24 September 2016
I probably should have read this book eight years ago when it was first published, but somehow I missed it then. I recently heard the author, Susan Jacoby, on the podcast Point of Inquiry, and was impressed at the cannon of works she had produced. The current U.S. election cycle has spurred me to think more than I usually do about what constitutes rational thought, and why it seems to be in such short supply these days in America. So I listened to the audiobook version of The Age of American Unreason last week. It isn’t merely a polemic about modern sloppy thinking, but takes an historical approach, looking at the various factors that have influenced American intellectuals over the course of the nation’s history. She weaves in her own experience growing up reading voraciously in a “middlebrow” home in the upper Midwest, and her time as a journalist and in the Soviet Union. There are some elegantly made points about the value of reading widely and how that habit has diminished shockingly in the general population over the past several decades as our time has become consumed with other forms of entertainment and insight: television, the internet, digital music, video games. One thing that I thought was really insightful is her elucidation of the cultural baggage associated with being an intellectual. She deconstructs John Kerry’s campaign for president, and how he stooped to Bush’s anti-intellectual “folksy” level with dumb stunts like the duck hunting farce and an intentional impoverishment of his language (though never going so far as the nuke-yuh-ler option). However, at times Jacoby’s perspective struck me as curmudgeonly. The logical fallacies she commits when griping about how much time kids these days play video games weaken the stronger parts of her book. The other criticism I would offer is that the book is dated, and feels dated. It was written during the waning year of the last Bush administration, a political era known for its disdain for liberal intellectuals and the “reality-based” community (no joke). There was (justifiably) a lot of anti-Bush vitriol in the reality-based community in those days, but now with the specter of a Trump dictatorship looming, all that feels a little bit quaint and fretful. This isn’t a timeless book. That said, if you want a bit of background about why on Earth Donald Trump should be anything close to as popular as he apparently is, this would be a good place to start. (You also might consider It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis.)
23 September 2016
Here’s our Friday fold: a rock wall constructed as part of Geopark Shetland, right at a skinny little isthmus between the main part of mainland Shetland and the peninsula called Northmavine:
Here it is in Google Maps “Streetview,” on the left, just before the WELCOME TO NORTHMAVINE sign on the hill.
To see the folds, zoom into the right side of this artistic representation of the region’s geology:
These kinky Dalradian metapelites can be found in profusion at the Walls Boundary Fault outcrops near Ollaberry. That’s where they collected the samples that ultimately were used as building blocks in making this wall.
I love the idea of these rock walls as durable, meaningful representations of the geology of a place.
22 September 2016
One of the final outcrops I visited this summer in Shetland was a sweet exposure of augen gneiss in eastern “mainland.” Augen is from the German for “eyes” and refers to the sheared-out feldspars. If you stare long enough at these rocks, you may find that they are staring back at you.
A GigaPan of this outcrop:
Link GigaPan by Callan Bentley
Two more GigaPans to explore:
Link GigaPan by Callan Bentley
Link GigaPan by Callan Bentley
21 September 2016
Based on this photo, what do you think Stađarbjargavík might have to offer?
If you guessed columnar jointing in basalt, you’d be right!
Looking down the fjord, south of Hofsós (in Iceland):
The place is basically a series of miniature Giant’s Causeways, full of unpopulated exemplars of cooling columns!
Little coves separate the small peninsulas, each filled with rounded column bits:
Here’s a spot where one more is about to be added to the sedimentary load:
Visitors can climb all over the place, checking out the expression of the more or less hexagonal columns:
Did you note the glacial striations there? (Of course you did.)
Most columns show “crack panels” of arrest lines along their sides:
On this one you can even make out (via the subtle plumose structure) the joint propagation direction:
It’s a fantastic place. If you ever find yourself in Iceland’s Troll Peninsula, you must visit, and then go for a swim at the incredible Hofsós pool!
20 September 2016
Today, we’ll take a look at some immersive digital imagery I made on a hike up Table Mountain’s Platteklip Gorge while attending the International Geological Congress a few weeks ago.
Here is the northern edge of Table Mountain, with Lion’s Head in the distance.
Platteklip Gorge is steep. Here is the viewing looking back down it from the top, with Devil’s Peak in the middle distance:
360° spherical photo of Platteklip Gorge
Platteklip Gorge on Table Mountain Link
GigaPan of Platteklip Gorge and Devil’s Peak:
Link GigaPan by Callan Bentley
A GigaPan of a wall of the sandstone, as it crops out in upper Platteklip Gorge… Can you spot some cross-beds?
Link GigaPan by Callan Bentley
19 September 2016
…And now for something completely different!
This past weekend, my family gathered in Capon Springs, West Virginia, to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday. She asked for an unusual birthday gift – an original poem from each member of the family. Writing poetry isn’t something most of us do, but my mom was an English teacher in her career, and poetry is important to her. Collectively, we acquiesced and set our pens to paper.
Ultimately, I found my muse in the geologic history of my state. While I don’t expect my epic to win any literature awards with the results, I feel like it’s perhaps worthwhile to share it here. Writing it was a unique exercise in my mind’s experience. As you’ll see, I wasn’t entirely able to get away from jargon (and in fact, the toothsome flavor of geology words is one of the reasons it’s so fun to write about, as John McPhee has noted), but I did manage to come up with a few new ways of describing geologic actions. See what you think.
If you write any geopoetry (a phrase popularized by Harry Hess) of your own, I hope you’ll post a link to it in the comments below. If you’re an educator who uses poetry or other creative (nontechnical) writing in your geoscience courses, I’d be keen to hear about that too. Prior to this past week, it never would have occurred to me to assign poetry to students, but I think it could be an option for the right student.
Without further ado, here’s my geological history of Virginia, translated into a poem:
Deep sockets of magma
An oatmeal of chunkety crystals
Gradual uplift, a feldspar at a time
Seeping, soaking hot days
Freezing nights; prying fingers of frost
A loose mountain dandruff of grus
Hissing and gurgling from a crumbling crack
Steam in thickets the color of cheese
Upwelling earthsap, exploratory lobes stretching and bubbling
Glassy rinds congealing, shattering, turning over and being resorbed
Topped next century by another
Lava stacked on lava, half a mile thick
And one day, it’s over, and time goes by and nothing but entropy happens
Heat is dissipated; the cold rock contracts and sinks
Before fifty million years have elapsed, the cool kiss of the sea
is lapping at this monument to past excitement
Pebbles accrue; sand piles up
Estuarine muck and clay receive the footprints of seafloor scuttlers
A Cambrian Davy Jones’ locker, full of trilobites
An freight train of sand convulses by,
its caboose shot through with bristles and tubes
Clearing waters, Bahamanian distillates
Seafloor hailstones rolling and growing
Gritty-hearted gobstoppers of Paradise
Seaslime domes grazed by terrible snails
A hundred thousand millennia of aquatic ions meeting, linking,
raining out like cold smoke
Puddinglike carbonate goo
Studded with walnut husk brachiopods
Traced with echinoderm stems
Each year, an iotasworth blanket of fresh lime weighed down the bottom
and the seafloor subsided by one iotasworth
A shallow eternity, until the bottom dropped out
Vertigo as we peer into the unlit depths
Two hundred miles to the east, an brutal archipelago approached
Ancient Tamboras and Pinatubos convulsing in heaving thunder
Ash sifted into the sea, settling to the ever receding bottom
Submarine landslides gushed silently and slowly by,
Phantasmic leviathans each leaving a trace of sand draped in mud
Like a conveyer belt delivering groceries,
subductive peristalsis at an Iapetan trench
drew Africa ever closer
Soon Mauritania and Morocco were nuzzling up
Insistent and then violent
Wrenching pressure that, in the end, could not be resisted
A slow motion wreck,
arching them up, tipping them back, shoving them westward,
and up and up and up
Trauma caused changes:
The ancient lava turned green as it cooked
The ancient mud took on a splitting fabric
The ancient sand distorted, speck by speck, to the shape of a fleet of minuscule zeppelins
Where once there had been ocean
Mountains now rose
Beneath them, the strata once parallel with the horizon now buckled and piled
Atop them, landslides and debris flows coursed downhill
carrying newly liberated clasts
Among them, grains of zircon
Which journeyed fro their Appalachian source on Permian Mississippis westward
to their “final” resting place among the Araucaria trees of Arizona
Before that Forest was Petrified, it was buried in Alleghanian detritus
The crunching and grinding and thickening and erosion and flow
grew the lofty Appalachian seam,
stitching the heart of Pangaea in an Alpine colossus
When the tectonic tide began to ebb
It was expressed as a series of fissures, rending the crust
To the beat of earthquakes and avalanches
These Triassic Olduvais yawned wide, gulping gravel
The shores of its lakes pressed by the feet of therapsids
Faults tapped the hot mantle,
conducting and weeping basalt over the continental wound
One of these rifts stretched so wide, the supercontinent broke clean in two
One piece of Pangaea scooted east,
while our land headed west
The Atlantic flexing wide in their mutual wake
Shorelines twitching back and forth;
Sea level unable to make up its mind
Each transgression leaving a fresh blanket of shells
A comet dunked hard
through these layers and into the crust beneath
spewing molten rock up and down the coast
An annular trough and a central peak beneath the Chesapeake
More layers laid down, full of steroidal scallops
and the cast-off teeth of cartilaginous patrols
Cold times came, and the rivers bit in
chewing downward through the old cold rock
The landscape stretched itself vertically,
newfound relief like an exaggerated memory of the bygone glory days
16 September 2016
Those are some lovely ptygmatic folds in a migmatitic gneiss from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The age of the rock is apparently Mesoproterozoic. Bill Burton, who has shared Friday folds before, took the photo in the park on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service.
15 September 2016
Since I showed off some Icelandic pillow basalts yesterday, today I thought I would showcase a new 3D model of big pillows in Columbia River basalt of eastern Washington, taken from a photo set I made when I was out there in May:
14 September 2016
Time is short these days, but I know you hanker for amazing geology. How about some pillow basalts from the Snæfellsnes* Peninsula, far western Iceland?
Note the cm-demarcated pencil for scale. See if you can find it in the GigaPan version below:
Link Handheld GigaPan by Callan Bentley, stitched with Microsoft ICE
* “Snay full snooze”
10 September 2016
This is pretty wild: a peat slide in mainland Shetland:
One of the insights I had while travelling in Shetland this past summer was that peat doesn’t only grow in low-lying waterlogged bogs. It can also drape the landscape, as a blanket does a slumbering person. Over time, this skin of peaty vegetation and organic concentrate thickens. Local people of course will cut it and dry the bricks (called “peats”) for fuel. But if it gets really waterlogged, during a heavy rain, it can slough off and run downhill, exposing the bedrock beneath. That’s what happened here.
It’s a novel form of mass movement to my limited experience. I thought you might be keen to see it.