Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rebooting the Geoblogosphere's Meme-ry Stick

Garry Hayes has undertaken polishing up the "100 Places Geologists Should See" meme for this months Accretionary Wedge. In case you have forgotten (or haven't seen) this meme, my entry is here. Chris compiled a list of participants and their scores as a followup to his own entry, here. The discussion came up at the time on how to make the list less North-America-centric, and what additional spots or features should be included. My comments on that post are below.

I agree with the general buzz that the list is NA-centric, but I thnk much of that could be dealt with by generalizing the feature rather than the specific
site. For example, Have you seen banded iron formation, generally, rather than
specifically in Michigan. There are a few though that are such classic sites
(Grand Canyon, Siccar Point, for example- yes and no for me, respectively) that
they really can't be generalized.

Other suggestions: Have you been on dry land below sea level? Have you
visited terrain and examined rock there from all three recorded eons (Archaen,
Proterozoic, Phanerozoic)? Walked from one tectonic plate to another, thinking
about what a grand act it was (i.e. aware that you were doing so)? Tried to
explain a moderately complex geologic concept, such as plate tectonics or
Bowen's Reation Series, to someone with little or no background in
By and large, it's not so much specific sites that I think are important, but types of rock, structures, and features generally that geologists need to see. As mentioned above, there are a few sites that are unique, either because of their shear scale and quality, or for historical reasons. I have gone through the original list and suggested some alternatives, and struck quite a few. Why is the volcanic landscape of the Canary Islands particularly worthy, but not that of the Galapagos, or Iceland, or the Kamchatka Peninsula? Why the Alps, but not the Canadian Rockies or Mt. Everest? I want to emphasize that nothing on the original list is unworthy of a visit. But when I start asking myself, "Why this one and not that one?" I can't really come up with a good answer.

I have bolded additions and alternatives, comments are in parentheses
1. See an erupting volcano
2. See a glacier
3. See an active geyser
4. Visit the Cretaceous/Tertiary (KT) Boundary
5. Observe (from a safe distance) a river whose discharge is above bankful stage
6. Explore a limestone cave
7. Tour an open pit mine
8. Visit a subsurface mine (I do not think we should encourage people to "explore" abandoned, frequently very dangerous, mine workings. I think guided tours are a great thing)
8A. Picked through a tailings pile to get a sense of a mine's geology
9. See an ophiolite
10. An anorthosite complex
11. A slot canyon (I've seen plenty of photos of what look like slot canyons to me that aren't in the Colorado Plateau)
12. Varves
13. An exfoliation dome
4. A layered igneous intrusion
15. Coastlines along the leading and trailing edge of a tectonic plate
16. A gingko tree,
16A. An organism that is referred to as "a living fossil"- there are a number of these; while ginkos have been common in the places I've lived, I think it would be fair to count any of these vestages of prehistoric biota.
17. Living and fossilized stromatolites (This is really two different things)
18. A field of glacial erratics
19. A caldera
20. A sand dune more than 200 feet high
21. A fjord
22. A recently formed fault scarp
23. A megabreccia
24. An actively accreting river delta
25. A natural bridge
26. A large sinkhole
27. A glacial outwash plain
28. A sea stack
29. A house-sized glacial erratic
30. An underground lake or river
31. (A)continental divide
32. Fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals
33. Petrified trees
34. Lava tubes
35. The Grand Canyon
36. A meteorite impact crater (There are quite a few of these around the world; Barringer crater may be one of the best preserved, but the others are just as worthy)
37. A Coral Reef
38. The Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, to see the highest tides in the world (up to 16m) (I do think this is a unique enough site to rate)
39. Well exposed folds on a massive scale
40. Banded Iron Formation (occurs around the world; there's nothing particularly special about those in Michigan)
41. Mountain snow in the tropics (there are some good examples in South America as well, aren't there?)
42. Lake Baikal, Siberia, to see the deepest lake in the world (1,620 m) (Again, this qualifies as singular)
43. Ayers Rock (known now by the Aboriginal name of Uluru), Australia. This inselberg of nearly vertical Precambrian strata is about 2.5 kilometers long and more than 350 meters high Not saying it's not special, but is it really that special for geologic reasons? Religious and cultural symbolism, yes, but I don't think it ranks for geology.
44. Devil's Tower, northeastern Wyoming, to see a classic example of columnar jointing Likewise and more so.
45. The Alps.
45A. A Folded Mountain Range ("The Alps" sounds like it was tossed into the mix simply to name a European Feature)
46. Telescope Peak, in Death Valley National Park
46. Death Valley National Park (my vote for the most spectacular and diverse geology in North America; for geologists, I would rank this above the Grand Canyon, and that's saying a lot.)
47. The Li River, China, to see the fantastic tower karst that appears in much Chinese art (I think this should make the cut.)
48. Karst landscape
49. The Gorge of Bhagirathi, one of the sacred headwaters of the Ganges, in the Indian Himalayas, where the river flows from an ice tunnel beneath the Gangatori Glacier into a deep gorge. (This is not a site I'm familiar with, so I can't really comment on whether I think it should be included)
50. Entrenched meanders
51. A large volcanic neck
52. Land's End, Cornwall, Great Britain, for fractured granites that have feldspar crystals bigger than your fist.
53. Tierra del Fuego, Chile and Argentina, to see the Straights of Magellan and the southernmost tip of South America.
54. Mount St. Helens, Washington, to see the results of recent explosive volcanism. The site of a historic volcanic eruption that has affected a populated area.
55. The Giant's Causeway and the Antrim Plateau, Northern Ireland, to see polygonally fractured basaltic flows.
56. The Great Rift Valley in Africa.
56A. An active rift zone
57. The Matterhorn, along the Swiss/Italian border, to see the classic "horn".
57A. Mountains displaying the classic landforms of alpine glaciation
58. The Carolina Bays, along the Carolinian and Georgian coastal plain
59. The Mima Mounds near Olympia, Washington
60. Siccar Point, Berwickshire, Scotland, where James Hutton (the "father" of modern geology) observed the classic unconformity
61. The moving rocks of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley (very cool, but in the top 100? I don't think so)
62. Yosemite Valley
63. Landscape Arch (or Delicate Arch) in Utah
64. The Burgess Shale in British Columbia
64A. A world-class lagerstätten (this is a term that's new to me since I started spending time lurking in the geoblogosphere a year or so back... and a useful one)
65. The Channeled Scablands of central Washington
65A. ...or other site that shows evidence of catastrophic ice age flooding. (I think a number of these have been identified, and there are many sites outside the channeled scablands that provide evidence for the Missoula Floods)
66. Bryce Canyon
67. Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone
67A. An area of hot spot volcanism and thermal activity
68. Monument Valley
69. The San Andreas fault
69A. A transform plate boundary (San Andreas is the best exposed, but it's not the only one, is it? )
70. The dinosaur footprints in La Rioja, Spain
70A. A dinosaur trackway
71. The volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands
72. The Pyrennees Mountains
73. The Lime Caves at Karamea on the West Coast of New Zealand
74. Denali (an orogeny in progress)
75. A catastrophic mass wasting event
76. The giant crossbeds visible at Zion National Park
77. The black sand beaches in Hawaii (or the green sand-olivine beaches) (Black sand beaches are not that uncommon; are green sand beaches unique to Hawaii? I personally would like to visit some of the zircon-rich sand beaches in Australia.)
78. Barton Springs in Texas
79. Hells Canyon in Idaho
80. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado [this is another wanna]
81. The Tunguska Impact site in Siberia (what is there to see)
82. Feel an earthquake with a magnitude greater than 5.0.
83. Find dinosaur footprints in situ (see #70)
84. Find a trilobite (or a dinosaur bone or any other fossil)
84A. Find a fossil (this really is a must; for me, and I suspect others, this happened before I was five, and was instrumental to my later educational path. My first was most likely a brachiopod)
85. Find native gold, or other native metal
86. Find a meteorite fragment
87. Experience a volcanic ashfall
88. Experience a sandstorm
89. See a tsunami

Of the top 100 things a geologist should see, 11 of them are atmospheric or astronomical phenomena or objects. I'm not going to argue that people generally shouldn't try to see these, but I do feel there needs to be some discussion of why they belong on a specifically geological list.
90. Witness a total solar eclipse
91. Witness a tornado firsthand.
92. Witness a meteor storm
93. View Saturn and its moons through a respectable telescope.
94. See the Aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights.
95. View a great naked-eye comet, an opportunity which occurs only a few times per century

96. See a lunar eclipse
97. View a distant galaxy through a large telescope
98. Experience a hurricane
99. See noctilucent clouds
100. See the green flash

I have been lucky to have visited a great number of very diverse areas, in terms of landforms, lithologies and ages. My feeling isn't that there should be some nice round number, 100 or 1000, of "must see" spots, but that a conscientious geologist and learner should strive to see as wide a variety of rocks, landscapes and processes as possible. I recently posted a meme on waterfalls that I want to follow up on eventually. Number two on the list I found was McWay Falls on the California coast. I had never heard of it, and it looked quite mundane: short, small volume, nothing special. But several people have remarked that it is very special to them. Now I want to go see it. The fact that some spot is world famous for some feature doesn't necessarily mean you have to see that feature at that spot. It's a big world; ideally, I'd like to see all of it. That's not going to happen, but I'm very pleased and blessed to have seen what I have.

A few more additions:

  • Identified an overturned sequence (not had it pointed out to you)
  • Spent a few minutes mesmerized by a waterfall or lake, and contemplated their ephemeral nature from a geologic perspective
  • Been on a geologic field trip
  • Led a geologic field trip
  • Seen fossil fuel leaking from the earth at a natural seep or vent
  • The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where it emerges on land in Iceland

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