Thursday, April 20, 2017

Geology Through Literature - Idylls of the King

The next up on my Geology Through Literature thread is Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson published between 1859 and 1885. You can get my complete thoughts on the book/story over at my blog - The Remnant, but for here I will just go into the geological or basic scientific aspects that are brought up in the story.

The story is an epic poem based on the life of King Arthur. There is only one geological instance worth noting in the story itself.

"Chapter": Gareth and Lynette
"In dewy grasses glistened; and the hairAll over glanced with dewdrop of with gemLike sparkles in the stone Avanturine."

Avanturine, more commonly spelled Aventurine, is a gemstone variety of quartz (SiO2). However, unlike the typical varieties of quartz like amethyst, smokey quartz, or milky quartz (to name a few), aventurine contains flecks of mica and other materials incorporated into the crystal. It is these flecks that give the crystal a "sparkle" as the poem states (

A green variety of aventurine. 

Aventurine was named after the Italian words "a ventura", meaning by chance. This is in reference to the chance creation of the artificial aventurine variety now referred to as goldstone where flecks of copper were incorporated into a bit of glass creating a similar, but much more dazzling, appearance (

Goldstone, an artificial "gemstone" similar to aventurine in appearance, except it is often made with glass and copper flecks or other metals (wikipedia).

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Drunk on Geology - Amethystos

The next up in our Drunk on Geology series is Amethystos - Sauvignon Blanc from the Domaine Costa Lazaridi Winery in Adriani, Drama, Greece.

As can be assumed, Amethystos is the Greek translation of Amethyst, the purple variety of the mineral quartz.
Our puppy Oreo wanting to get in on the photography action.

Like I said, amethyst is the purple variety of quartz (SiO2). Pure quartz is clear or white, however the purple color in amethyst comes from the integration of trace amounts of iron that is incorporated into the crystal structure as it is forming. After crystallization, gamma rays produced from radioactive materials in the host rock irradiate the iron to produce the purple color (

Amethyst from Uruguay (

But why amethyst? I can see the purple color reminding people of grapes and some varieties of wine, but is there something more? Turns out there is:

The greek word "amethystos" actually can be translated as "not drunken" or "not intoxicated". This is because the ancient Greeks believed that amethyst crystals themselves prevented people from getting drunk. This is also the reason many Greeks made wine goblets carved out of amethyst crystals.

One of the earliest records that we have of this is the poem by Asclepiades of Samos (born 320 BCE) Windflowers of Asklepiades:
"Drunkenness am I - a gem worked by a subtle hand. I am graven in amethyst, and the subject and the stone are ill-sorted.But I am the precious property of Kleopatra, and on the finger of a Queen even "drunkenness" should be sober.* 
(*a play on words since amethyst means not drunkenness)" 
Another early example is an epigram by Plato the Younger found in The Greek Anthology:
"The stone is an Amethyst; but I, the tippler Bacchus, say- 'Let it either persuade me to be sober; or let it learn to get drunk."

One last example from Asclepiades also in The Greek Anthology:
"I am Drunkenness, the carving of a clever hand; but I am carved upon an Amethyst. Now the stone is alien to the art. But I am the holy possession of Cleopatra. For on the hand of a queen it behoves even a goddess, when drunk, to become sober."
Text from the back of the bottle:
"Produced from the noble white variety of Sauvignon Blanc, this dry white wine has a brilliant green-yellow color and complex bouquet. Its smoky hue and the aromas of wood, nuts and vanilla are a perfect match for the fragrance of the grape. This full-bodied, rich, well-balanced wine has a highly aromatic finish. Served at 54° F, it perfectly complements smoked salmon, fatty fish and shellfish."

Glamour shot.

So there you go. Amethyst is the patron crystal of the winos. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Geology in Pop Culture - Activity Rocks Kit

Recently while at Death Valley National Park, my wife purchased a geology activity for me to do with our daughter. And since this is a fairly fun and easy activity to do with kids I figured I would pass along the information. You can get the Activity Rocks kit at Amazon right now as well.

Above you have the four rock/mineral based activities that comes with the kit. The rocks/minerals are:
  • Magnetite - and a paperclip for magnetic properties
  • Pumice - for a floating rock
  • Quartz pebbles - for a sparking rock activity
  • Dolomite - With a penny for a dissolving and recrystallization activity.
Many, if not all, of these rocks are available to most geologists, however this kits gives them in nice kid friendly sizes with instructions (below) for what to do with them, 

Here is everything at the start. The pumice is floating, the dolomite is sitting in vinegar, the magnetite is magnetizing, and the quartz pebbles are just sitting there. The best part about this kit is after you are done with it you can pass it on to a friend for them to experiment with as well. 

Besides the pumice and the magnetite, which are neat, but you can't really do anything beyond float or stick something to it, the real science comes with the dolomite and the quartz.
Here is the dolomite after it had been sitting in vinegar for about a week. The crystals recrystallized nicely on top of the rock. There is also a penny in the solution, which was supposed to turn the crystals blue (due to oxidation of the copper). They did turn blue at first, but only slightly and not really noticeable after a while.

Now the really interesting thing (that I had not realized before), was that when two "tumbled" quartz pebbles (crystal quartz in this instance) are struck together they produce an electrical shock that lights up the pebbles. This was a little hard to picture so I had my daughter take some photos while I struck the pebbles together. Below are the sequence of photos and a very brief video that shows the results.

All in all a fun activity to get your kids interested in the joys of geology and science. Also, if buying a kit like this isn't your style, this post will give you info on how to build a kit of your own from your own supplies.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Geology Through Literature - Candide

The next up on my Geology Through Literature thread is Candide by Voltaire published in 1759. You can get my complete thoughts on the book/story over at my website -, but for here I will just go into the geological or basic scientific aspects that are brought up in the story.

I had heard about the geological content of Candide many years ago after I had read the story. So, I had it on my list to eventually go back and find the information in order to present it here. Within the story of Candide, the titular character comes upon the shores of Lisbon, just as an earthquake begins. This is a historical event that took place on November 1st, 1755 (just four years prior to publication).

Chapter 5
     "Scarcely had they set foot in the city (Lisbon), still weeping over the death of their benefactor, than they felt the earth quake beneath their feet. In the port a boiling sea rose up and smashed the ships lying at anchor. Whirlwinds of flame and ash covered the streets and public squares: houses disintegrated, roofs were upended upon foundations, and foundations crumbled.
Thirty thousand inhabitants of both sexes and all ages were crushed beneath the ruins. The sailor said with a whistle and an oath: 
'There'll be some rich pickings here.' 
'What can be the sufficient reason for this phenomenon?' wondered Pangloss.' 
The end of the world is come!' Candide shouted."
 ...'This earthquake is nothing new,' replied Pangloss. 'The city of Lima felt the same tremors in America last year. Same causes, same effects. There must be a vein of sulphur running underground from Lima to Lisbon.' 
'Nothing is more probable,' said Candide, 'but for God's sake get me some oil and wine.' 
'What do you mean, "probable"?' the philosopher retorted. 'I maintain that the thing is proven.'
...'For all this is the best there us, If the volcanic activity is in Lisbon, it means it could not have been anywhere else. For it is impossible for things not to be where they are. For all is well.'"

Chapter 6

"After the earthquake which had destroyed three quarters of Lisbon, the wise men of the country had not been able to come up with any more effective means of preventing total ruin than to give people a splendid auto-da-fé. It was decided by the University of Coimbra that the spectacle of a few people being ceremonially burnt over a low flame is the infallible secret of preventing earthquakes.
...A week later...the earth quaked once more.


For my reading I had the Everyman's Library version of Candide and at the beginning of most Everyman's Library books is an Introduction. This introduction, by Roger Pearson talks about the actual earthquake which is portrayed in Candide and was experienced by Voltaire.
"...Voltaire's faith in God had been severely shaken by the Lisbon Earthquake on 1 November (All Saints' Day) 1755, which killed 40,000 or more people; and his poem on the subject, published in 1756, is a devastating cri de coeur against Pope and Leibniz, not to mention the Almighty. Subtitled 'An Examination of the Axiom: All is well', the poem begins by asking, first, how such carnage can be in accordance with the eternal laws of a good and free God and, second, how it can be a punishment from God. Why Lisbon, Why not London or Paris ('Lisbon lies in ruins, while in Paris they dance.') Did the volcanic activity that caused the earthquake really have to be part of the Creation?"

The Great Lisbon Earthquake is well known as one of the widest felt earthquakes ever on record. It was felt from its epicenter off the shores of Portugal, up through Great Britain and well into Africa (see image below). 

Shakemap of the Great Lisbon Earthquake. (Gutscher et al., 2006)

Best estimates are that between 10,000 and 15,000 people died within the city of Lisbon. Many died later due to injuries, fires, and tsunamis and outside the city limits, hence giving the higher numbers often cited elsewhere.  As to the damage, many of the finer buildings in the city were mostly ruined and smaller houses and shops were completely destroyed. Observers in ships were said to see the city swaying corn before the buildings collapsed. These estimates and observations are based on eyewitness accounts in The Lisbon Earthquake by  T. D. Kendrick.

However, contrary to what was believed (at least by Candide at the time), this was not a result of volcanic activity. As you can see on the map below, there aren't even any even any volcanoes on the Iberian Peninsula. 
Even with this blown up view of Europe showing any earthquake hazards in Europe, there isn't even a hazard within 1,000 km of Lisbon. And even that one has an uncertain eruption date.
Earthquake Hazard Map of Europe
My guess is that Candide is aware of the volcanic activity and their corresponding earthquakes in Italy and attributed this earthquake to those causes. However this does not have the hallmarks of a volcanic eruption.  As the seismograms below can illustrate, volcanic eruptions have a drawn out shaking due to the magma moving through the Earth called harmonic tremors. This provides a steady shaking over a long period of time. Earthquakes due to fault action have a sharp start and peter out fairly quickly (over the course of 1-3 minutes). 

Volcanic harmonic tremors

Fault based seismic tremors
The earthquake had to be a result of fault movement then and not volcanic activity, so let's looks at possible plate tectonic activity. Looking at a plate tectonic map of the Iberian Peninsula we have the following:

Fault slip rates along plate tectonic boundaries (

There is a plate boundary running right near Lisbon (which is located right about where the "5" is in 0.05 north of the plate boundary). So where would the earthquake epicenter have been? Looking at the map below, a recent study has pinpointed the likely epicenter to being within the Marques de Pombal (Zitellini et al., 2001).

Bathymetric map of the southwestern Iberia with location of seismic stations (Zitellini et al., 2001). 

It has also been determined that the cause of the earthquake was likely a shallow, eastward dipping thrust fault (Gutscher et al., 2006). This type of fault zone, along with it's location can cause the amount of damage caused in the fault as well as the following tsunamis that are associated with this fault. It is interesting to note that even though they compare this Lisbon earthquake to a Lima, Peru earthquake as both being caused by volcanic activity, both are actually caused by eastward dipping thrust faults. Lima, Peru was hit and destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami combo in 1746 ( These events are so similar, that it is no wonder that Voltaire used this example in his writing. Although, he did have the date off, it wasn't "last year" from the Lisbon earthquake, but close enough (9 years prior).

It is estimated that the Lisbon Earthquake had the magnitude of 8.5-9.0 on the moment magnitude scale (the Richter Scale).  The Richter Scale measures the amount of energy released from an earthquake. This number is comparable to other earthquakes because it does not care about the amount of damage that occurs. However, this can only really be measured with modern day equipment. Any earthquakes that occurred before the advent of earthquake reading equipment needs to be estimated differently to gain an accurate estimate.

What we can measure without the direct scientific readings of the energy released from the fault is the amount of damage that had been recorded by contemporary media. This information is then translated into the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. It is on this scale that we are able to place estimates on the size of the earthquake. Based on this scale, the Lisbon earthquake would likely be at least a IX in the area of Lisbon (as shown on the first map above):

IXViolentDamage considerable in specially designed structures; well-designed frame structures thrown out of plumb. Damage great in substantial buildings, with partial collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.

And due to the construction at the time (wooden and brick houses, high percentage of people living in poverty), this type of damage would wipe out an entire city.

As a final note, the text states that some shaking started about a week later (presumable a week after the original earthquake). These later earthquakes are what are known as aftershocks. Aftershocks are smaller earthquakes than the original, however they can cause just as much, if not more, damage due to the already susceptible state that the city is in from the original earthquake.  Aftershocks are fairly common after large earthquakes as the fault settles out from a large movement (USGS). This was the case for the Lisbon earthquake as well (


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dinos in Pop Culture - Paleontology Chocolate!

I was pointed out by my friend Erin a while ago about a blog talking about this website which sold a chocolate T. rex tooth and a chocolate "Megalodon" tooth. Since I wasn't able to do anything about it at the time, I saved the information. Well, I have come back around to it and lo and behold, there is so much more than I thought.

The website is called "The Edible Museum" and it is run by The Sarah Hardy Confectionary. And not only do they have those teeth. They have so much more. I went for the largest item they had, which included all of their available fossils (that I am aware of): The Chocolate Fossil Hamper Box. Which runs for £75.00, and is shipped out of England. Below I have a breakdown of what was included in the box.

This is everything that came in the "case". It had about 18 individual "fossils" that ranged from white, milk, and dark chocolate to some with a combination of the milk and dark. 

 When it first arrived it came in a cardboard box, and inside was this awesome looking collector's item. I really never expected something like this. The papers are actually sticking out because I had opened it and mussed it up a little when I got it, but rest assured it was immaculate upon arrival. 

 Opening it up, everything was neatly packed away with tons of padding to keep everything safe.

 The first layer was the small fossils. Each set of chocolate was wrapped in plastic wrap to keep the chocolate fresh and each section had it's own pillow of bubble wrap below it.  But the best part is easier to see below. Each fossil includes a tag with the species, the age, and the location of the original fossil. This is a paleontologist's dream box for sure.

We'll start in the middle on the top.
SPECIES: Ammonite - Toxaceratiode
AGE: Cretaceous
LOCATION: Queensland, Australia
CHOCOLATE: dark chocolate

 The next box to the left had two sets of fossils and two tags associated with it.
SPECIES: Trilobite - Asaphus exponsus
AGE: Ordovician 
CHOCOLATE: dark chocolate

 SPECIES: Brachiopod - Articulate
AGE: Ordovician 
CHOCOLATE: milk chocolate

 SPECIES: Ammonite - perisphinctes
AGE: Jurassic
LOCATION: Madagascar
CHOCOLATE: white, milk, and dark chocolate, some with a gold like glaze.

 SPECIES: Trilobite - Calymene
AGE: Upper Ordovician 
LOCATION: Anti-Atlas, Morocco
CHOCOLATE: milk chocolate with some dark chocolate spots making it appear more realistic.

 SPECIES: Sharktooth - Otodus Obliquus
AGE: Ordovician 
CHOCOLATE: white, milk, and dark chocolate

 SPECIES: Ammonite - perisphinctes
AGE: Ordovician 
CHOCOLATE: milk chocolate with a gold like glaze making it appear more metallic.

 Here is a shot of the top drawer all cleaned up and unwrapped. Also the chocolates were delicious!

 But that's not all! Like a tackle box, the top shelf comes out revealing a large open area below.

 This bottom area contains the Tyrannosaurus rex tooth and the Carcharodon megalodon tooth (incorrectly labeled as "Megalodon" because that's the way everyone does it, even though you wouldn't call humans "Sapiens", you shouldn't call an animal by it's species name only but that's a side issue). My only gripe about the box is that there are no tags for the two bottom teeth anywhere in the box, trust me I looked. But if that is my only gripe, it is a very minor one. 
SPECIES: Tyrannosaurus rex and Carcharodon megalodon
CHOCOLATE: mix of milk and dark chocolate

Overall this box gets an A+ from this paleontologist. I recommend this as a good birthday, valentines, or other holiday gift for that fossil lover in your life. The presentation is beyond awesome and the chocolates with definitely delicious. Many of the fossils even included special coatings to make them appear more genuine. 

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Drunk on Geology - Coal Mine Tempranillo

The next up in our Drunk on Geology series is Coal Mine Tempranillo from the Coal Mine Vineyards.

Text from the back of the bottle:
"Coal Mine Vineyard is located in Oregon near the old Black Bear Mine which was operated during the early 1900's. This vineyards labor of love is dedicated to my grandfather James Thomas McArdle and to all those who have sacrificed their lives working in coal mines. My grandfather's life in the mines started in England when he was 13 years old. He continued in the mines of Hanna, Wyoming after immigrating here in 1919. For each year of production I wish to share with you the history of this miner's life and history of the coal mines in Hanna. This year I wish to thank my father, Francis Gerals McArdle, only son to James and Gladys (Sykes) for his unwavering love and dedication, my family who have supported me throughout this endeavor and to Nancy who operates the Hanna Museum."
"The Black Bear mine, situated about 2 1/2 miles northwest of Galice, on the south fork of Rocky Gulch, is owned by the Black Bear Mining & Milling Co. Several tunnels, one of which is about 1,000 feet in length, and a 30-foot shaft constitute the development work. The country rock is greenstone near its contact with serpentine that is derived in part from pyroxenite. A vertical belt of quartz veinlets and kidneys 2 1/2 feet in width runs nearly north and south approximately parallel to the contact. Other quartz veins, some of which carry pyrite, run nearly east and west at right angles to those mentioned above. The ore, which is rich in pyrite, with some chalcopyrite, is scattered rather irregularly in the vein belt. About 4 tons of ore has been obtained from the 30-foot tunnel, and its value as shown by assays is said to range from $4 to $27 a ton, chiefly in gold and a little copper. Some of the ore is cut by shearing plains, on which the slickensided ore shows decided movement since the ore was deposited."
Well, it appears that the coal mine from which the winery takes its name was not meant to be the Black Bear mine near where it is located. The mine that the winery is adjacent to is primarily a gold mine, however there is a "Black Bear" Coal Mine in the area, it's just not as well researched as the gold mine. Here is some information from a report on the coal mine from 1942:
"The coal was sampled according to instruction; that is, including everything except what would be thrown out under normal mining conditions. The sample section is as follows:
Coal                                     3.8 feetBone (excluded)                  0.7 feetCoal                                     0.8 feetBone (excluded)                  0.3 feetCoal                                     1.7 feet
This includes a lot of dull, brownish material which undoubtedly has heating properties but which might be excluded as a result of careful working. The mine is an old one and was once owned by the Pacific Coal Company and by Southern Pacific who worked it until they changed to oil. Three coal seams are reported. The lower one was mined was mined by Southern Pacific, the upper one was mined by a man named R. P. Little, and the middle bed is the one being worked at present."

Looking at the back of the bottle, it does state that the winery is named after the coal mines of Hanna, Wyoming though. Moving on to Hanna, Wyoming, there is a "Hanna Coal Field"

The Hanna Coal Field contains at least 3 notable mines in the area (all of which have been closed down), the Medicine Bow Mine, Rosebud Mining and Reclamation, and the Seminoe II Mine. The Medicine Bow mine, takes coal out of the Medicine Bow Formation (Upper Cretaceous) and the Ferris Formation (Upper Cretaceous and Paleocene). The other two mines are located within the Hanna Formation (Paleocene). 

Here are a couple of strat columns from the USGS for my geologically inclined audience showing the degree of coal pervasion in the region. You can also get a brief history of Hanna, Wyoming and it's coal mine here:

So, even though the Coal Mine, for which the winery is named is not the mine it is adjacent to, there is still quite a bit of geology associated with the name and the location in which it is founded.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1300's and 1400's AD: Dragons in the late Medieval Ages

We continue on to our next entry in DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - the Medieval Times:

Medieval Times: 1300's and 1400's AD
Dragons in the late Medieval Ages

Continuing from last time, we are looking at dragons and how they evolved through the Middle Ages. I was recently having a conversation about dragons and I was asked if it could honestly be said that dragons evolved through local discoveries of dinosaur bones. And while, it can not be absolutely proven that dragons stem from dinosaurs (it's likely not even possible that scientists could prove one way or the other that they are linked), I think it is a safe assumption that there is some historical linkage between the two. 

As mentioned before a good website to find information on Medieval beasts is The Medieval Bestiary though.  Another good source is the British Library, which has some crossover between the sources and is a good check on the sources. Images below can be found at this link:

Dragons in the 1300's

Dragon's in the 1300's continued along the very familiar lines of the 1200's. Here is depicted a dragon at the base of the Peridexion tree, with the same physical attributes as before. These include the large hind legs, big ears, and wings, although this particular example appears to not have any wings present. This image can be found in the Bodleian Library, MS. Bodley 912.

More images of dragons from the 1300's. These are interesting in that they appear to have feathers or fur of some variety. In the 1200's some of the dragons appeared to have some feathers on their wings but not to the degree that these show. Top row left image is of a dragon supposedly licking somebody, although to me it looks like it is vomiting. Both top row images with the feathery wings can found in Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 308.  Both bottom row images with the bat-like wings can be found in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16.

The above image is of a wood carving of a bat with four legs, which is rare but not unheard of from the 1200's. This bat also shows leathery bat wings instead of the bird like wings of the drawings. This carving is from the Cartmel Priory, from Cartmel, England and the image can be found in  Wood Carvings in English Churches: Misericords by Francis Bond (1910).

Dragons in the 1400's

There is a continued stagnation of dragon development through the end of the Middle Ages, although the drawings do seem to get more detailed.

More dragons at the base of the Peridexion tree. The interesting item of note here, is that the dragon on the left appears to have something running down the midline of its back and tail. Hard to tell what they are supposed to represent although they do look like octopus suckers. Perhaps they supposed to be spikes? This isn't a one off occurrence either as can be seen in a dragon illustrated below with the same circle pattern. The image on the left is from the Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º (Bestiarius - Bestiary of Ann Walsh). The image on the right is from the Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25.

More of the same types of dragons as before. These often in more detail though. The top row dragon on the left does have that circular pattern running down its tail though. Perhaps it is no coincidence that both images are from the same book, the Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º (Bestiarius - Bestiary of Ann Walsh). The well feather specimen on the top row, right is from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, 72 A 23 (Liber Floridus). The leathery bottom row dragon with the bat-like wings is from the Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25.

These carvings (also illustrated in the Wood Carvings in English Churches: Misericords by Francis Bond (1910) like the image above) can be found in the Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle, England. As seen above, these dragons are pictured with more a bat wing appearance, however the other attributes remain the same.