Thursday, November 19, 2015

Geology Through Literature - Faust

The next up on my Geology Through Literature thread is Faust by J. W. Von Goethe. 
Having some talks with David from The History of Geology, I realize I may have missed some geological aspects of the story. That being said, here are the ones I have come across: 

Part Two: Act I
"MEPHISTOPHELES:      Wherever you go in this world there's always a shortage of something. It might be this, it might be that. Here it's money we're short of. Now you can't just pick up money from the floor. But there's nothing sunk so deep we con't get hold of it, if we use our wits. There's gold, coined and uncoined, under old walls or in the belly of the hills. And if you ask me who is to unearth it: An intelligent man using the brains that nature gave him."
Some good ole hard work and intelligence has helped many a geologist to find precious metals and other goodies that the earth has buried deep within it.

Part Two: Act II - Earthquakes
SIRENS:      The water came foaming back, but not in its old bed. The ground quaked, the flood piled up, the shore cracked and smoked. Let's away from here, all of us. This miracle's no good to anyone.    Away to the sea-festival, all you guests, where the glinting, trembling waves lightly lap the shore, and the moon shines double and wets us with its sacred dew. Life there is unconfined, and here - this fearful earthquake. The place is dreadful. No prudent man would stay. 
SEISMOS: (making noises under the earth)
     Another good shove. Another good heave with my shoulders. Then I'll be out and they'll all have to scatter. 
SPHINXES:      What a horrid vibration. What fearful tension in the air. Such a swaying and tottering and rocking this way and that. It's intolerable, it's monstrous. But we won't move, though hell itself breaks loose.      The ground's lifting like a vaulted roof, marvelous. It's the same old man, the same old greybeard, who made the island of Delos, pushed it up out of the sea to oblige a woman in travail.   Now straining and squeezing away untiringly with all his might, his arms tensed and his back bent like the giant Atlas, he's lifting the grass, the soil, the sand, and everything in the peaceful river-bed, and cutting a gap right across the quiet valley. He's like a colossal caryatid, still buried below the waist and holding up a huge mass of rock. But this is where he stops, because we're here. 
SEISMOS:      I managed this all by myself. You'll have to admit it. And if I hadn't done so much shoving and shaking, how would it have been with this lovely world? You'd never have had your mountains towering aloft against the blue sky in its purity and splendour if I hadn't thrust them up for your pleasure, showing off in front of our great ancestors, Chaos and Old Night, and in company with the titans tossing Pelion and Ossa about like playthings. We carried on this way in youthful exuberance till we got tired of it and wickedly clapped the two mountains on top of Parnassus as a double night-cap...Apollo sojourns happily there with his muses. And who was it but me that planted the throne on high for Jupiter and his thunderbolts? Now once more I've force my way with an immense effort out of the bowels of the earth and call for happy settlers to begin a new life here."
In the first part of the section, I believe they are referring to an earthquake triggering a tsunami. "The water came foaming back, but not in its old bed." Tsunamis are frequent with earthquakes, especially earthquakes with their epicenter's under the ocean. Depending on the type of earthquake, what sometimes occurs is that during the initial ground movement, the ocean floor drops down, then quickly bounces back up. This sudden water displacement is one method in which a tsunami can be set in motion (

The next part refers to the earthquake lifting land out of the sea, such as had happened with the island of Delos. Land being shifted upwards due to fault displacement is nowhere near an unheard of thing. As you can see in Chile, the coastline was uplifted during the 8.8 earthquake a few years ago, creating a new coastline. Since many earthquakes affect land not associated with a coastline it was difficult to determine relative changes in elevation, especially beneath the ocean. However, with modern GPS and other analytical methods, it is much easier and quicker to determine precise earthquake displacements not associated with a constant, like sea level, such as the rise in the ocean floor after the 2011 Japanese Earthquake.

Location of Delos, Greece
Has this happened in Greece though, specifically the island of Delos? Greece is far from a tectonically inactive area. They have been known to have earthquakes all through recorded history, however Delos sits in an area or relative stability compared with surrounding areas. In actuality, over the past few thousand years Delos has fluctuated up and down, with an overall subsiding trend. This fluctuation is likely what made it seem like Delos has remained stable through time (Pavlopoulos et al., 2011). So, even though it is stated that Delos was pushed out of the sea, it is more likely that Delos has always been out of the sea (during recorded history) and is currently slowly making it's way back.

Figure 5 from Pavlopoulos et al. (2011) showing that the area surrounding Delos is relatively stable, with Delos in particular subsiding over time. 

Part Two: Act II - Rocks
"ANAXAGORAS to Thales:
     Will that rigid mind of yours never relent? What more is needed to convince you?
     Water yields to any wind, but it keeps away from the sharp rock.
     This rock was made by explosion, by fire.
     Life began in the wet.
HOMUNCULUS between the two:
     Let me go with you. I also want to begin.
     Tell me, Thales, did you ever, in one night, make a mountain out of mud?
     Nature, the flow of nature, never depended on hours and days. She lets every form grow under her control. Even on a big scale there's no violence.
     But there was violence here. Cruel, plutonic fire, the tremendous bursting of aeolian vapous, broke through the old flat crust, so that at once a mountain had to arise.
     What does it help? What does it lead to? The mountain's there. So far, so good. This sort of argument's a waste of time. It only leads people by the nose, if they let it.
     The mountain's already alive with myrmidons, occupying the cracks. Ants and pygmies and other little busy-bodies."
The first part brings up the point "Life began in the wet". It is pretty well assumed that life did indeed first evolve in the water, due to the need for a transportation medium between adjacent components. Current research indicates that these components needed for life could have been brought in by the comet bombardment that saturated Earth in the early days (

The second part that I would like to address was the violence of the plutonic fire as it broke through the flat crust. What is being described here is the violence often associated with volcanic eruptions, especially explosive ones. The mountain building being described I take as the accumulation of lava on the surface to produce land, where there once was none.

On a related note, there is a rather interesting story about the cinder cone volcano, Parícutin, that arose in a farmer's corn field in Mexico. Over the course of the first 4 months since it's initial eruption, the volcano went from nothing to 200 meters tall. This continued and is currently 424 meters high (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History).

So, it is possible for a mountain to rise from nothing over a very short span of time. The number of earthquakes associated with the rise of Parícutin also increased exponentially immediately before the beginnings of the volcano. Perhaps Seismos had something to do with this one.

Pavlopoulos, K., Kapsimalis, V., Theodorakopoulou, K., and Panagiotopoulos, I. P. 2011. Vertical 
       displacement trends in the Aegean coastal zone (NE Mediterranean) during the Holocene 
       assessed by geo-archaeological data. The Holocene. v. 22 no. 6. pp. 717-728.