(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘geology

“I feel the earth move under my feet”*…

 

WALKER_LANE_MAP_1

 

For more than a century, the San Andreas Fault has been considered the undisputed heavyweight champion of large-scale deformation in the West. It is here that the North American and Pacific Plates meet, jostling for position with often violent results. Eventually, the theory goes, the thin sliver of land between the fault and the ocean—from the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula to the Santa Cruz Mountains—will break off from the mainland and slide north, until LA drifts past San Francisco. But there’s at least one problem with this scenario: The San Andreas appears to have gotten jammed. Northwest of LA, near the town of Frazier Park, the fault is kinked out of alignment so dramatically that many geologists suspect the pent-up tectonic strain will have to seek release somewhere else…

[Nevada state geologist James] Faulds thinks he’s found the spot. It’s an emerging zone of instability, known as the Walker Lane, that closely follows Route 395. He believes that, over the next 8 million to 10 million years, the North American continent will unzip along this stretch of land, east of the San Andreas. The Gulf of California, which separates the Baja Peninsula from Mexico, will surge north into Nevada, turning thousands of square miles of dry land into ocean floor. (Mapmakers, if they still exist, may label the new body of water the Reno Sea.) While this geologic realignment will take long enough for human civilization to fall, rise, and fall again hundreds of times over, Faulds’ hypothesis is more than an academic curiosity. It represents a radical shift in how geologists use up-to-the-minute tools—satellite data, aerial surveys, computer simulations—to fathom age-old processes. And for residents of the West, it is an invitation to think in an altogether new way about the familiar-seeming ground beneath them. Now is the time: Already the Walker Lane region, with its booming population and burgeoning tech economy, is beginning to feel the rumblings of a new seismic regime…

The next Big One?  “Move Over, San Andreas: There’s an Ominous New Fault in Town.”

* James Taylor and Carole King

###

As we ruminate on the rumbling, we might spare a thought for Richard Dixon Oldham; he died on this date in 1936.  A geologist and pioneering seismologist, he made the first clear identification of the separate arrivals of P-waves (primary waves), S-waves (secondary waves), and surface waves on seismograms.  Later, he developed the first clear evidence that the Earth has a central liquid core.

150px-RD_Oldham source

 

Written by LW

July 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Eloquence is a painting of the thoughts”*…

 

San Callisto bread and fishes__1542403117405__w800

Fish and loaves fresco from the Catacombs of St. Callixto, Rome, c. 200. Christian iconography appeared in the first third of the third century. It quickly developed a clear vocabulary—an image of a fisherman represented Jesus Christ and the apostles, a fish under a breadbasket represented communion, and the superimposed Greek letters Χ (chi) and Ρ (rho), sometimes called the Christogram or monogram of Christ, represented Christ himself (Χ and Ρ are the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ, Christos). Early Christians used these and other symbols in mural paintings, catacomb frescoes, and sarcophagi carvings to label deceased Christians. Sixteen popes are buried in the catacombs of San Callixto, located on the Appian Way in Rome.

 

Although Éric de Grolier, the so-called Father of Information Systems in France, coined the term infographic in 1979, the history of the graphical representation of information stretches back much further. The history of the visualization of information is intrinsically tied to the history of human cognition, of technology, and of art and design. Human beings have used visuals for so many things: to communicate ideas and stories; to represent space, time, and the cosmos; to extrapolate and compare sets of data; to show connections and disparities; to teach complex concepts or succinctly display information. Visualizations—maps, diagrams, graphs—make arguments for how we should understand the world, and thereby teach us how to understand, organize, and make sense of complicated reality. These simplified versions of the world allow us to see things that are usually unseen: the borders between political jurisdictions, the hierarchy of an organization, or the relationship between the mortal plane and the afterlife…

A fascinating history of the visual expression of ideas: “Instead of Writing a Thousand Words, Part One: Ideas, Part Two: Maps, and Part Three: Data.”

* Blaise Pascal

###

As we show, not tell, we might recall that it was on this date in 1796, at the Swan Inn in Dunkerton (England), that William Smith, a self-educated geologist, wrote in a single sentence his discovery of the mode of identifying strata by the organized fossils respectively imbedded therein (the theory of of stratigraphy)– now an axiomatic fact of modern geological knowledge.  He went on to publish (in 1799) the first large-scale geological map of the area around Bath, Somerset.

William_Smith_(geologist) source

 

Written by LW

January 5, 2019 at 1:01 am

“On the geological time scale, a human lifetime is reduced to a brevity that is too inhibiting to think about deep time”*…

 

new geological era

The official history of Earth has a new chapter – and we are in it.

Geologists have classified the last 4,200 years as being a distinct age in the story of our planet.

They are calling it the Meghalayan Age, the onset of which was marked by a mega-drought that crushed a number of civilisations worldwide.

The International Chronostratigraphic Chart, the famous diagram depicting the timeline for Earth’s history (seen on many classroom walls) will be updated [as above]…

More at “Welcome to the Meghalayan Age – a new phase in history.”

But lest one think that a move like this is without controversy, consider this professional reaction:

“What the fuck is the Meghalayan?” asked Ben van der Pluijm, a geologist.

Whatever the Meghalayan is, we live in it now…

More at “Geology’s Timekeepers Are Feuding.”

* John McPhee

###

As we take sides, we might recall that it was exactly 75 years ago today, on this date in 1943, that Los Angeles had it’s first major attack of smog:

On July 26, 1943 a “gas attack” hit the city of Los Angeles.

Here’s how Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly described this dark day in Angeleno history in the first line of their essential book, “Smogtown“: “The beast you couldn’t stab fanned its poison across the waking downtown.” The “beast” was smog…  [source]

smoggy-civic-center

The L.A. Civic Center in a 40’s smog cloud

source

 

Written by LW

July 26, 2018 at 1:01 am

“South America must have lain alongside Africa and formed a unified block which was split in two in the Cretaceous; the two parts must then have become increasingly separated over a period of millions of years like pieces of a cracked ice floe in water”*…

Earth, 600 million years ago. The Ediacaran Period; life is evolving in the sea, and multicellular life is just beginning to emerge.

From the good folks who brought you Dinosaur Pictures, a chance to watch continental drift at work– a marvelous interactive model of the earth that you can view from the present to 600 million years ago: Ancient Earth.

* Arthur Wegener

###

As we marvel at the evolving reality of nature, we might marvel as well at the laws that govern it: it was on this date in 1686, the publication of Newton’s Principia (the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematicawas arranged in London at the Royal Society. The minutes of the meeting record that the astronomer Edmond Halley would “undertake the business of looking after it and printing it at his own charge.”

Title page of the first edition

source

 

Written by LW

June 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom”*…

 

Depiction of a Dragon featured in Mundus Subterraneus

Just before Robert Hooke’s rightly famous microscopic observations of everything from the “Edges of Rasors” to “Vine mites” appeared in Micrographia in 1665, the insatiably curious and incredibly prolific Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher [see here] published what is in many ways a more spectacular work. Mundus Subterraneus  (Underground world), a two-volume tome of atlas-like dimensions, was intended to lay out “before the eyes of the curious reader all that is rare, exotic, and portentous contained in the fecund womb of Nature.” There is an “idea of the earthly sphere that exists in the divine mind,” Kircher proclaimed, and in this book, one of more than thirty on almost as many subjects that he published during his lifetime, he tried to prove that he had grasped it.

As a French writer put it some years later, “it would take a whole journal to indicate everything remarkable in this work.” There were extended treatments on the spontaneous generation of living animals from non-living matter, the unethical means by which alchemists pretended to change base metals into gold, and the apparent tricks of nature we now recognize as fossils. The book included detailed charts of “secret” oceanic motions, or currents, among the first ever published. The author’s more or less correct explanation of how igneous rock is formed was also arguably the first in print. According to one modern scholar, Kircher “understood erosion,” and his entries “on the quality and use of sand” and his “investigations into the tending of fields” had their practical use.

Mundus Subterraneus identified the location of the legendary lost island of Atlantis (something that modern science hasn’t been able to accomplish) as well as the source of the Nile: it started in the “Mountains of the Moon,” then ran northward through “Guix,” “Sorgola,” and “Alata” and on into “Bagamidi” before reaching Ethiopia and Egypt. Kircher offered a lengthy discussion of people who lived in caves (their societies and their economy). He reported on the remains of giants (also mainly cave dwellers) found in the ground. And he went into detail on the kinds of lower animals who belong to the lower world (including dragons).

In short, Mundus Subterraneus covered almost every subject that might relate to the realm of earth, as well as many that wouldn’t seem to, such as the sun and “its special properties, by which it flows into the earthly world” and the “nature of the lunar body and its effects.” These correspondences and influences were nothing new, though perhaps only the always-inclusive Athanasius Kircher would choose to publish a series of moon maps in a book about the world below…

Portrait of Kircher at age 53 from Mundus Subterraneus

More on this extraordinary work– inspired in part by a subterranean adventure Kircher himself made into the bowl of Vesuvius– at John Glassie‘s “Athanasius, Underground“; browse the book at the Internet Archive.

* Socrates

###

As we praise polymathy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1804 that Corps of Discovery– better known today as the Lewis and Clark Expedition– left Camp Dubois, near Wood River, Illinois, commencing what would be a trek over two years on which they became the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States.

President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase (in 1803) to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the western half of the continent– a Northwest Passage– and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.

 source

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

source

 

“In a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder”*…

 

An ancient bear skull sits on the floor of Hoyo Negro, a flooded cave on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

Some 13,000 years ago in what’s now the Yucatán Peninsula, a deep pit inside a cave became the final resting place for a menagerie of exotic animals.

Now, their exquisitely preserved bones, trapped for centuries under water, are offering some of the first solid clues to how large Ice Age beasts were mixing and migrating between North and South America after the Isthmus of Panama connected the two continents.

“We’re going to go from a place with no records to having the best records for a lot of megafauna from Mexico, Central America, and northern South America,” says East Tennessee State University’s Blaine Schubert, who presented the findings this week at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in Calgary.

The animal bones are also painting a more detailed picture of the strange world inhabited by Naia, an Ice Age girl found in the cave who is the oldest, most complete human skeleton yet discovered in the Americas…

A remarkable discovery sheds new light on the exchange of life that occurred when the Isthmus of Panama rose from the ocean to connect two continents that had been ecologically separate for tens of millions of years: “Ice Age Predators Found Alongside Oldest Human in Americas.”

* “In other studies you go as far as other have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder.”   – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

###

As we re-trim our family trees, we might send illuminating birthday greetings to Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden; he was born on this date in 1829.  Trained as a physician (who served with the Union Army during the Civil War), Hayden was a practicing geologist and paleontologist noted for his work in the Badlands in the mid 19th century– it is believed he made the first North American discovery of dinosaur remains (1854)– and for his pioneering surveying expeditions of the Rocky Mountains later in that century, which helped lay the foundation of the U.S. Geological Survey.  Hayden is credited with having the Yellowstone geyser area declared the first national park (1872).

 source

 

Written by LW

September 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“To see a world on a grain of sand”*…

 

Sand covers so much of the earth’s surface that shipping it across borders—even uncontested ones—seems extreme. But sand isn’t just sand, it turns out. In the industrial world, it’s “aggregate,” a category that includes gravel, crushed stone, and various recycled materials. Natural aggregate is the world’s second most heavily exploited natural resource, after water, and for many uses the right kind is scarce or inaccessible. In 2014, the United Nations Environment Programme published a report titled “Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks,” which concluded that the mining of sand and gravel “greatly exceeds natural renewal rates” and that “the amount being mined is increasing exponentially, mainly as a result of rapid economic growth in Asia.”…

It’s one of our most widely used natural resources, but it’s scarcer than you think: “The world is running out of sand.”

* William Blake

###

As we think anxiously about the beach, we might spare a thought for René Just Haüy; he died on this date in 1822.  An ordained priest (and honorary canon of Notre Dame), he began his scientific career as a botanist, but detoured into geology when a specimen of calcareous spar caught his fancy.  It inspired him to undertake a series of experiments which resulted in his outlining of the geometrical law of crystallization now associated with his name.  As a result, he’s considered the Father of Crystallography…  a field that concerns itself with quartz, a major component of sand.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 1, 2017 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: