several promising economic prospects around Skærgaard in the Kangerlussuaq area.
Well I was contacted, I was contacted by a chap called Bob Gannicott, who had set up a company, a Canadian, actually a Brit who had emigrated to Canada and set up a company there called Platinova. And he’d seen a paper that I wrote back in 1973, I think, on the er, the plate tectonic situation in East Greenland in which I’d used the er, I’d pointed out that the Kangerlussuaq fjord might be what was called a failed arm. It was a rift valley which had failed to spread.
When continents break up, they move apart forming rift valleys. In some cases, there are three rifts that meet at a central point. But sometimes one of those rifts will stop spreading apart. This is called a failed rift.
while the other two rift valleys had spread to form the north Atlantic ocean. Well this caught his eye because er, somewhere people believed that er, ore deposits might be found in, in, in failed arms. And so he’d taken out a concession on the area and he suggested that we work together, the survey and his company work together. Well er, that was ok.
And er, at that time he worked under incredibly primitive conditions. They, he came with two, two young Canadian guys and they shared the helicopter rides with us and that and they, they lived in a, they lived in a camp which largely consisted of a tarpaulin strung from a sandstone cliff. And that was, that was ok if the weather was good. But when it poured down, there tended to be a waterfall coming down the cliff face on one side of the room they were living in.
Anyhow, we er, we decided that er, Skærgaard was not really a very interesting place to look at because it had already been studied in detail. And a much more promising er, place to look would be the Kap Edward Holm intrusion, which is many times larger than Skærgaard and er, had not been looked at in much detail. And we thought there might be, might be ore deposits associated with that.
Well er, I along with the survey and Platinova, we spent a lot of time going over the Kap Edward Holm intrusion. And er, then we had a period of bad weather and Bob, who was er, reluctant to have his, his er, two young Canadians being paid by him and not doing anything suggested they fitted in the time by going to Skærgaard. At this time we couldn’t, we couldn’t fly across the fjord because of the bad visibility. But we could flit from er, from the camp in Sødalen down to Skærgaard quite easily. So he put his two chaps on to looking around Skærgaard. And they went around and collected stream sediment samples, grab samples and things and er, really it was a bit of occupational therapy.
Anyhow, I was quite surprised when he called me up having the survey, was er, was slowly getting assays done. Quite naturally Platinova, they had assays of the summer’s samples done within weeks of getting back to Canada. And Bob called me up and said, “Well you know what the most promising thing is we found all the summer?” He said, “It was the stream sediment samples we took at Skærgaard below Forbindelses Glacier.” They all returned high gold anomalies. Well that was a, that was a new one on me. And er, it was decided that we would go next year and chase this up.
The Greenland Survey had backed out of it by now so er, I was back running expeditions with the university on er, on research council money. Anyhow, we er, it was a rather classic example of geochemical prospecting because they took er, they took, they took the, the sediment samples from, from Forbindelses Glacier and analysed them and saw there were gold anomalies in there. And er, then we used our nouse to figure out why, why the gold anomalies were there. And we quickly, we quickly worked out they were coming from a, from an area up on the side of er, the side of the mountain above. And we er, localised a thin, a thin horizon which had er, elevated gold values.
At the time we er, took, took samples at er, vertical, vertical profiles of samples at about er, half a metre intervals and then sent them off to Toronto. We had a plane connection once a week on Saturday. We sent off the samples one Saturday. Then we got the results back the following Saturday. And er, we quickly found that er, there was a horizon there with very elevated gold contents. I don’t want to quote any figures right now because I can’t, I can’t remember them. But er, there were marked gold peaks in there and it was of great interest. And er, we always, we always got the results on Saturday. And so Saturday night was, if we got good, good, good, big numbers back, then we always had a party on Saturday night er, where we sang and drank in the cook tent and did press ups and other manly sports.
And er, on Sunday morning Bob, the president would, would er, cook us eggs benedict if the gold numbers were good. Yes well er, that was the er, the first year, 19, or the second year shall we say, 1987. And obviously, when we got this far, the er, the next, the next thing to do would be to drill it. And Platinova started drilling the following year. And er, made several drill holes um, up to a kilometer in length. And I er, I was always surprised by, by er, by this. I was told as a student that the geothermal gradient
The increasing temperature with increasing depth beneath the surface of the Earth.
the geothermal gradient is about thirty degrees per kilometre. And er, I guess you don’t think too much about this when you’re a student. But when you’re standing in the freezing, freezing temperatures in East Greenland and you have the water coming up out of a kilometre deep drill hole and it’s thirty, thirty degrees warm, you think, “What the, what the hell is this hot water doing here?” Well I mean you know, you know if you go down a kilometre it’s going to be thirty degrees, it’s quite simple. But somehow when you’re told as a student, it doesn’t sink in.
Anyway, we did, Platinova did drilling, did drilling for several years there and er, they subsequently branched out and er, started looking at Kap Edward Holm again. And then they er, then they pulled out because they got, they got more interested in the zinc deposits at Citronen Fjord. And various other schemes that Bob had.
When we found gold in the Skærgaard intrusion, I thought that it would be reasonable that people in Greenland knew that they er, might, might have a, an important gold mine in the, in the near future. I was very optimistic in those days. And I knew very well that mining companies don’t like, don’t like er, publicity unless they’re able to manage it themselves. So er, I was quite aware that er, that er, if I wrote something in the papers, it would not be approved of. But anyhow, I decided to do it.
So I wrote, I wrote this article, which was designed for Jyllandsposten, the er, Aarhus newspaper. I er, decided, decided to go there because the Aarhus newspaper was rather more interested in Greenlandic stuff than the er, the Copenhagen newspapers. And I happened to be in Aarhus. And er, I took the, took the article I’d written down to the paper office on a Thursday, I think it was, and er, delivered it to them. They said, “We’re not, we won’t be publishing it this Sunday.” It was designed for the Sunday edition, I should say. “We won’t be publishing it this Sunday, we’ve got something this Sunday and we’re filled up for this Sunday. But we’ll keep it by and publish it in the coming time. Sometime when we have space.”
Anyhow, I went away and went back home maybe on the Friday. On the Sunday morning, I was amazed, the telephone, the telephone rang at eight o’clock in the morning. And they said er, “This is TV2. Can we do an interview with you now?” And I said er, I said, “Well I’m still in bed and er, not really.” And I was confused. And they put the phone down. And then er, come nine o’clock they’d rung again. They said, “We’ve just landed in Kastrup and we’re er, we’re on our way up to see you.” So er, I think, I think TV2 were based in, were based in er, Odense somewhere in those, at that time. Don’t quite remember. But er, yeah, lo and behold, just after nine o’clock, this TV crew arrived. Journalist and cameramen and all the, all the paraphernalia. And I said, “What’s it, what the hell’s it all about?” And they said, “it’s about this gold in Greenland.” And so er, my daughter, who er generally got, in those days she was a teenager, went out on the town. And she generally didn’t get up until lunchtime on Sundays. She became aware there was a TV crowd, crowd in there. And er, so she got up and put some makeup on and came down and made herself useful and er.
And I sat there and gave an interview about the gold in Greenland. And it was, it was a nightmare. The phone, the phone range three or four times during the day. And then at er, ateleven o’clock at night, somebody rang on the doorbell and it turned out to be, it turned out to be journalists from Billedbladet, or Ekstrabladet, what’s it called, Ekstrabladet er, they wanted an interview too. So er, so anyhow it finished about one o’clock, when I finished with them. Oddly enough. Ekstrabladet, they er, they produced what turned out to be one of the, one of the most accurate descriptions of what I had said of any newspaper. They’re er, they’re famed for er publish, publishing topless girls and er, sex stories and things like that. And er, I think with some justification it could be called the gutter press. But in this particular case they produced, they didn’t actually say much, but they er, everything they said was, was completely accurate. And I always recall the journalist saying to the er, saying to the, the photographer er, er “Tage mange billeder. Der skulle være noget luft I mellem teksten.” ’Take a lot of pictures. There should be some air in the text’.
Anyhow, I found out next morning that the whole of the Danish press was filled with stories of riches of gold in Greenland. And the, the telephone was ringing from morning to night. And er, even the, even the Wall Street Journal had a big, a big, an article there saying that Kent Brooks had found biggest, the biggest gold, one of the world’s biggest gold deposits.
I never in any, any point in my career suggested that it was me that had found it. But anyhow, that’s the way, that’s the way Wall Street Journal reported it. And it is in fact, it is in fact what we’d call a mega deposit. It’s one of the, it is one of the world’s largest gold deposits. It’s a low grade deposit. It’s er, the gold levels are very, very low but on the other hand there’s an enormous tonnage of material so the total gold is er, is very, very great. It counts among the biggest gold deposits in the world. Unfortunately, because, because the er, the stuff is so disseminated, the gold is so disseminated, it has to er, it, it, it requires a lot of investment to er, and a large mining operation to get it out. And now, what is it, thirty years after we first found the deposit, it’s still, it still hasn’t been worked in any way. You could say nobody’s yet put a shovel in the ground.
So that was the er, the story of gold.
Well er, there’s more to, there’s more to that actually. The er, I should talk, talk about the er, Greenlandic dispute. One of the reasons for making it public was the thought that Greenlanders would know what was going on. And er, particularly in Tasiilaq, the er, if there came a mine there, this would of course be a great, a great source of, a great source of employment to them. And er, it would be of interest to them. But immediately a, a controversy broke out between Tasiilaq and Ittoqqortoormiit where the er, Tasiilaq claimed that the, the gold deposit was in their kommune. While Ittoqqortoormiit claimed that the kommune grænse
The municipal boundary
went down the centre of Kangerlussuaq fjord, so it was actually Ittoqqortoormiit kommune. And er, Tasiilaq argued that it must be in their kommune because they’d had hunt, they’d financed hunting parties to go there. And it was clearly, clearly part of their kommune. And it was four hundred kilometres from Ittoqqortoormiit and no people from Ittoqqortoormiit had ever been that far. So it couldn’t possibly be part of their kommune. And I went to a meeting out in Lyngby for the, the er, Scoresbysund committee, it’s called, where the er, the mayor of, the major of er, Tasiilaq, Jakob Sivertsen, and the mayor of Ittoqqortormiit, Emilia Massen, er went at it against each other hammer and tongs. Where er, Emilia shouted at Jakob, “Jakob, you’re a liar!” And talk like that.
Anyhow, this lot of, lot of er, political stuff was set in motion here. Jakob Sivertsen, for example, wanted to er, wanted to blame, blame Platinova for er, driving out the wildlife. The, the hunters there had found the numbers of bears they killed had gone done from a hundred, hundred and twenty or so a years to something like five a year. And they ascribed this to the fact er, that Platinova had flown their helicopter over and it had driven the bears away. There are in fact other interpretations.
Anyhow, Jakob, I think, I think it was Aage Chemnitz, the er, the self-styled president of Greenland,
This should be Jonathan Motzfeldt.
who er, took this up. And he er, he knew that Stanford University, California, is a rich university. And my colleague Dennis Byrd is from Stanford, who’s worked, worked with me in Platinova and various others on the, on the Skærgaard gold deposit. Had been quite prominent there.
And he decided that er, decided that maybe this was a line of action. So he er, he raised a law suit against the president of Stanford University for the recompense of a million dollars for the loss of, loss of, loss of hunting rights around Kangerlussuaq. And Dennis was really upset. He called up to the president’s office and said a law suit of a million dollars had been, had been made against him.
Anyhow, this was all quietened down for a while because er, because er, I believe, I don’t know, don’t know exactly how it happened. But somebody in, somebody presumably in Copenhagen told er, Chemnitz
Actually Jonathan Motzfeldt
that this er, that he couldn’t do this sort of thing. That the er, the Home Rule in Greenland at that time was er, was not, not allowed to er, participate in international politics. That international politics would be handled from Copenhagen. It may well be different now but in those days the, the government in Nuuk had nothing to with er, with defence, actually also minerals at that time, and er, and foreign relations and one or two other things. But anyhow, the whole thing stirred up this hornet’s nest where people were at each other throats and looking for opportunities to raise money from it, all kinds of pretenses.
And some years later, I happened to be at Skærgaard in the summer time and these, these er, motor boats from Tasiilaq were up there. And I saw that er, saw that Jakob Siversten was there. And I thought er, well, we had this, we had this, this feud going on. I don’t think he’ll recognize. And I had a chat to him and I thought, no he doesn’t recognize me. He’s not, he’s not complaining anyway, it’s all very well, er. But then, suddenly he said, er, I had, I had a member of, I had a member of er Folketingsmedlem with me.
A member of the Danish parliament.
Can’t now remember his name. He was a, the one who’s in charge of science in Folketinge. And he said er, what’s his name, Jakob said er, “There’s me, I’m the mayor, mayor of Tasiilaq, there’s him, he’s a, he’s a member of Folketinge, and there’s him, he’s a guld doctor.”
A gold doctor
“So we know what we’re talking about, don’t we.” It became quite clear that Jakob Sivertsen did, did know who I was.
I’m Julie Hollis and you’ve been listening to Polar Podcasts.
In the next episode, we hear from Professor Allen Nutman about starting out in the 1970s as a field assistant leading to life-long Greenland research on some of the world’s oldest rocks.