Research

My research interests are diverse and interdisciplinary in nature and I have an active and growing research program. The strength of my work stems from the synthesize of field and remote sensing observations with a range of geochemical data. I place a strong emphasis on fieldwork and this forms the basis for much of my research.

My current research falls into three main areas: planetary geology – which includes planetary surface processes and planetary materials – astrobiology, and economic geology. A common cross-cutting theme bridging these 3 areas is the study of meteorite impact structures and the processes, products, and effects of their formation. I approach planetary geology with the fundamental view that interpretations of other planetary bodies must begin by using the Earth as a reference.

In addition, I am also active in developing technologies and techniques for exploration, whether that be remote or extreme locations on Earth (e.g., High Arctic, deep underground mines) or human and robotic surface operations on the Moon and Mars. In essence, this part of my research addresses fundamental questions about how we explore and the techniques and technologies required to enable this exploration – both on Earth and other planetary bodies.

Planetary Geology

I am particularly interested in the evolution of planetary surfaces. One of my main areas of research focuses on understanding impact cratering as a planetary geological process. My research on the tectonics of impact crater formation, the generation of impact melts, emplacement of ejecta, and post-impact processes such as impact-associated hydrothermal activity and intra-crater sedimentary deposits, has resulted in the publication of dozens of peer-reviewed publications over the past several years. Much of this research has involved taking an in-depth look at well-known and well-studied terrestrial impact structures, such as the Haughton impact structure, Canada, and the Ries impact structure, Germany. An underlying theme guiding the majority of my research on impact craters is the influence of target properties (i.e., the presence of sedimentary versus crystalline rocks) on the impact cratering process.

This work on impact craters has culminated in the recent publication of a new book “Impact Crater: Processes and Products”, published by Wiley Blackwell.

In addition to my main research topic of impact cratering, I am particularly interested in using terrestrial analogues to better interpret the observed geomorphological attributes of Mars. Currently, I am investigating the development of glacial and periglacial landforms, gullies, and valley networks in the Canadian Arctic, and comparing these features with high-resolution images of similar landforms on Mars.

Astrobiology

My research on impact craters has also resulted in a strong interest in the origin and evolution of life on Earth and the possibility of finding life on Mars. This may sound surprising and indeed, the destructive geological, environmental, and biological effects of meteorite impact events are well known. This is largely due to the discovery of the ~180 km diameter Chicxulub impact structure, Mexico, and its link to the mass extinction event that marks the end of the Cretaceous Period 65 Myr. Ago. In recent years, it has also become apparent that, once formed, impact events also have certain beneficial effects, particularly for microbial life. The effects range from generating conditions conducive for the origin of life (e.g., clays) to varied habitats for life that persist long after an impact event, including hydrothermal systems, endolithic habitats in shocked rocks and impact glasses, and impact crater lakes. This may have important implications for our understanding of the origin and evolution of early life on Earth, and possibly other planets such as Mars.

In addition to the astrobiology of impact craters, my research in Arctic Canada has also resulted in an into cold springs as habitats for life. This work has focused on Axel Heiberg Island in Nunavut, where cold springs flow year round despite flowing through over 500 m of permafrost. Another site is the so-called Golden Deposit in NWT, where a cold spring precipitates the mineral jarosite, which is common on Mars.

Economic Geology

One of the less well known aspects of impact events is the production of economic mineral and hydrocarbon deposits. Indeed, it is estimated that approximately 25% of all impact craters on Earth contain economic resources of one form or another. Resource deposits at impact structures in to 3 main categories: progenetic, syngenetic, epigenetic. Progenetic deposits are those that formed prior to the impact event by endogenic mechanisms. The subsequent impact event then caused spatial redistribution of these deposits, typically bringing them closer to the surface, where they then become economically viable. Syngenetic deposits are those that form as a direct consequence of the impact event and form either during or immediately post-impact. Ores generated through differentiation of impact melt – common at Sudbury – are a prime example. Hydrothermal systems following an impact event, also form as a direct result of the impact process and are also considered syngenetic. Epigenetic deposits are those that take advantage of the formation of an enclosed topographic basin and/or unique structural aspects of impact structures, such as faults and fractures (e.g., oil shales and oil and gas accumulations).

My economic geology interests are focused on understanding ore deposits at the ~200 km diameter impact structure ~1.85 Ga Sudbury impact structure, Ontario. The Ni–Cu ores of the Sudbury region were first discovered in 1883. Since then, Sudbury has grown to be the richest mining district in North America. A common classification for the Cu-Ni-PGE deposits at Sudbury is: 1) SIC–footwall contact deposits; 2) footwall vein deposits; 3) offset dyke deposits; and 4) sheared deposits.

Despite the proven and potential economic benefits of resource development at Sudbury, there are still major outstanding questions concerning our understanding of the structure and its ore deposits. The overarching goal of Dr. Osinski’s research is to further the understanding of large-scale impact-related processes and structures that control mineralization in the more non-traditional Cu-Ni-PGE ore deposits distal to the Sudbury Igneous Complex (SIC)-footwall contact at the Sudbury impact structure, Ontario. In partnership with Wallbridge Mining Company Limited, he is working on a series of research questions concerning the origin of Sudbury Breccia, host to footwall vein deposits, and Offset Dykes at Sudbury and their mineralization.