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.


References
http://www.library.ca.gov/history/symbols.html
http://www.conservation.ca.gov/cgs/information/publications/cgs_notes/note_14/Documents/note_14.pdf
http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/California/CAstatesymbolrock.html
http://www.netstate.com/states/symb/rocks/ca_rock.htm
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/14/us/14rock.html?_r=0
http://www.zales.com/jewelry101/index.jsp?page=preciousMetals
http://www.consrv.ca.gov/cgs/information/publications/cgs_notes/note_12/Documents/Note%2012.pdf
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_states_by_date_of_statehood_red.PNG
http://www.history.com/topics/gold-rush-of-1849
http://www.johnbetts-fineminerals.com/jhbnyc/mineralmuseum/picshow.php?id=13478
http://www.consrv.ca.gov/cgs/information/publications/cgs_notes/note_11/Documents/note_11.pdf
http://www.calstategemmine.com/
http://www.mindat.org/min-624.html
http://webmineral.com/data/Benitoite.shtml#.U9qQufldXgU
http://rruff.info/doclib/hom/benitoite.pdf
http://library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheets/_extinct/smilodon/smilodon.htm
http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/carnivora/sabretooth.html
http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/quaternary/labrea.html
http://www.tarpits.org/
http://www.adventuresbydaddy.com/2012/01/10/step-back-in-time-but-watch-your-step-at-los-angeles-la-brea-tar-pits/

Previous States
Alabama 
Alaska
Arizona

Arkansas

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Drunk on Geology - Field Assistant Ale

Along with the previous Drunk on Geology post (Lava Cap), another special bottle was produced by the Geological Society of America (GSA) for their 125th anniversary meeting. This one is the Field Assistant Ale by the Left Hand Brewing Company.

The beer is normally the Left Hand Brewing Company's Sawtooth Ale, with a special bottle designed by design agency Moxie Sozo and artist Andrea Oropeza. You can find Andrea's work on her website: http://andoropeza.prosite.com/. Here is what she had to say about the process of creating the bottle:
Project done during my time in Moxie Sozo. I created a label design for the special edition of the Left Hand Brewing Co.'s Sawtooth Ale to celebrate the Geological Society of America's 125th anniversary. It was a quick turn around but in the end everything came out really good. They created coasters, t-shirts and beer labels for the party and for all guests to get one of this special beer with this design.
Thanks to Left Hand and to GSA to make me a part of this experience.
This specific project is outlined here: http://andoropeza.prosite.com/312848/4011082/design/beer-label-design and you can see an image of the label sans bottle bellow (also illustrated in the available sticker).

GSA was giving these out, one per day, do everyone (of legal drinking age) at the conference so I was more than able to get my fair share of it (Thanks GSA!). This specialty bottle was a great addition to the 125th anniversary celebrations. 

If you look at the fourth picture down below, you will notice that they also produced some stickers with the bottle. Well, I have some extra of these stickers. Stickers will be given out to the first 4 people who tweet at me (@Jazinator) "I want to be your field assistant". I will contact those people for their mailing addresses. 





Sticker's available!!! Read directions above on how to obtain one.

Original label design by Andrea Oropeza.

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 www.dinoevent.com. 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 God...no 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!"

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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. (Dictionary.com, 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?