Saturday, June 15, 2013

Accretionary Wedge #57: Seeing Geology Everywhere!

Evelyn is hosting AW # 57, Seeing Geology Everywhere.

I see rocks. They're everywhere, in everything. And most of the time, people don't even know they're rocks.

This is a topic I've brought up more times than I can count at this point. (See "Show Me Your Sidewalk," "Geology is All Around Us!" "Geology at Oregon State University," "AW #52: Geology Dream Course," "The Geo Biz," "We Dohn' Need No Steenkin' Rocks," "98 102 97 88" "Cycles Without End (AW #30)," and, in particular, "A Worldview That Resonates With Me," as a few selected examples.) The question I keep getting stuck on is, "What can I say that I haven't said before?"

The only thing I can think of is to phrase it as a challenge: I defy you to find *anything* in your environment that isn't directly or immediately indirectly (by which I mean only one or two steps of remove) dependent upon, or shaped by, geological resources and processes. The thing is, there really isn't anything that doesn't fit that description. The landscape you live in (or vacation in, for that matter), however modified by human engineering, was created in its basic outlines by water, the solid earth, climate and biological interactions. The computer you're reading this on is a creation of a wide variety of minerals and petrochemicals, painstakingly fabricated, doped with extraordinary precision, and despite its incredible complexity, assembled and sold at a price people can readily afford. Almost everything in your home was delivered by (mainly) steel vehicles propelled by hydrocarbon combustion. It's a rare meal indeed, at least in the developed world, that doesn't have a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of table salt, NaCl, or halite. For the sodium sensitive, you can substitute in a certain amount of KCl, or sylvite. If you get heartburn after a hearty meal, you can take an antacid made of fine-grained calcite, CaCO3, or gibbsite, aluminum hydroxide, Al(OH)3, to neutralize the acid. Then you can relax with a glossy magazine or coffee table book. The reason the pages are glossy is that a mixture of clay minerals has been rolled and compressed into the paper; the tiny clay flakes are flattened parallel to each other, giving the paper the appearance of reflectivity. It's the man-made equivalent of phyllite.

Geology's ubiquity and importance in terms of materials and energy make it among the most economically important of the sciences. The fact that so few people seem to get that is frustrating. I am by no means arguing that everyone should be an expert in geology, but I would argue that nearly everyone would benefit by having a good high school-level, year-long, geology course. What rightly or wrongly is perceived as a recent spate of billion-dollar disasters have been in large part geologically mediated. It doesn't require a college degree to be able to pick out settings that are more or less susceptible to flooding, storm surges, wind damage, landslides, slumps, debris flows/lahars, tsunamis, earthquake damage and so on. In many cases, a minimum of education, rather than waiting for the intonations of experts, could help an intelligent consumer make better choices about places that are more or less safe to live.

And I haven't even touched (here) on the awe and amazement I feel when, with the help of both what I know, and research performed by others, I stand on an outcrop, and gaze clearly into the past, through an abyss that might measure billions of years in duration. I have felt nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, that makes me feel one with creation, in the way that experience does.

So, yes. I see rocks. They're everywhere. Most people don't even know they're rocks. And from my perspective, that's an enormous loss on their part.

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