24 September 2016

The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby

jacoby 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.)

Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>

23 September 2016

Friday fold: Shetland geopark rock wall at Northmavine

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:

rockwall-smClick to embiggen

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.

Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>

22 September 2016

Eyes on some augens in a nice gneiss

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

Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>

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!


Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>

20 September 2016

A virtual field trip to examine the Peninsula Sandstone on Table Mountain

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. IMG_5504

Some hikers provide a sense of scale for the large cross-bedding to be seen in the Peninsula Sandstone, the main unit that makes up Table Mountain’s bulk above the Graafwater Formation:IMG_5512

Platteklip Gorge is steep. Here is the viewing looking back down it from the top, with Devil’s Peak in the middle distance:platteklip-sm

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 looking south from southern Table Mountain, down the Cape Peninsula (My wife and I hiked all that!)… Can you spot a fold?
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

3D model of an arch in Peninsula Sandstone atop Table Mountain, near the southern “lip” of the plateau:
Link 3D model by Marissa Dudek

Enjoy your exploration of these media objects.

If you’ll be in Denver next week for the GSA annual meeting, consider stopping into our digital poster session on Sunday to see dozens and dozens of other examples!

Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>

19 September 2016

Geopoetry: a short recounting of Virginia’s long history

…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

Seismic judder

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

Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>

16 September 2016

Friday fold: Centenary migmatite


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.

Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>

15 September 2016

Pillow basalts from eastern Washington: a 3D model

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:

Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>

14 September 2016

Pillows in Icelandic basalts

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”

Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>

10 September 2016

Peat slide!

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.

Comments/Trackbacks (0)>>