Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Plate Tectonics Pioneer - Frank Bursley Taylor

To start off, I was going to say recently but it has apparently been almost a year now, but "recently" I came across this blog post by GSA entitled "On the Shoulders of Giants: A 125th Anniversary Retrospective" which talked about several of the older GSA members and geologists. There was one story which caught my attention:
 "In 1908, Taylor presented an oral paper at the GSA meeting wherein he proposed Continental Drift as a mechanism for the origin of mountain belts. His 1910 paper in the GSA Bulletin is spooky to read these days. He talked about the mid-Atlantic Ridge being a place where “plates” were moving apart. He talked about the Himalayas being the place where the Asian continent was being thrust out onto the Indian crust. He talked about the Aleutians being thrust out onto the Pacific Ocean floor. Taylor’s oral presentation was four years before Alfred Wegner’s oral presentation, and his publication was five years before Wegner’s. But, Taylor’s affliction was that he was publishing in an American scientific journal, and Wegner published in German.  Back then, if anything was important, it was published in German. So, most of the geological community is unaware of Taylor’s amazing analysis."
And it linked to a GSA Today article from July, 2005 which briefly mentioned the original Taylor paper. Well I wanted to go back and actually see what was stated in the paper 5 years before Wegner published his theories. Even though the paper is often painful to read, due to what we now know about plate tectonics, it is interesting in parts to see how much he got right. Here are some excerpts from the paper:

Taylor, F.B. 1910. Bearing of the Tertiary mountain belt on the origin of the Earth's plan. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America. v. 21. pp. 179-226

General crustal movement
"It is admitted by all that the mountains of the great Tertiary belt, like the older ranges of fold-mountains, were produced chiefly by compressive forces acting in a horizontal direction, and that the total amount of compression involved is equivalent to many miles of horizontal movement of the of the Earth's crust. What was the nature of those movements? In what direction did the crust move in producing the Tertiary mountains of Asia-from the ocean toward the land or from the land toward the ocean? This is a crucial point."
The Himalayas
" seems apparent that it was the obstructing action of the Indian peninsula which produced the great Himalaya re-entrant. It was the tremendous resistance offered by this fragment of the ancient Gondwana-land which held back the advancing folds to the line of the Himalaya. The effect seen in horizontal plan is as though India had held back an advancing curtain in a very pronounced way, as indeed it did, for the curtain was the crustal sheet of Asia."
He also refers to "moving crustal sheets" and "plates" are also brought up.
"It would be expected, for example, that the folds would be most closely pressed together at the most northerly point of the resisting obstacle, where the obstructing effect would be greatest, and that the folds would bend or lap around on either side of the obstructing mass so as to inclose it within a re-entrant angle of the general front. It would be expected also that the vertical component of movement expressed by positive elevation of mountain ranges and plateaus would be greatest against that same point."
Taylor seems to think that all movement was from the poles to the equator. This is what produced the bulging outward effect of the Earth at the equator.

Greenland Rift Zones
"Baffin Land, therefore, appears to have been pulled away from Greenland in the same direction as Grant Land, and, what is more significant, it appears to have moved the same distance."
"The relation of the coast of Labrador to the west coast of the south part of Greenland is truly remarkable"
"...although now 560 miles apart in the direction of the rift along the northwest side of Greenland, are almost exactly parallel and the geological age and structure of the rocks, so far as known, are the same."
"We seem to have here a great irregular rift line along which North America has been torn away from Greenland." 
Mid-Ocean Ridge
"It is apparently a sort of horst ridge-a residual ridge along a line of parting or rifting - the earth-crust having moved away from it on both sides."
 "The great westward bulge of Africa north of the equator appears to fit very closely into the westward bend of the mid-Atlantic ridge, suggesting that Africa has drifted eastward from that position."
"It is probably much nearer the truth to suppose that the mid-Atlantic ridge has remained unmoved, while the two continents on opposite sides of it have crept away in nearly parallel and opposite directions." 
African Weight Gain
"There appear to be conflicting evidences on this point, but the great rift valleys of the lake region in Africa suggest moderate uplift. These valleys are roughly meridional and suggest a slight girth-expansion of the Earth.

Not sure how the Earth gains girth... maybe too much Turkey. (ba dum dum :-D)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Failures in Science - Measuring the Earth Part 2

In response to my failure to measure the Earth before (See post here for background and details) I again attempted to measure the Earth using the length of the shadows during the the days before and after the summer solstice. To recap here is the background:

~2200 years ago, a man named Eratosthenes made a pretty good estimation of the size of the Earth using the length of shadows during the summer solstice at two different locations.

To repeat this experiment there are some requirements:

1. I needed a measuring stick that was perpendicular to a board to measure the length of the shadow.

2. I needed two locations north and south of each other that fell along the same longitude, so that I could calculate a direct polar circumference.

3. I needed to find out when "noon" was, since daylight noon (the highest point of the sun) is not the same time as clock noon.


1. To fix some of the problems that stemmed from the last experiment I created a larger and better measuring stick.

Here is my handy assistant making calculations and measurements.

I used comments on my previous post to improve on this on. I increased the size of the vertical stick, chose a metal rod since it was not warped and not likely to become warped without noticing, and on the bottom I placed screw feet so I could adjust the levelness of the board. 

High Noon time was set for 1:29 pm on both the day before and after the summer solstice. 

From the previous post I am going to take 2 readings from two locations that are approximately along the same line of longitude. (C and B on the diagram below). From these I will calculate the difference in the angle and therefore can calculate the size of the Earth.

This time I went for a bit further and ended up at a distance of 66,758.87 m apart from each measurement. I had hoped this would help with the accuracy of the results. 

I had double checked and my math previously was correct, where:

Circumference = Arc Length * Difference in the angles/360

For this experiment:
Arc length = 66,758.87 m
Difference in the angles = 1.4149 degress

  C = 66,758.87 * 1.4149/ 360
  C = 16,985.79 km

Still I am majorly off. Only by 57% this time. A 3% improvement. Good?


Next year I will perform the experiment again. This time with a larger measuring device and more distant measuring localities.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Geology In Pop Culture - Geological License Plate

I have been on the look out for geological based license plates recently and I captured this one the other day. A but blurry (from the phone) but you can still see that it says "Karste" quite clearly.

I am not sure the rules of posting the images of license plate but I don't think there is really anything wrong with it, especially since we see them on the road everyday. And I figured that if I don't post any of the other information of the car owner, make, model, etc. along with the license plate I should be all set. Well I cropped out the the rest of the car just to be safe.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Geological Pop-Cultural References

I came across this interesting article the other day: 

Pop Culture Mentions Of Global Warming Have Plummeted Since 2007

which leads people to a program where users are able to put in a set of words and see how many times they have been mentioned in movies (and in various other mediums) in the past 100 years (or so). This got me thinking about how references to geology and paleontology have varied through time. 

The following graphs are made with a 2 year rolling average of the points, that way the mentions didn't show up as individual points, and general trends could be easier to discern. They also show the percent of the words for each particular year since just producing straight number of words would show an increase just because more TV and movies are produced now than they used to be.

Here is a link to the Movies version: There are other links accessible from the website which can give you scientific article searches and the such. A future post will do these same searches in different mediums to compare the results. Unfortunately I can't seem to save the images any larger. If you do the search you are able to see the specific references in each year. Very fun game.

Dinosaurs and Fossils
 *date to be aware of: Jurassic Park came out in 1993.

Evolution and Creation
  *date to be aware of: Cosmos came out in 1980.

Paleontology and Paleontologist

Geology and Geologist

Plate Tectonics

Rock and Stone
 *Pretty sure this mostly refers to the "rock" in rock and roll and drug use under "stone", but interesting none the less. 

Volcano and Earthquake



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Geology Through the Radio - Pompeii

Geology Through The Radio

Listening to the radio the other day this song caught my ear. Little did I realize what the title of the song was (Pompeii by Bastille). Then actually listening to the lyrics, I realized that that was what the song was actually about (not some fancy title that has nothing to do with the song what-so-ever).

Here are a set of the lyrics for instance:
"And the walls kept tumbling downIn the city that we loveGreat clouds roll over the hillsBringing darkness from above"

 Some questions that could be asked of this song:

1. What event is the song referring to?
2. What are the "great clouds" composed of?
3. What happened to the city that the song is referring to?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Geology of the National Parks in Pictures - Dinosaur National Monument

The next up on my tour of the National Parks in pictures:

Obligatory entrance sign.

"I hope that the Government for the benefit of science and the people, will uncover a large area, leave the bones and skeletons in relief and house them in. It would make one of the most astounding and instructive sights imaginable." - Earl Douglas, 1923

And here is the main attraction. The fossil wall in panorama form.

The northern end of the fossil wall.

 And the southern end.

View of the outside of the main exhibit building. The building is newly rebuilt (since the other one basically fell off the wall) and rests right on top of the fossil layer. The next picture is a shot in the opposite direction from the building.

Picture from the fossil wall in the northern direction (away from the building) where you can track the fossil layer across the parking lot.

Closer up shot of the fossil layer from the previous picture. You can make out the Fossil Discovery Trail running along the base of the fossil layer towards the lower center of the picture (fossil layer is the dark layer just left of center).

View of the fossil layer looking back up at the building. Most of the best fossils were all up within the building but most people found it exciting to discover fossils "out in the wild". 

Departing dino shot.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Geology Through Literature - The Way of All Flesh

The next story up in the Geology Though Literature thread is The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler.

Not much in the way of geology in this book, however I did find a couple of passages interesting. The book mainly is about Christianity taking place in the 1800's and a couple of passages mention some recent works that were released:
"It must be remembered that the year 1858 was the last of a term during which the peace of the Church of England was singularly unbroken...I need hardly say that the calm was only on the surface. Older men, who knew more than undergraduates are likely to do, must have seen that the wave of skepticism which had already broken over Germany was setting towards our own shores (England) - nor was it long, indeed, before it reached them. Ernest had hardly been ordained before three works in quick succession arrested the attention even of those who paid least heed to theological controversy - I mean Essays and Reviews, Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, and Bishop Colenso's Criticisms on the Pentateuch." 
As a little bit of a background, On the Origin of Species was originally published November 24th, 1859, while events during the first paragraph take place during 1858. Even though The Way of All Flesh was published in 1903, Butler began working on it in 1873. This shows that, the upheaval due to the publishing of several works like On the Origin of Species still would have been fresh in his mind. Although, the ideas of evolution were slowly gaining hold, even before Darwin's publication, the Church of England firmly held the beliefs as posed in the Bible. Mainly, that species were created by their Creator and have remained unchanged since creation. Darwin's (among others) theories flew in the face of that, hence the paragraph describing the breakdown of the Church of England's hold. Very fitting for a book that seems to be very anti-established church.
"This was the course things have taken in the Church of England during the last fourty years. The set has been steadily in one direction. A few men who knew what they wanted made catspaw of the Christinas and the Charlottes, and the Christinas and the Charlottes made catspaws of the Mrs. Goodhews and the old  Miss Wrights, and the Mrs. Goodhews and old Miss Wrights told the Mr. Goodhews and the young Miss Wrights what they should do, and when the Mr. Goodhews and the young Miss Wrights did it the little Goodhews and the rest of the spiritual flock did as they did, and the Theobalds went for nothing; step by step, day by day, year by year, parish by parish, diocese by diocese, this was how it was done. And yet the Church of England looks with no friendly eyes upon the theory of evolution, or decent with modification."

I like this passage because it shows how "descent with modification" (i.e. evolution) works in the context of society. My personal point of view is that many people take the term "evolution" out of context, where it simply means "change over time". Also, Darwin never stated the term "evolution" within the Origin of Species. He just used "descent with modification", so I feel that the author's phrasing in the last sentence as a hat-tip to the original term.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dino's? in Pop Culture - SLCC 2014

Unlike last years Salt Lake Comic Con, there was not much in the way of dinosaurs (or geology really) that I could find. I did see one person dressed up as a female Dr. Grant from Jurassic Park but I never was able to get a picture of her. So, in lieu of that, we have Smaug from The Lord of The Rings. Dragons are based on dinosaurs, so essentially dragons are the descendants of dinosaurs, like birds. 

Therefore, dragons can be considered the cousins of birds. And in that case, here you have a dinosaur descendant. 

Side Note: I didn't realize this at first but one of the eyes opened and closed. You can see that through the 3 pictures below. Very nice!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Drunk on Geology - Riff Pinot Grigio

Our next bottle up on our Drunk on Geology series is Riff. Riff (German for reef) wines are Italian wines made by Cantina Riff Progetto Lageder. The ammonite shown on the bottle of the 2012 bottle (pictured below) has also been changed for the 2013 wines, so it is likely I may feature this wine again.  

The ammonite pictured on the bottle is a simple goniatitic ammonite, meaning that the sutures between each chamber (septa) have a gentle curved pattern.

A comparable fossil ammonite to the one on the bottle is the pyritized Quenstedticeras pictured below:

The back of the bottle reads:
"Riff pinot grigio originates from vineyards in the foothills of the dolomites, located in the eastern Alps, which influence the climate and bless the region with prized alluvial soils. The name riff (German for reef) refers to the dolomites geological origin. A deposit of fossils from an ancient sea that covered this region millions of years ago."

Image of the rocks from the wine maker's website,

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Geology of the National Parks in Pictures - Craters of the Moon

The next up on my tour of the National Parks in pictures:

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve

My standard park sign picture, but this time with the little one.

 Lava tube entrance.

 This one shows a pretty good view of the landscape that has many trees and shrubs but is still pretty barren.

A lot of dead trees hanging about.

 Climbing up the largest of the cinder cones, Inferno Cone.

 Panoramic view from the top of Inferno Cone.

 View from Inferno Cone of a couple of smaller cinder cones.

Some nice aa, splatter lava.

 View of a lava flow showing large chunks of volcanic rocks.

 Another view of the same lava flow, this time a little further up. You can see a nice transition from the pahoehoe to the aa style lava.

 Me entering one of the lava tubes.

 Some nice ribbon lava. I really love the fine cracks that run perpendicular to the ribbon folds.

View looking out of one of the smaller lava tubes, Dewdrop Cave.

Within the largest lava tube in the park, Indian Tunnel. Several places along the length of the tube, the ceiling has caved in giving visitors a nice walk even without the need of a headlamp.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Geological State Symbols Across the US - #5 California

The next state up is California. Here are the stats:

                                                                                        Year Established
State Rock: Serpentine                                                             1965
State Mineral: Gold                                                                 1965
State Gemstone: Benitoite                                                        1985
State Fossil: Smilodon fatalis (saber-toothed cat)                    1973

State Rock: Serpentine

    California was the first state to identify a state rock, serpentine. Serpentine is a green to black, fibrous and platy, metamorphic rock. It was metamorphosed from the ultramafic (dark green minerals like olivene) rock peridotite. It was named for the serpent skin-like pattern formed by the multitude of greens throughout the rock. The original parent rock, peridotite, was deposited in the ocean, below the basalt and other crustal rocks. The high heat, water, and high pressure converted the peridotite into serpentine. Serpentine itself is often composed of three main minerals, chrysotile (often found in the form asbestos), lizardite, and antigorite, among others.

   California was formed by the accretion of various islands and oceanic material as the North American plate moved westward and the subduction zone along the west coast of North America allowed material to be "scraped" off of the subducting plate. These accretionary provinces contained large pockets of serpentine within them, providing California with an abundance of valuable serpentine minerals including chromite, magnesite, cinnebar, and most importantly at the time, asbestos. For this reason, as well as its soft nature making it an easy stone to polish and usage as an ornamental rock, it was designated as California's state rock.

    However, due to the strong association of serpentine with asbestos, there has been recent urges to change or remove the state rock. Having the state rock associated with cancer is not something many lawmakers agree with. Scientists contend though, that asbestos within its natural state is harmless. Only when powdered, can asbestos become a carcinogen. Currently it is unsure whether the rock will be removed as the state rock.

State Mineral: Gold    

     The chemical symbol for gold is Au, and gold is one of the unique minerals that, in its pure form, is composed entirely of one element. It has a hardness of 2.5 to 3 on the Mohs hardness scale meaning that it actually is very soft (your fingernail is 2.5). For this reason most gold jewelry is mixed with another metal to prevent scratching and bending easily. The karat rating of the gold represents it's purity, where 24 karat is 99.9% pure, 22 karat 91.7%, 18 karat 75%, and so on. Gold naturally does not corrode or tarnish, so even when it is mixed with other metals it usually has a resistance to tarnishing, enhancing its value for jewelry. When gold is found in place, the highest grade of gold is found in association with quartz veins, as the one shown to the left from Placerville, California.

     Along with the identification of a state rock, California also identified a state mineral at the same time, gold. It is not hard to understand why. Gold was initially discovered in California in 1848 at Sutter's Mill in Coloma. This discovery eventually brought on the Gold Rush of 49' (the name of the 49ers are based on this gold rush as well). The Gold Rush increased the number of people in California from pre-1849 to post-1849 100 times (going from less than 1,000 to over 100,000). The discovery of gold and sudden influx of people to California, caused it to have statehood decades before most of the other western states. Overall, two billion dollars worth of gold was extracted from the state during this time period. The current slogan for California, "The Golden State", is due to this foundation on gold.

     California's gold mines (current and historic) cover the entire state and can be found from the very southern border all the way to the northern border, with almost every county having at least one. Due to the high specific gravity of gold (high density) and its resistance to oxidizing (tarnishing) as it is eroded out of the mountains it concentrates in rivers in what are called placer deposits. It is from these deposits that people find gold while they perform the famous "wild west" practice of panning for gold.

State Gemstone: Benitoite
Benitoite from Benitoite Gem Mine, San Benito County, California (Type Locality for Benitoite)

     Benitoite is an extremely rare mineral where the only gem quality stones are found in California. It is often found as a blue to dark blue mineral but can be purple, pink, white, and colorless. The mineral also fluoresces blue under ultraviolet light. Bernitoite is a barium titanium silicate (BaTiSi3O9) that often forms pyramidal crystals, although the crystals are usually 5 cm or less in size. It was initially found near the headwaters of the San Benito River, in San Benito County and was named for its discovery location.

     When benitoite was originally discovered it was thought to be another variety of sapphire. However, further analysis by some jewelers ruled out the gem as a sapphire. In 1907, George D. Louderback, identified and named the  unique and very rare mineral. Primarily bentitoite is known as a collector's item with a small amount of samples being used to align and adjust electron microprobe beams. Benitoite is found within natrolite veins that are interlayered with serpentine. Benitoite forms from the hydrothermal altering of the serpentine, a primary mineral found within the state rock, serpentine.

     However rare and valuable the gem is, collectors and rockhounds have the unique chance to collect their own specimens of benitoite by going to the California State Gem Mine. Where, for a fee, you can try and find some of the gems yourself.

State Fossil: Smilodon fatalis (saber-toothed cat)
     Smilodon fatalis, more commonly known as the saber-toothed cat, is an animal that went extinct around 13,000 years ago, towards the end of the last ice age. The saber-toothed cat is known from North America and the Pacific regions of South America. The reason that this animal was chosen for the state fossil of California is that over 1,200 different specimens have been found in California, primarily within the Rancho La Brea asphalt deposits (the tar pits) and is the second most common animal found there.

     Although, often depicted as living in caves, Smilodon fatalis is more commonly found within plains or woodland deposits, and likely lived as am ambush predator. The skeleton of Smilodon supports this theory, since it is robust with a short tail, indicated it did not run down its prey. Originally it was though that the saber teeth were used to grapple and hold on to the prey, however they are not strong enough to do this and would result in a lot of broken teeth. It is now hypothesized that the saber teeth were used to deliver a mortal stab wound while the animal then waited for its prey to die.

    The La Brea Tar Pits, where the fossils are primarily found in California, formed from the crude oil that seeps to the surface and partially evaporates, leaving only the heavy tar behind. Animals would get stuck  and eventually enveloped by the tar after they died from lack of food or water. The tar pits where known to the Native Americans in the region and were used as glue and waterproofing their boats and houses. In the early 1875 though, the fossil of a saber-toothed cat was found and described.


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