Friday, November 16, 2018

Geology Through The Radio: Your Substrata Makes My Lava Flow

Although, likely played as a joke, here is Brad Paisley's country song named Geology from the never released album - Your Substrata Makes My Lava Flow.

I love the geology background that is given for Tennessee in the song. Here are the lyrics:

Way back in the distant past,
500 million years or greater.
Tennessee was a tectonic plate,
Under the ocean, near the equator.
And a few million years the plates began,
A steady northern migration.
Volcanoes blew, and the earth arose to,
Form the Appalachians.

The range of mountains began to form,
400 million years ago.
And sandstone formation came along,
on the Cumberland Plateau.
The Paleozoic and the Mesozoic,
built the hills just like a mesa.
In the Cenozoic era,
appeared the Nashville basin.

Beneath the limestone, sandstone, and shale,
The Earth moved as it must.
And form the Blue Ridge Mountains,
By sub-horizontal thrust.
Here on plutonic igneous rocks
On a Precambrian promontory.
That is where I first met you,
Which is a whole other story.

Geology, geology. 
That’s how God made Tennessee.
And Tennessee is where I found a girl,
Whose feet are on the ground.
Whose substrata make the lava flow,
And that is all you need to know.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Elemental Abundances

Geology Fun Fact

Topic: Elemental Abundance

The abundance of the elements in the solar system generally decreases with increasing atomic number. Looking at the Periodic Table, Hydrogen (1) has the highest abundance and Helium (2) has the second. However, the third highest abundance is Oxygen down at number 8. The reason for this jump is that there is a stability problem with elements 3-5 (Lithium, Beryllium, and Boron), which causes these elements to have extremely low abundances. Odd atomic numbers also, generally, have lower abundances than neighboring even numbered elements. The result is that Carbon (6) and Oxygen (8) both are pretty close in atomic abundance and are both greater than Nitrogen (7) in the middle of them.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Fossil Fuels

Geology Fun Fact

Question: Are fossil fuels actually made of dinosaurs? 

No! Despite the common misconception, most fossil fuels do not actually come from dinosaurs or fossils for that matter. Oil and natural gas formed mostly from bacteria that died and blanketed the bottom of the sea before being buried and “cooked” into the fossil fuels we all know and love. Coal on the other hand, does sort of come from fossils. Coal was formed in prehistoric swamps from plant matter that never biodegraded due to low oxygen content of swamps and preserved the organic matter to be “cooked” into coal.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Most Common Mineral

Geology Fun 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”.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Water, Water Everywhere

Geology Fun Fact

Myth: there’s plenty of water to go around. 

Out of all the water on the Earth, 97.5% is salt water. This means it is not able to be consumed directly by humans. Of the remaining 2.5%, 70% of that is frozen in the icecaps, and most of the remaining 30% is in the soil and in deep groundwater deposits. So out of all of the water on Earth, less than 1% is available for human consumption (i.e. in rivers, streams, and shallow aquifers).

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Deadly Volcanoes

Geology Fun Fact

Topic: Deadly Volcanoes

Even though you can potentially outrun most of the eruptive materials from a volcano (if you need to) there are some that move extremely fast. The fastest volcanic eruptive materials are pyroclastic flows, which can move at speeds greater than 100 mph and reach temperatures greater than 800°F.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Fast Continents

Geology Fun Fact

Question: Do the continents move at the same rate that fingernails grow? 

The continents have been clocked at pretty accurate speeds using GPS. It is known that the plates move at speeds between 2 and 10 cm/yr. Fingernail growth on the other hand grows on average up to 4 cm per year. So, most plates do move at the speed of fingernail growth but some, like the Pacific Plate can move over twice as fast.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Comet Tails

Geology Fun Fact

Myth: A comet's tail points towards the sun. 

A comet tail is only produced near a star (such as our sun). When the comet gets close enough to the sun, the solar winds push debris off of the comet, producing the tail. However, instead of following behind the comet, the tail always points away from the sun. So, if the comet is going towards the sun, the tail is behind it (as you would expect), but if the comet is going away from the sun, the tail is in front.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Asteroid Belt

Geology Fun Fact

Myth: The Asteroid Belt was a planet that was ripped apart.

Currently scientists believe that the Asteroid Belt, located between Jupiter and Mars, never actually formed into a planet. There is evidence though that a proto-planet did initially form but it never fully consolidated. The competing gravity wells from Jupiter and the sun were too great for one to finish forming.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Magnetic North

Geology Fun Fact

Myth: My compass points to the North Pole

The Magnetic North Pole is not in the same location as the Geographic North Pole. In actuality, it is located near Ellesmere Island in Canada. But on top of that, it has moved throughout history and is currently moving at about 40 miles per year. It even flips with the South Pole on average every ~0.8 million years.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Dwarf Planets

Geology Fun Fact

Topic: Dwarf Planets

When Pluto was demoted from a planet, there was a new category created called “Dwarf Planet”. Unlike a planet, a dwarf planet does not need to clear its orbital neighborhood. In addition to Pluto there were four other dwarf planets identified within about two years. One is Ceres, the largest asteroid in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. The others are in the Kuiper Belt or beyond, which is out beyond the orbit of Pluto. These are Eris, which is larger than Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Compressed Graphite

Geology Fun Fact

Topic: Compressed Graphite

When you think of it, there doesn’t seem to be any greater divide than between diamonds and graphite (the lead in your pencils) but in actuality they are both made of the same “stuff”. They are both are made up of carbon atoms, just in different configurations. If you were to place graphite under an extremely high pressure and heat it up to a high enough temperature, you could actually make your own diamonds!

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Glacial Speed

Geology Fun Fact

Question: How Slow is “Slow as a Glacier”? 

Even though glaciers are typically thought to move very slowly (think inches at most a year), in actuality they can move amazingly fast. Some glaciers in Greenland have been clocked at going 12,600 meters per year. That is about 1.4 m/hr or 4.7 ft/hr!

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Supercontinents

Geology Fun Fact

Topic: Supercontinents

It is relatively well known that there was at least one supercontinent in our planet’s past - Pangaea. But in actuality there have been numerous instances of supercontinents during different time periods.

Pangea: ~300-~180 Ma (million years ago)
Rodinia: ~1000-~700 Ma
Columbia: ~1.65-~1.5 Ga (billion years ago)
Kenorland: ~2.5-~2.2 Ga

There are possibly even more supercontinents in our planet’s history, but those are not as well understood

Friday, November 02, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Dinosaurs to Birds

Geology Fun Fact

Myth: Dinosaurs are Extinct. 

While all non-avian dinosaurs are extinct, there is overwhelming evidence that birds are descendants of dinosaurs, making them dinosaurs themselves. So, the next time you eat a turkey or a chicken, you are eating a dinosaur.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Fast Growing Volcanoes

Geology Fun Fact

Myth: Volcanoes grow slowly. 

While often true in terms of human perception (not in geological terms) there are some notable exceptions. One of the fastest growing volcanoes in recorded history is a cinder cone that came up in a farmer’s field in Mexico. The volcano, Parícutin, grew over 336 meters in 1943 when it first appeared.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Pluto

Geology Fun Fact

Myth: Pluto was stripped of planethood because people didn’t like it. 

In reality, the reason Pluto got demoted is because the definition of a planet was not set until the International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined it in August 2006. In short, they stated that a planet:

  1. Orbits the Sun
  2. Is relatively round
  3. Has cleared its orbital neighborhood

#3 is the reason Pluto was demoted. Pluto’s moon, Charon is about half the size of Pluto and does not orbit Pluto. Essentially, they orbit the same point in space making it more of a binary system and not a lone planet. So, by definition Pluto is not a lone object orbiting the sun and therefore is not a planet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Moonquakes

Geology Fun Fact


Even though the moon is technically “inactive” there is some shaking still going on. The epicenters range from 700 km below the surface to 20km below. And since the moon is so dry, they can keep going from 10 minutes up to several hours to fully stop. It’s like vibrating a tuning fork.

    If you would like to read more, head on over to the NASA webpage

Monday, October 29, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Early Life

Geology Fun Fact

Early Life.

The Phanerozoic Eon is the time period consisting of the last 540 million years and means “Visible life”. Although originally thought to correspond with the evolution of life it is now known to represent the evolution of hard parts (like shells). Life truly evolved over 3.2 Ga (billion years ago) and possibly even as early as 3.85 Ga.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Earthquake Waves

Geology Fun Fact

What kind of waves are produced in an earthquake?

It is usually thought that there are only two main types of seismic (earthquake) waves. These are the Primary (P) Waves and the Secondary (S) Waves. But there is also a third main category called Surface Waves. These can be broken into 2 categories called Love Waves and Rayleigh Waves. Surface Waves produce the most shaking and the most damage of the land surface. Love Waves shake the ground back and forth while Rayleigh Waves shake it up and down.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Dense as a Rock

Geology Fun Fact

Dense as a Rock? 

Rocks are generally assumed to be hard, dense objects that would sink in water without a problem. But there are rocks out there that are not dense at all. The least dense rock is pumice, which is produced during a volcanic eruption when lava is blasted into the air and cools. As the lava cools it has a lot of air pockets, or pores, that produce enough buoyancy that pumice can actually float.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - The Scream

Geology Fun Fact

Geology in Art: 

It is thought that the reason the sky is red in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is due to a volcanic sunset, which was caused by the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

You can find out more information on this at this NY Times article

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Old Diamonds

Geology Fun Fact

Theory: Diamonds are older than the dinosaurs

Actuality: The youngest naturally occurring diamond is over 900 million years old, while the earliest dinosaur is estimated to be less than 250 million years old. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Common Minerals

Geology Fun Fact

Question - What is the most common mineral in the crust and surface of the Earth? 

Answer: Depending on how you look at it there are two possible minerals. Quartz is the most common mineral on the surface of the Earth, but Feldspar is the most common mineral in the crust. Feldspar though, is commonly considered a group of minerals, which includes Potassium-Feldspar and Plagioclase.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Ice

Geology Fun Fact

Theory: Ice is a Mineral. 

Minerals are defined by being an inorganic, naturally forming, substance with a definite chemical composition, and usually a definite crystal structure.  All of which ice satisfies. So, by definition, ice is a mineral. Just one with a significantly lower melting point than most people are usually accustomed to.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Geology Fun Facts - Diamonds

Geology Fun Fact

Theory: A diamond is forever

Actuality: Diamonds are actually not forever. Since diamonds are formed at much higher pressures, they are unstable on the Earth’s surface and will eventually degrade into a stable form of carbon (graphite). But don’t worry, this won't happen for several million years.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Seismology

Geology Fun Fact


The study of earthquakes began in at least 350 BC when Aristotle noticed that soft grounds shake more than the hard rocky ground.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Birthstones

Geology Fun Fact

Theory: Birthstones are minerals or gems. 

Actuality: Only 11 of the 12 birthstones are minerals. Minerals are naturally occurring substances with definite properties. The 12th, pearls, are not naturally occurring, they are produced biologically by mollusks.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Concrete

Geology Fun Fact

Theory: Concrete is a rock. 

Actuality: Minerals are always considered naturally formed, whereas depending on the definition you look at, rocks don’t always have to be. So, in essence, sometimes concrete (and other non-natural rock/mineral conglomerates) can be considered rocks (from a certain point of view).

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Summer Heat

Geology Fun Fact

Theory: It is warmer in the summer because we are closer to the sun. 

Actuality: Only the southern hemisphere is closer to the sun in their summer (Dec-Mar). The northern hemisphere is actually further away for theirs (Jun-Sept). The real reason for the warmer season is due to the angle of sunlight. When the northern hemisphere is pointed towards the sun, the sun is more directly overhead, and therefore it is warmer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Deserts

Geology Fun Fact

Myth. The only continent without a desert is Europe. 

Actuality: Europe actually has a few areas, which may classify as a desert, specifically Almería. Also, a desert is determined by the amount of precipitation it gets (less than ~10 inches a year), not the temperature, and since there is very little precipitation in Antarctica, it ends up being the largest desert on Earth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - The Oldest Rock on Earth

Geology Fun Facts

What is the Age of the Oldest Rock on Earth? 

The oldest rock on Earth is a granite protolith that has been dated to 4.03 Ga (billion years). There are reports of a possibly older rock (a faux-amphibolite) dated up to 4.28 Ga, but there is some controversy about those rocks. Both of these rocks have been found in northern Canada.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Geology Fun Fact - Fossil Chalk

Here is an old series that I am in the process of updating:

Geology Fun Facts

Fossil Chalk
Naturally forming chalk is actually made up of millions of little fossils called coccoliths, which were the round “shells” of phytoplankton (a type of marine micro-plant) called coccolithophores.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Geology in Pop Culture - Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

Recently I have been working my way through Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and I stumbled upon this reference to Evolution that I thought was perfect and I wanted to highlight here. The Discworld series is about a planet, which is in the shape of a disk, riding on four elephants, all standing on the back of a giant turtle, riding around through the cosmos. So it is a magical land in which anything can happen, and it often does. While reading the books I have found that Terry often has a satirical look at the world and his humor is not always for everyone but I find it fantastic.

Here is a humorous look at evolution from his perspective:
Whereas the oldest things on the Discworld were the famous Counting Pines, which grow right on the permanent snowline of the high Ramtop Mountains.
The Counting Pine is one of the few known examples of borrowed evolution. Most species do their own evolving, making it up as they go along, which is the way Nature intended. And this is all very natural and organic and in tune with mysterious cycles of the cosmos, which believes that there's nothing like millions of years of really frustrating trial and error to give a species moral fibre and, in some cases, backbone. This is probably fine from the species' point of view, but from the perspective of the actual individuals involved it can be a real pig, or at least a small pink root-eating reptile that might one day evolve into a real pig. 
So the Counting Pines avoided all this by letting other vegetables do their evolving for them. A pine seed, coming to rest anywhere on the Disc, immediately picks up the most effective local genetic code via morphic resonance and grows into whatever best suits the soil and climate, usually doing much better at it than the native trees themselves, which it usually usurps. 
What makes the Counting Pines particularly noteworthy, however, is the way they count. Being dimly aware that human beings had learned to tell the age of a tree by counting the rings, the original Counting Pines decided that this was why humans cut trees down. Overnight every Counting Pine readjusted its genetic code to produce, at about eye-level on its trunk, in pale letters, its precise age. Within a year they were felled almost into extinction by the ornamental house number plate industry, and only a very few survive in hard-to-reach areas.
The six Counting Pines in this clump were listening to the oldest, whose gnarled trunk declared it to be thirty-one thousand, seven hundred and thirty-four years old. The conversation took seventeen years, but has been speeded up. 
'I remember when all this wasn't fields.' The pines stared out over a thousand miles of landscape. The sky flickered like a bad special effect from a time travel movie. Snow appeared, stayed for an instant, and melted. 
'What was it, then?' said the nearest pine.
'Ice. If you can call it ice. We had proper glaciers in those days. Not like the ice you get now, here one season and gone the next. It hung around for ages.' 
'What happened to it, then?' 
'It went.' 
'Went where?' 
'Where things go. Everything's always rushing off.' 
'Wow. That was a sharp one.' 
'What was?' 
'That winter just then.' 
'Call that a winter? When I was a sapling we had winters -' 
Then the tree vanished. 
After a shocked pause for a couple of years, one of the clump said: 'He just went! Just like that! One day he was here, next he was gone!' 
If the other trees had been humans, they would have shuffled their feet. 
'It happens, lad,' said one of them, carefully. 
'He's been taken to a Better Place, you can be sure of that. He was a good tree.' 
The young tree, which was a mere five thousand, one hundred and eleven years old, said: 'What sort of Better Place?' 
'We're not sure, ' said one of the clump. It trembled uneasily in a weeklong gale. 'But we think it involves . . . sawdust.' 
Since the trees were unable even to sense any event that took place in less than a day, they never heard the sound of axes.