Monday, July 28, 2014

Dino's in Pop Culture - Salt Lake Comic Con

Here are some more dinosaurs in pop culture (I call this catching up on things):

During the previous Salt Lake Comic Con (September, 2013) there were these really cool dinosaur "costumes" roaming around the exhibit floor. Turns out they were for an exhibitor called "Dino Media" that had a website at However, that website appears to now be defunct and the Facebook page has not been updated in a while. Not sure if the company is defunct along with them. It is a shame because those are some really cool costumes. 

The dinosaurs are operated by a person inside (you can see his spandexed legs in the picture below alongside the dinosaur legs). But if you are not looking for it, these dinos are shockingly realistic. Perhaps they could use a bit of feathers though :-).

A couple of videos shot from SLCC that I found as well.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thoughts on the Ham - Nye Creation Debate

This is going to be my first in a bunch of Creationist-Evolutionist topics that I have in mind. More to come in the future (at some point).

Back in February there was a much politicized debate between Bill Nye (the science guy) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis CEO). Previously I had not had the time to sit and watch the 2.5 hour debate but recently I had and I have marked down my comments below. Pretty much they follow the course of the "debate" but I have not marked out clearly for the most case where each comment is in reference to, but they should make sense while watching it.

  • Clearly, this debate already seems weighted in Ken Ham's favor being at the Creationist Museum, his home turf.
The first part is where the debaters were each given 2 blocks of talks involving a 5 minuted introduction and a 30 minute presentation.
  • Ken Ham - Makes some great points (i.e., it shouldn't be Creationists vs scientists but evolutionists vs Creationists; both evolutionists and Creationists have the same source data that they are trying to interpret) but then he wanders off of the science point when questions of why are brought up (because God deemed it so, "there is a book"). He makes many good points but also leaves out large chunks of available contradictory information in order to prove his points.
  • Ken Ham - also states that one does not NEED to be an evolutionist in order to contribute to the technological impact of society and there are no technological advances that required that particular discoverer to be an evolutionist. To this point I tentatively agree. You don't really need to believe in evolution to create an iPhone. However, a counter point to this is that many scientists, primarily geologists, use what is known about the age of the Earth and past processes to find oil and gas. To find this oil and gas they need to understand how plates move and the age of rocks in comparison to one another. Find me a "young Earther" who who can find oil based on their interpretations of the Earth.
  • Bill Nye - His initial statement/comments really seemed to come out of left field (I'm sitting here going "what the hell?") and I felt he didn't fit the tone of the "debate" (as defined by Ham's performance). I feel this may have set the audience up on the wrong foot. During much of his introduction he often tried to throw too much data at the audience, many times without an explanation. Within his 35 minutes, he tries to explain everything in science related to the age of the Earth, the Big Bang Theory, and evolution. In the process his point often just gets muddled.
The next section is a 5 minute rebuttal by each person, followed by a 5 minute re-rebuttal (?).
  • Ken Ham - One of the biggest problems I have with Creationist arguments is that they never seem to understand how radiocarbon dating works. He outright states they tried to date 45 million year old wood with radiocarbon dating. Any geologist who knows anything about carbon-14 will tell you the results will be crap.
  • Ken Ham - Oh wait, all animals were vegetarians before the flood???? Sharp teeth does not mean carnivore apparently. I would love to see a lion even try to eat plants with its teeth.
  • Ken Ham - Ham had posted several videos of Creationists, who were also scientists, stating there were no conflicting evidence that the Earth was not 6,000 years old based on the science. The problem I see is that he did not have any geologists or paleontologists on contributing to this (even though I am well aware that they do exist). 
  • Bill Nye - And to the previous point, Bill Nye himself is not a geologist or a paleontologist, or a biologist, getting up there and debating topics that are outside his realm of expertise. Not exactly the person I would want debating my side. You don't get an accountant to be your lawyer.
  • Bill Nye - I feel Bill Nye also harped on some non-essential problems. Does it really matter if Noah was able to build a boat of that size, which was able to to withstand ocean currents. Perhaps he was, perhaps he wasn't. I think it is a moot point for this debate and one that did not need to even be discussed.
  • Overall - I noticed that many of their "rebuttals" were talks with prepared slides. It's not much of a debate rebuttal is you already have prepared what you are going to say beforehand. 
The last section is a Question and Answer part where questions were asked by the audience to either participant. The person receiving the question had 2 minutes to respond and the other person had a 1 minute rebuttal.
  • Ken Ham - Ham's God seems awful vain. "he created the universe in order to show us how powerful he is."
  • Bill Nye - Nye calls out Ham's reliance on the Bible as the final word. Doesn't leave much room for actual science if all your answers are just "the Bible said so".
  • Ken Ham - Ham makes another good point - just because the majority believes something doesn't make it true (something, I myself have stated in the past). 
  • Ken Ham - Ham is also harping on the fact that evolutionists cannot prove what we say about the rock record because no one was there to witness it, except (of course) in the case of Creationism where we have the one "being" who was there (God) writing down his own eye witness account. He disregards the fact that the Bible was not actually written by God but by people many years after the supposed Creation.
  • Bill Nye - Nye also states that any scientist who disagrees with the common thought in science is embraced. I would have to disagree with this as can be shown by the theory of plate tectonics, which was initially proposed back before 1910 and didn't gain ground until the 1960's and 70's.
  • Bill Nye - One of the key things about scientists (of which I wholeheartedly agree with) Nye states is the simple phrase "I don't know". 
    • We don't know everything and we (usually) aren't afraid to state when we don't know. That is what drives science, to know the unknown.
  • Ken Ham - Yes, there is a book with the answers. We get it Ham.
  • Ken Ham - Now, here is the big one. Question to Ken Ham - "What, if anything, would ever change your mind?" 
    • The response "the Bible is the word of one is ever going to convince me that the word of God is not true."
  • Ken Ham - Another true statement by Ham. He states that scientists did not date Earth rocks to get the 4.5 billion year old age of the Earth, which is 100% true, we dated meteorites as he states.
    • My questions is how does that change anything? Even in his Creationist view the Earth and the other planets/astronomical bodies should be the same age.
  • Ken Ham - Ham is very good at acknowledging much of the data that is describes current Earth conditions (i.e. the plates are moving, we can see this). However he then goes on to blame the flood for a catastrophic movement of the plates putting them in their position close to today.
    • His biggest point is that he dismisses the geological law of uniformitarianism (that things happening today happened in the past). He feels that things aren't constant and that rates of stuff can change astronomically (i.e. plate movement, bed depositional rates, etc.).
  • Bill Nye - Nye does a piss-poor job of explaining the second law of thermodynamics and how that relates to evolution.
  • Ken Ham - One thing I noticed a couple of times is that it seems that Ham equates Christian with Creationist. They are one in the same to him. I get the feeling that any non-Creationists are not Christians in his view.

My Overall Thoughts.
  • What was the purpose of this debate? What was the overall goal? 
  • Although, this wasn't much of a debate either. I felt it was a back and forth presentation battle with the debaters not really responding to what the other person said. Even in the last round, they were more responding to the questions and not their opponent. 
  • Overall the respondents did a rather poor job of just answering the questions they are asked and not going off on preplanned diatribes.
  • Nye did a poor job of relating to the "common person". I'm not saying they "common person" is dumb, but that they aren't scientists and they don't know all the little parts of many scientific explanations. Nye glossed over many points that (I feel) would have left many people lost or confused. I myself was getting figurative whiplash with how fast he was jumping around topics and adding in stories. 
  • Ham presented himself as intelligent and knowledgeable about a great many subjects but I also got the feeling he did not know what he was talking about when referring to geological concepts. He also fell back on "the Bible" as his be all and end all of debates. 
  • In essence my thoughts can be summed up with: Why even debate someone who feels that the word of law is written in a book? He stated himself there was no way his mind would be changed. I feel this debate could have been better served by getting a Creation geologist out there who know the Creation science and is able to back up his claims with something other than "because the book said so."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cloud Covered Mountains

Here is some pretty cool cloud coverage of the Wasatch Mountains (UT) on my drive in to work the other day. Click on it to get the enlarged version.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Geology in Pop Culture - Candy (Part 3)

And we have another Geology in Pop Culture with Candy. This time we go to the more mainstream "geological candy" when people thing of geological candies (if/when they ever do). Rock Candy. This candy is from the FAO Schweetz line.

Rock Candy is one of the oldest and purest forms of candy. In the 1800s, it was used as a home remedy for all kinds of illnesses. Because it is a very difficult process, Rock Candy making has almost become a lost art. Rock Candy crystals grow in a concentrated solution of pure sugar. It takes an entire week for them to grow to full size.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Drunk on Geology - Lava Cap

Our next entry into Drunk on Geology is Lava Cap. Lava Cap is a Californian wine:
"Nestled in the lovely Sierra Nevada Foothills, Lava Cap Winery's handcrafted wines will awaken your senses. We are pleased to celebrate over 25 years of wine making with you."
One of the neat things about this particular geologically friendly wine is that the Chardonnay, El Dorado bottle was tagged especially for the GSA meeting last year in Denver, celebrating GSA's 125th birthday.

For a nice breakdown of the geology of the region in which the wine is grown, check out this article by Earth Magazine.

From Lava Cap's website:
Lava Cap Winery takes its name from volcanic rocks that cap the ridges on which their vineyards are developed. These rocks weather to produce a rich cobbled loam soil that is ideal for growing grapes of supreme quality. Geologist and founder of Lava Cap, David Jones and his (wife) Jeanne carefully selected this acreage based upon remarkable intensity of color, aromas and flavors. 

These special bottles were available for shipping to your house. Unfortunately I live in the most unfriendly wine shipping state ever (Utah) so I could not get my hands on one that way. Luckily, GSA hosts an auction every year and they had a couple of bottles on hand, one of which I grabbed for my blog (see, clearly for the blog).
"The Geological Society of America® is celebrating 125 years of geoscience innovation with this Lava Cap wine, nourished by the prime volcanic soil of the Sierra Nevada Foothills. As geologists themselves, the Jones winemaking family appreciates GSA’s interests in Earth’s history, processes, and resources.
Here’s to 125 years of ground-breaking geoscience, and our passion for the never-ending mysteries of the Earth!"

I don't even think I got my hands on this bottle to drink the wine, since my wife is an avid wine lover and greatly enjoyed it. So if you are rather inclined, perhaps pick up a regular bottle of the geology wine.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Geological Fact - Update on the Most Common Mineral

Previously I had posted on "What is the most common mineral on Earth?", well some recent discoveries have come to light that have made me go back to that original post and update it. When I had originally published the post I had stated that:
"Looking at the bulk composition of the Earth the most common mineral is generally regarded as olivine since the mantle makes up the bulk of the Earth and olivine makes up the bulk of the mantle." 
That statement had produced a couple of comments (not unwarranted) from the scientific community:

Dinogami stated:
That's not the most common mineral on Earth; it's the most common mineral in the Earth...
Semantics aside, I could probably restate the question.

While Hypocentre stated:
Surely it is silicate perovskite as the lower mantle is larger by volume than either the upper mantle or core.
Hypocentre was completely correct in his criticism. Unfortunately, at the time this mineral was not observed in it's natural state so no name was given to it. Recently, however, a chunk of this unknown mineral has been found. Since it has been found, it can then receive a formal name.  Here is my updated geological fact:

Question: What is the Earth's most common mineral? 
Looking at the bulk composition of the Earth, the most common mineral is a silicate mineral with a perovskite structure that dominates the lower mantle. This mineral has recently been named "bridgmanite".

You can check out the rest of my Geology Fun Fact on my website.

Monday, July 07, 2014

A "...allow me to destroy evolution in 3 minutes" response from the Science Community

There has been this video that I have seen circulating through Facebook recently entitled "Dear Mr Atheist allow me to destroy evolution in 3 minutes!". I post the video here, not to give this person credibility, but so that people can understand what I am about to comment upon:

Upon my first viewing of this video I had to turn it off in about 1.5 minutes due to the shear stupidity of the ranter. Normally my response to such things would be "What are you, a moron?" and leave it at that. However I have been called out by one of my Creationist friends (yes I have at least one of those) that I need to discuss the points brought up by Creationists as valid points (not citing this video, just in general). I know I am frequently not patient enough to do this, however I do have a friend who is, Abel G. Peña, who responded to this video of which a mutual friend had posted on Facebook. Abel is a published author and a philosopher of science who is far more eloquent than I ever could be, so I will repost his response, with his permission, to the video:


This gentleman speaks with great passion concerning his faith in God, with which I sympathize. He also asks good questions that many average people have who are not familiar with how science works. It's only unfortunate that he takes those questions as evidence for the "stupidity" of scientists and science only because he hasn't taken the time to research some of these concepts in greater depth. As a result, he is quite confused. Here are some common but important misunderstandings by this gentleman:

1) Evolution is *not* the idea of one man: Charles Darwin is most often credited with the formulation of evolution, but the idea was already circulating in the scientific community at the time of his work. (For instance, Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the idea of evolution by means of natural selection independently from Darwin at around the same time, and the friar Gregor Mendel is famous for discovering the mechanism of genetic inheritance, which is integral to evolution.) More importantly, many, many biologists that have come after Darwin, Wallace and Mendel have corroborated evolution through very careful research over 150 years.

2) Evolution is *not* a “theory” in the popular sense: This is one that people often get confused about. It’s understandable because words have different meanings depending on the context in which they are used and spoken. If the weather is chilly, and I say, “It’s cool out here,” while rubbing my arms for warmth, the meaning of “cool” I am using is in reference to temperature. But if I go to a club with bumping music in Ibiza, and I am sweaty from grooving on the dance floor, and turn to my fellow partier and say, “It’s cool out here!” what I mean by “cool” is now something completely different: that this foreign environment we are visiting is exciting and interesting. But if my fellow partier is a native-Spanish speaker rather than a native-English speaker, he might think I was insane for suggesting the temperature is chilly in a stuffy club.

This variation of meaning applies to the word “theory,” as well. The way the word “theory” is used in everyday speech is that a theory is like a fancy idea—maybe it is interesting or seems to have far-reaching consequences if true, but it is by nature questionable, which is why we aren't calling it a “fact.” But that is not how the word is used in the scientific community. (In fact, the word in science very close to the way we use “theory” in everyday speech is called a “hypothesis.”) In the context of science, the word “theory” instead means an idea that is both well-tested and well-substantiated: that is, it has not proven false in those tests, and is thus considered very likely true, especially when tested over a period of 150 years. It’s very natural to ask, “Why don’t scientists just say it’s true, then?” And that’s because it’s technically very difficult for something to be proven 100% true, and why science gives values of truth in terms of probability. We can ask the question, “Do we actually exist?” and I think most scientists would say we very, very probably do exist, but it’s technically true that our existence is not 100% certain. In Buddhism, for example, the concept of “emptiness” denies the reality of the self—that “I” exist.

This concept of belief expressed in probabilities is also directly relevant in reference to atheism: when an atheist says, “I don’t believe in God,” that person is not necessarily saying, “I 100% don’t believe in God.” Instead, what they are often expressing is shorthand for actually meaning: “I believe that God is highly unlikely to exist,” and they feel comfortable stopping their inquiry at that point until some significant piece of evidence (probably based on physics) is presented.

3) Mr. Feuerstein does not understand the second law of thermodynamics: This law of physics, often referred to as the law of entropy, basically states that all things in a closed system will generally devolve toward chaos. But when you oversimplify the law, as this gentleman has done, it ends up sounding like, “Things always become more chaotic” (an idea which seems to contradict the theory of evolution because, likewise, evolution itself is often oversimplified as meaning, “Everything becomes more orderly”). However, an important component that is left out of the second law of thermodynamics in this oversimplification is that the law applies to a “closed system.” This means an environment in which nothing can get in and nothing can get out, sort of like a box. But the process of evolution through natural selection actually needs to interact with the rest of the world to work: that is, the kind of process described by the theory of evolution does *not* take place in a closed system, and thus, the second law of thermodynamics does not contradict evolution. (And, actually, the second law of thermodynamics doesn't say that all things move toward chaos in a closed system, but only that they *statistically* tend to. This is another common misunderstanding of the law. With enough time—such as infinity—the law also predicts that inevitably all things in that closed system will move toward order.)

 I am not sure which religion Mr. Feuerstein professes faith to but, based on his arguments, I am going to guess it is some form of Christianity. That said, not all forms of Christianity believe the same thing. For instance, Catholicism—generally considered a very conservative form of Christianity—has absolutely no quarrel with evolution. In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared (in an encyclical called Humani Generis) that the teachings of the Church and evolution were not in conflict, stating that the only thing the Church insisted on was belief that God was the one responsible for placing souls in human beings, whatever the specific process by which men and women came to exist. Then, almost 50 years later in the mid-1990s, Pope John Paul II went further and praised evolution, saying:

"Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory."

This is significant because we see that it's not impossible to be both a Christian and to accept evolutionary evidence from the scientific community.

In this video, Mr. Feuerstein also seems to think that acceptance of the Big Bang theory is incompatible with religious belief or belief in God. But that also is not true. Here, again, John Paul II—generally considered a very conservative pope—actually loved the idea of the Big Bang, because he felt that it not only actually *proved* that God exists but that the theory tells us when the act of universal creation actually took place. He said:

"Thus, with that concreteness which is characteristic of physical proofs, [science] has confirmed the contingency of the universe and also the well-founded deduction as to the epoch when the world came forth from the hands of the Creator. Hence, creation took place. We say: therefore, there is a Creator. Therefore, God exists!"


On a side note I would like to point out his mistaking what the word "universe" is derived from. The word universe is from:

"Uni" - meaning one (got that part right)
"versus" - The past tense of vertere, which means to turn. (, Online Etymology Dictionary)

(It drives me nuts when people don't research such simple things as the origin of words before spewing their nonsense.)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Geology in Pop Culture - Fossil Butte Street Plaques

A small town in Wyoming, Kemmerer, is touted as "An Aquarium set in stone" due to it's proximity not only to Fossil Butte National Monument but also to a bunch of other fossil hunting locals in the region. While we were staying there we wandered around in the center of town (home to the first J. C. Penney Store). 

Outside the store

Inside the store

However, I noticed that where all of the sidewalks dip down to the street around the park in the center of town (across the street from the J. C. Penney's) there were these fossil plaques commemorating the fossils found within the region. You can see the location of one of them in the J.C. Penney picture. It is located directly in front of the traffic light pole,embedded in the sidewalk. Here are those plaques. Some of them are a little on the worn side but others look brand new. This was all of them that I could find. Some have clearly been lost/stolen but there were still a good number of them. Very cool to see paleontology in the spotlight in some towns.

 Knightia eocaena

Undescribed palm. Palm trees... in Wyoming?

Hyracotherium sp. World's only complete early horse.

Trionyx sp. Worlds largest soft-shelled turtles.

Priscacara liops. Although spiny it was eaten by Phareodus.

Phareodus encaustus. A common predator in ancient Fossil Lake.

Undescribed bird. One of many undescribed birds.

Borealosuchus sp. See ya later alligator... in 50 million years.

Mioplosus labracoides with Knightia eocaena in mouth. Death by... starvation or suffocation?

Heliobatis radians. Freshwater stingrays live in South America today.

Icaronycteris index. World's oldest fossil bats.

 And one last picture of a mural located across the other street from the J.C. Penneys.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Geology Through Literature - The Travels of Marco Polo

The next story up in the Geology Though Literature thread is The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo. 

Using The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo

While seeming to offer no geological significance, several works can still be used to describe the beauty available in the natural world. The Travels of Marco Polo provides a first person narrative of the travels of Marco Polo across Asia and India during the 12th century. It is this unique perspective that we gain insight into a land and culture that otherwise would be unknown to the outside world of today. Although Marco Polo generally commented on the cultural aspects of the people in which he interacted, he sometimes referred to the geological aspects of the lands and how the people interacted with that geology. It is in these parts that we will focus our attention.

Part 1 - Book 2: Chapter 23

Read Book 2: Chapter 23 (Of the kind of wine made in the province of Cathay - And of the stones used there for burning n the manner of charcoal). A snippet of the chapter is provided below:
"Throughout this province there is found a sort of black stone, which they dig out of the mountains, where it runs in veins. When lighted, it burns like charcoal, and retains the fire much better than wood; insomuch that it may be preserved during the night, and in the morning be found still burning. These stones do not flame, excepting a little when first lighted, but during their ignition give out a considerable heat."
A Breakdown:
    Based on the description of the rocks that Marco Polo had seen, it is clear that he is referring to coal. The province of Cathay is now known as northern China. Looking at the Chinese Coal map below, you can see that there are abundant coal mines across northwestern China, emphasizing the point that Marco Polo was referencing coal in his chapter. There is also evidence that the Chinese have been excavating coal for the past 3500 years. One of the big questions, though is if Marco Polo would have known about coal. In Europe, during Marco Polo's time and before, there were significant coal mines in the 2nd century AD in the UK region conducted by the Romans. However, following the exit of the Romans there were no significant uses of the coal until the 12th century AD, around the time of Marco Polo. And even then, it appears that most of the mined coal remained within the UK region. It wasn't until the 15th century that Britain started to trade coal with the rest of Europe. This makes it plausible that Marco Polo didn't know about the existence of coal.

Some Possible Questions:
1. What rock is being described here?
2. Is the Province of Cathay known for this type of rock?
3. Is it reasonable to assume that Marco Polo wouldn't know about this type of rock in his day ~1250 to 1300 AD?

Part 2 - Book 2: Chapter 27

Read Book 2: Chapter 27 (Of the river named Pulisangan, and of the bridge over it).
"Over this river there is a very handsome bridge of stone, perhaps unequaled by another in the world. It's length is three hundred paces, and its width eight paces; so that ten men can, without inconvenience, ride abreast. It has twenty-four arches, supported by twenty-five piers erected in the water, all of serpentine stone, and built with great skill. On each side, and from one extremity to the other, there is a handsome parapet, formed of marble slabs and pillars arranged in a masterly style... Upon the upper level there is a massive and lofty column, resting upon a tortoise of marble, and having near its base a large figure of a lion, with a lion also on the top. Towards the slope of the bridge there is another handsome column or pillar, with its lion, at the distance of a pace and a half from the former; and all the spaces between one pillar and another, throughout the whole length of the bridge, are filled up with slabs of marble, curiously sculptured, and mortised into the next adjoining pillars, which are, in like manner, a pace and half asunder, and equally surmounted with lions, forming altogether a beautiful spectacle."
A Breakdown:
     The Lugou Qiao Bridge, or the Marco Polo Bridge as it is more commonly known as, still stands today. As described by Marco Polo it contains abundant marble lions statues placed throughout the length of the bridge.  Marco Polo's text states that the pillars are made of "serpentine stone", however I can find no mention of the serpentine stone and he may have mistaken a different variety of marble for serpentine. An interesting note though is that it is often referred that it is impossible to determine how many lions are on the bridge since the statues of the lions contain more lions carved between the feet of the lions.

Some Possible Questions:
1. What types rocks have been included in the bridge construction (i.e. sandstone, basalt, etc.)?
2. Is this bridge still around today?
3. What does that say about the materials used to build the bridge (good, bad, etc.) and was it a good idea to build it in this way?
4. What other name is this bridge also known as?

Part 3 - Book 3: Chapter 19

Read Book 3: Chapter 19 (Of the island of Zeilan). A snippet of the chapter is provided below:
"(The island of Zeilan [Ceylon]) is in circuit two thousand four hundred miles, but in ancient times it was still larger, its circumference then measuring full three thousand six hundred miles, according to what is found in the mariners' map of the world for this ocean. But the northern gales, which blow with prodigious violence, have in a manner corroded the mountains, so that they have in some parts fallen and sunk in the sea, and the island, from that cause, no longer retains its original size."
A Breakdown:
     Today, the island of Ceylon is known as Sri Lanka. Modern day measurements place the island at 833 miles in circumference and 25,330 square miles in area. This is significantly smaller than the measurements given by Marco Polo during his time, as well as the measurements given for the historical size of the island. The earlier measurements and map that Marco Polo was referring to was likely a map created by Ptolemy in 150 AD, almost 1,150 years earlier.
There are questions though as to the ability of Ptolemy to actually measure the size of Sri Lanka though, since his map is mostly based off of estimates by sailors and navigators of the time. Marco Polo as well may have had some difficulty in measuring the size of the island, not possessing the same tools that we have today. However,  I personally question whether the conversion from prehistoric measurements to modern measurements are correct. There could have been confusion translating between Ptolemy and Marco Polo and then Marco Polo and today, giving another form of error.

 Looking at the different size estimates of the island we have:

  Date (approx.) Circum. (mi) Diameter Radius Area (sq mi) Size Difference Rate of erosion
(Sq mi/yr)
Ptolemy 150 3600 1145.91559 572.9577951 1,031,324.03    
Marco Polo 1300 2400 763.9437268 381.9718634 458,366.24 572,957.80 498.22
Modern 2010 833 265.1521352 132.5760676 25,330.00 433,036.24 609.91

If these numbers are correct, then we are looking at rates of erosion of 500 to 600 square miles per year from 150 AD to the present. This is just an astronomical rate and completely unrealistic. The island may be shrinking due to erosion, however there is zero indication that is it shrinking at such an astronomical rate. The possible forces though could change the size of the island are erosion, as stated by Marco Polo, and sea level rise. Erosion alone could not alter the size of the island as dramatically as depicted but sea level rise could, just not over the time period depicted. It is know that historically, humans have been able to walk from India to Sri Lanka across a land bridge produced from drops in sea level. The appearance of this land bridge was last seen about 7,000 years ago though and is far before even Ptolemy's time. The most likely cause for the mysterious shrinking island is inaccuracies in measurements and possibly errors in measurement conversions.

Some Possible Questions:
1. What island is this known as today?
2. What percentage of the island area has eroded away (assuming a circular island with circumference given), according to this description?
3. The earlier map that Marco Polo was referring to is likely a map created by Ptolemy in 150 AD, almost 1,150 years earlier. Calculate out the number of square miles that the island has been shrinking per year (assume 1,140 years has passed).
4. Is this a reasonable rate of erosion?
5. Determine the modern circumference of the island and calculate out the rate of erosion from the last 710 years (Marco Polo's to to approximately modern times. You can use the length of the coastline to calculate a circular area or use the actual area).
6. How do the erosion rates compare?
7. Could Marco Polo's assumption that the island was eroding away be correct or could something else be the cause? Or was Marco Polo incorrect and the island is not shrinking?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Drunk on Geology - Black Opal

It has been a little while, but I have my next Drunk on Geology entry - Black Opal. Black Opal is a wine from Australia made by Mildara Blass

In relation to geology, the back of the bottle reads:
"Black Opal is a collection of contemporary wines names after the alluring black opal gem found only in Australia."

So what is a Black Opal? Apparently it is "the rarest and most valuable type of opal." Is it a darker greenish opal variety with black and golds flecks, where opal is a hydrated form of silica (or quartz). The black opal often contains a rainbow type iridescence to it, making it a very pretty gemstone.

A Black Opal

 Some more pictures of the bottle:

As I have mentioned before I am not a wine specialist but in general the wine is dry, but smooth. Not as harsh as other dry wines.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Guest Post: Geology Equipment - It’s Not All Hammers and Shovels

I haven't been doing guest posts lately but this one sounded intriguing, especially given the dearth of posts I have been able to give as of late. Hopefully my posting numbers should pick up again shortly. Enjoy.


By: Victor Archambault

Basically, GPR is used like a metal detector, analyzing what is underneath the ground. It uses radar to create an image of what is below the surface. This can help make digs more efficient, as you can avoid hitting objects you want to preserve, and you can tell if there is anything inconsistent beneath the surface. Radar can detect both conductive and non-conductive materials. Although it can easily see conductive materials such as metal and salt water, it cannot see through them.

When it comes to geology, we often think of earth, rocks, and scientists. Some geological tools are pretty basic: rock hammers, shovels, plane tables, rope. We know theoretically that the scientists use some fancy tools and methods in discovering, unearthing, and examining their findings, but we don’t often think about what that equipment is. One of these fancy tools, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), is commonly used in bigger projects and it’s important to understand what makes it such a useful tool for geologists to have in their belt.

 [Image courtesy of US Radar, Inc.]
A great example for the use of this technology is a recent project in Egypt where archaeologists explored the Saqqara Necopolis. A 500 MHz system was pulled across parts of the Sahara in a 0.5 meter grid pattern. This produced images that led to the discovery of buried ruins along the Nile.

Though GPR reveals targets in their exact locations, there are a number of factors that can affect the accuracy of the depth measurements. The speed of the radar signal depends upon the composition of the material being penetrated. GPR calculates depth of a target based on the amount of time it takes for the radar signal to be reflected back to the antenna. Radar signals travel at different velocities through different types of materials. The moisture or clay content of the material also affects the velocity of the signal and thereby giving unexpected results.

But GPR isn't solely used by geologists and archaeologists. Perhaps, a more novel use of GPR's surface measurement capabilities is for law enforcement and national security. Scientists at the Department of Homeland Security have applied an extensive research to what they call the “Tunnel Detection Project”  -- a project that assists the Border Patrol with finding entrances and exits to tunnels that have been created to smuggle drugs, weapons, and people.

The benefits of GPR even extend beyond our own atmosphere. Since 2005, NASA has been using a surface penetrating radar technology called SHARAD on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe to better understand Martian geology.  SHARAD actively observes and records the vertical structure of the upper subsurface Martian layers and has been extremely helpful in locating liquid and ice deposits for further study.

Ground Penetrating Radar is a tool that any scientist should become more familiar with because it can lead to more efficiency and accuracy in discoveries.  Even this basic technology like Radar waves can be used to in different ways to help us advance further in cutting edge breakthroughs.  I wonder what other simple means we can employ out there to better humanity.  What do you think?

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Magnitude 22.0 Earthquake?? A Star Wars Analogy

A couple of months ago (on Christmas actually, Merry Christmas Geologists!) the USGS, which releases customized Earthquake Notifications based on a users settings, released the news that a magnitude 22.0 earthquake just struck Montana (pictured below).

Now this was clearly a typo. It was meant to be 2.2, however, it does bring up an interesting conversation.(You can see the updated page HERE). What is a Magnitude 22 earthquake capable of?. Some of the comments on my Facebook post included (names abbreviated to protect their identities, if you want your name un-abbreviated, let me know):

Steve R: Looks like NBC now has the plot for the completion of it's earthquake trilogy. First it was "10.5"...then "10.5 Apocalypse"" Montana 22.0 the day the Earth went boom"...all staring Beau Bridges as Beau Bridges acting like an authority figure. 
Tyler S.: It wasn't flattened, there's a new 6 km high fault scarp. 
Thomas H.: Mag 22.0? Impressive! The Chicxulub Impact should have produced only a 10.8! 
Thomas H.: A 22.0 should have toppled every building on the planet, and probably caused mountains all over the world to collapse into piles of rubble. At least. 
Monica S.: Just as a reference, a Mw 10.0 would have a rupture length roughly equal to 1/4 of the planet's circumference. That is why a 10.0 could physically never happen. A 10.5 would rupture around the Earth 1.5 times. (If that movie 10.5 were real, Earth would have been obliterated). This is assuming a max rupture depth of 30 km. Mw 22 is 316,227,766,016 times more powerful than a 10.5.

To understand the audacity of a Magnitude 22.0 earthquake, lets give some earthquake basics. The measure of an earthquake's magnitude is essentially equivalent to the energy released during the initial rupture of the fault (I know they are not exactly the same, but it is close enough). Identification of earthquakes often start with a Magnitude 2.0 and go up to a Magnitude 10, with the largest recorded earthquake in history being a Magnitude 9.5.

The magnitude scale specifically measures the amplitude of the of the waves released from an earthquake (USGS). The Moment Magnitude scale, as it is called (replaced the Richter Scale), is a logarithmic scale. As it goes up one number the size of the amplitude increased by a factor of 10. To make it a little easier to understand you can compare this to the energy released. So, each whole number is 31.62232 times more powerful than the last one (i.e. a magnitude 3 is 31.622 times more powerful than a magnitude 2).

For energy comparisons, let us convert the amount of energy to Joules that is released from an earthquake. The largest earthquake ever recorded was the Chilean 9.5. That would have released 1.12 x 10^19 joules of energy. The Hiroshima nuclear bomb released 6.3 x 10^13 joules of energy by comparison (Wikipedia), quite a bit less than a 9.5 earthquake. Now a magnitude 22 earthquake is 12.5 degrees of magnitude larger than a 9.5. So calculating it would mean that it would be 31.662^12.5 more powerful than a 9.5 (5.7 x 10^18 times more powerful). This equates to 6.31 x 10^37 joules of energy (calculated here:

There is a limit to the size of an Earthquake based on the physical properties of rocks, but let us just ignore that for now.

The energy released in a Magnitude 22 earthquake is a lot of energy, but it is a little hard to grasp numbers that big. A magnitude 3.5 earthquake, which is on the limit of being felt by most people, releases 1.12 x 10^10 joules of energy. On the other hand it has been estimated that the power required by the Death Star in Star Wars (yes I'm going there) to destroy a Earth sized planet was 2.2 x 10^32 joules of energy (as mentioned HERE and elsewhere).

So the amount of energy required to destroy a planet (2.2 x 10^32 joules) is actually equal to an earthquake with a magnitude of 18.33, much smaller than the Magnitude 22 (6.31 x 10^37 joules) earthquake reported. Although the 2.2 x 10^32 joules is a bottom estimate, it is possible that the Death Star could create much more energy than that, just to make sure the planet was obliterated.

Therefore, I believe I have proof to indicate that the Earth was struck by a Death Star laser on Christmas, 2013. But somehow, we survived, and now they are trying to cover it up. Perhaps this was a test of the Death Star that the government supposedly wasn't building (The White House).

Some other numbers courtesy of Dinogami:
  1. Manicouagan impact = 1 x 10^21 joules
  2. K-T  (K-Pg) Chicxulub impact = 4.2 x 10^23 joules
  3. Sun puts out 3.8 x 10^26 joules (however that is all over, not concentrated)
  4. Impact of a Mars size body on the Earth = 4.5 x 10^31 joules 
It appears that our Magnitude 22 earthquake was one of the largest events to happen to the solar system since the last supernova.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Geological Podcasts - Listening to your Geology: Updated and Expanded

Updated 4-24-14: I have an updated version located on its own page. You can access that using the banner to the left under "Pages".

Previously I had made a post about all of the geological/paleontological podcasts that were available out in the interweb somewhere. Since that post (found here) several new podcasts have started up and I have been told about some other ones. Here is a complete list as I know it.

Several Paleo Podcasts have sprung up recently and are discussed at the Integrative Paleontologists.

----------------------Currently Active Podcasts*---------------------

Geology Related

In Our Time

Number of Episodes: unknown
Format: Weekly

Thoughts: This is a BBC podcast that discusses the history of ideas including varied topics such as philosphy, science, history, religion, and culture. They have a few geology specific podcasts, which you can find a list of in the comments on the previous podcast post (HERE). There is also a sub-podcast which focuses on just the scientific specific episodes. After listening to some of the episodes this feels like an NPR style podcast with the "talking heads" discussing various topics guided by the host. The episodes are only 45 minutes long, however they feel like they drag on a little long for me.

This Week in Science

Number of Episodes: 451
Format: Weekly

Thoughts: This podcast is about science in general but has a heavy dose of geology and paleontology related news. The show describes the latest news in science and then discusses them among it's hosts and what the possible implications could be. This is the type of podcast I feel should be made. It is entertaining by people who enjoy what they do. There are no monotonous voices droning on about this or that, AND it's informative.

The USGS CoreCast

Number of Episodes: 185
Format: I'm not really sure. They seem to come out randomly.

Thoughts: The CoreCast is a podcast/videocast where the episodes are short (4-10 minutes) but deal with a specific topic at the time. iTunes seems rather funny about it because when I look for older episodes they don't appear under my subscription feed but I can get some of them through the Store.

Paleontology Related

The PalaeoCast

Number of Episodes: 26
Format: Bimonthly

Thoughts: As time has gone on the hosts have switched around but the podcast has gotten progressively better. The set up is that the hosts interview different scientists each episode about various paleontological topics, with one show limited to one interview with a little bit of commentary. There does not seem to be a set pattern to the topics but I could be wrong about that. Not bad.

Past Time

Number of Episodes: 10 with some shorter episodes
Format: Monthly

Thoughts: This is a series of 20 minute podcasts with some 5 minute shorter episodes, released 1 to 2 per month. I had not listened to it before compiling this list but have added it to get a generalized feel for it. It is two guys often just discussing paleo topics, sometimes with interviews. It seems to be a bit heavily edited, which improves upon the flow of many "talk radio" style podcasts by adding music and sound effects into the mix. The shorter episodes make all of the production easy to bear since it ends before it gets old but the bits of humor make it highly enjoyable. Going through their old podcasts illustrates how much they have improved over the course of the year they have been on. So far, this seems likes something I could get into.

Palaeo After Dark

Number of Episodes: 25
Format: Bimonthly

Thoughts: This is a series of 1.5 to 2 hour long podcasts released every other week. As they state in the initial episode they are a more loosely structured discussion podcast with talking points across the field of paleontology, but perhaps focusing in on the PalaeoCast topics. I have only listened to a couple of podcasts but so far it seems interesting with a pretty lively bunch presenting the science. Try it out if you want a more laid back discussion of paleontological topics.

Dragon Tongues

Number of Episodes: 2
Format: Monthly

Thoughts: Currently the youngest running podcast listed with only 2 episodes, both about 13 minutes long. Not having heard of it before I started this compiling, I added it. The host is a student who wanted to give a different perspective on the Paleo Podcast scene. He wanted to give the stories behind the fossils. An interesting approach that seems to be working for him so far. The first two episodes may have been short but they were entertaining and educational.

---------------Defunct (Archived) Podcasts-------------------

KY GeoCast

Number of Episodes: 6
Last episode: 7/19/2012

Thoughts:  This is a podcast describing the geology of various sites across Kentucky. The episodes are short (3-10 minutes) are are very informative. The only problem is the older podcasts seem a bit dull, although the 2012 ones seem to have upped their game a bit and present something more entertaining to listen to.

The podClast

Number of Episodes: 17
Last episode: 2/27/2011

Thoughts: The podClast was a geological news podcast that discussed recent geological events discussing ramifications and how they could have happened. Only episodes 7, and 9-17 appear to be currently on iTunes.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Podcast

Number of Episodes: ~34
Last episode: 5/13/2010

Thoughts: Although listed as a podcast this is primarily available as a video podcast. Some of the earlier episodes though were released in both video and audio format. This is a highly produced podcast (at least the later episodes were) that is informative and rather entertaining. It focuses on marine biology and geology and is interesting for anyone interested in a short (3-10 minute) little science snippet.

------------------Misleading Podcasts**------------------

The Geologic Podcast

Number of Episodes: 292
Format: Weekly

Thoughts: Although it contains a title of "The Geologic Podcast" the latest episode I listened to (#292) had no geology in it and about 3-4 minutes of scientific content in general. It is more set up as a comedy show. As pointed out by Callan in the comments, the name comes from the shows host (George) who is into logic, hence Geo-Logic. I'm sure I am not the only one who has found this podcast by mistake.


*Currently active indicates a new podcast within the last calender year.
**Podcasts that at first glance one must assume they have to do with geology but upon further investigation are woefully mistaken.
- The number of podcasts are as of 2-21-2014.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Is Google Making us Stupid?

I recently read an article entitled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", which emphasized a problem I recently have been having. I have noticed that my ability to focus on any one task for extended periods of time has waned and I find myself jumping between many different things during periods of supposed productivity. It is not that I am tired of what I am working on, it is just that I suddenly become jittery and unable to sit still. I find I MUST do something else, even if I have not gotten much done in the interim since this previous feeling had come over me. The article actually calls out that this affliction has happened to the author and several scholars that he knows. The article states that the reason for this is the way social media and the internet are set to deliver us information. The internet has reprogrammed our brains into thinking more in short bursts of information rather than being able to wade in depth into any particular subject.

This drives me nuts. It is also the reason I have been writing shorter and shorter blog posts. 1. because I don't like to read long blog posts so I figure others don't, but 2. because I don't have the time/concentration able to complete such tasks.

Is this a geology related post? Probably not, but I feel it is an academically related post. Academics all around are likely finding similar problems. They either don't have time to focus on one project for long periods of time or they do have time but they don't have the ability to concentrate continually on them. What once was a joy to sit and read a novel for an hour or two has become impossible without doing an internet break a few times. Usually when I get truly into what I am working on, am I able to concentrate for long periods of time, but as soon as that task is completed I feel the urge to check and see if I have any new emails or perhaps someone posted something interesting on Facebook (rarely this is the case, but I like to make sure).

Perhaps by calling out my problem I can figure out a way to fix it. I might be able to retrain my brain to relax and just let things be. Or maybe it is better this way. Maybe by doing multiple things at once, I am really getting more done in the long run.

This is the end of my productivity rant.