Geology is Best With Kittehs!

Oh, I see what you’re up to, PZ. Your stealth attack, meant to divide my loyalties and my loves, was clever. Cats vs. Rocks! Declare rock the winner, and Dana and her cat-loving rock fiend friends will have no choice but to admit rocks are cooler than cats!

It was a nice try, my friend. Bravo. Well played. However, you were pwned before you posted.

Have you never heard of Geokittehs, sir?

Angular Unconformkitty

Angular Unconformkitty. Brian Switek’s lovely Margarita demonstrates an important and historic geologic principle.

The above Angular Unconformkitty is just one of many incisive posts showing that cats have a keen grasp of geologic principles. Geology and cats: two great tastes that go great together!

Spook doing geology

Spook doing geology with a lovely bit of bornite. This is a legitimate geologist thing. Tasting rocks is a very geologist thing to do.

And what’s the only thing better than cats + rocks? Cats that are rocks!

So, yeah, like I said, it was a valiant effort, but ultimately futile. Poor PZ. And your defeat does not end there: while you thought your own field of biology safe from kittehfication – alas for you, ’tis not so.

Cats and chemistry also combine. And cats have had the market cornered on physics since Schrodinger. Is it the physics cats that turned you off to kittehs in general? They can be assholes, admittedly.

Physics cat

Physics cat disses biology.

Some of us think their general contempt for humanity makes them all the more awesome. But you know, biologist cats exist, and they have a lot in common with you. Professor.

Professor of biology cat

Professor of biology cat.

Of course, it’s not just kittehs doing science. Goggies can teach chemistry, too (h/t)! They are soft and malleable and can be made to bond on demand.

But science, especially geology, will always be best with teh kittehs. Kittehs rock. This is why popularity contests between kittehs and rocks will always end in a draw.

Geologist cat

Misha quite often spends time investigating the samples I bring back from the field.


La Catastrophe Doesn’t Impress

I can sum Alwyn Scarth’s La Catastrophe up in one sentence: light on the geology, heavy on the salacious details. Sigh. And I’d so been looking forward to it. I wanted to know more about the 1902 eruptions of Mount Pelée. Those events wiped out a city and introduced the infant science of volcanology to a whole new style of eruption. It could have been an outstanding book on the subject.

La Catastrophe by Alwyn Scarth. Image courtesy Amazon.

La Catastrophe by Alwyn Scarth. Image courtesy Amazon.

This book is written by a professor of geology. I wish he’d played to his strengths. Instead, he appears to have tried to produce a journalistic work about a great human tragedy, and merely comes across as stiff, at times almost uncaring. There’s some drama – can’t help but to be, what with an entire city wiped off the face of the earth in less than two minutes. The description is frequently vivid. There were some good people I learned about who tried very hard to alleviate suffering. There were tragedies. You can’t walk away from this book without feeling for them.

But I, at least, walked away with mostly disgust. The volcano is cast as a villain, and plays no other role. The geology behind what happened is glossed. I’d swear there’s more solid geology in the Wikipedia entry for Mount Pelée than there is in this entire book, which for the cover price is disappointing, to say the least.

The first half of the book is an attempt to paint the picture of a thriving civilization complicated by racial, class and economic tensions. It somewhat succeeds, but Saint-Pierre and its people are never painted in particularly vivid colors. Myths are busted with a rather sneering air. I like a good sneer as much as the next person, but sneers about people caught in a chaotic and dangerous sequence of events – not so much.

Geology happens, but is never adequately explained. A dome appears from nowhere. Rivers flood repeatedly for seemingly no reason. We’re given no overview of the geology of the area. There’s just this volcano erupting, and it’s emphasized the poor ignorant folk didn’t know about nuée ardentes back in 1902 – well, by the end of the book, we don’t know about them, either. We know they destroy cities and burn people. That’s about it. We’re not enlightened about how and why they happen. We’re no wiser about the way they behave, and what they consist of. Shit happens, and we never quite understand why. If I’d had no background in geology before reading this book, I couldn’t have filled in any of the many blanks Dr. Scarth leaves. The fact that I do have some knowledge of geology means I was frequently howling at him, especially when he skimped so badly as to become sloppy.

Dr. Scarth also likes tidal waves. He talks about tidal waves all the time. He talks about the tidal wave that destroyed Galveston, Texas in 1900. I’m not sure if his university calls storm surges “tidal waves,” and if they do, fine – but the use of a vague and often inaccurately-applied term to something that has a well-known and well-defined term, not to mention his occasional slipping into calling tsunamis caused by Mount Pelée “tidal waves,” annoyed me. It’s a peeve.

Empathy for the victims is lacking in many places. It’s hard to describe – it’s not like he comes across as clinical and dispassionate. It’s more like rubbernecking at a train wreck. Sometimes, flashes of the immense human suffering and tragedy come through. Sometimes, you’re moved to pity as well as horror. You do get to know and admire a few of the survivors. But for the most part, it’s a litany of burned flesh and horrific injuries. The damage done to bodies and buildings seems to be described with the same relish. And when, on page 217, he says he doesn’t know whether a woman running to get a dying priest water had forgotten to put on shoes as “a result of excessive eagerness, stupidity or shock,” he lost me completely. A good man, a caring man, who had been enveloped in the searing heat of the August 30th nuée ardente and burned inside and out wanted water. A woman who had just been through a second catastrophe, had just watched people annihilated around her, ran off to get it for him without thinking of appropriate footwear. How do you even speculate she may be stupid?

So, while this book does dispel some myths quite well, and while the accounts of survivors and eyewitnesses – interesting, informative and often heartbreaking – make up for some of its deficits, I can’t recommend it. Someone else will have to do the story of la catastrophe justice. Meanwhile, if you want a copy of this one, find it on sale or used.

The Bad Astronomer Does Geology

Oh, yes, my darlings. We will haz him. Little by little, we will suck him in, until he becomes the Bad Astrogeologist. Mwah-ha-ha!

So here he is, with a spectacular photo of Mount Shasta taken from the International Space Station, and yes – it’s delish. I present here the labeled version for volcano-from-space viewing pleasure.

Mount Shasta from the ISS.
Mount Shasta from the ISS. Image taken September 20th, 2012. Image courtesy NASA.

Go. Read the post. Savor the line at the end: “I love volcanoes, and I’m fascinated by them.” This, my darlings, is our opening.*

Hence, I act whilst Phil is still in a volcano-dazzled state, and present a photo of Mount St. Helens from the ISS.

Mount St. Helens from Space
Mount St. Helens from Space. Compare and contrast with Shasta, which did not recently suffer a sector collapse and directed blast. As NASA sez, “The devastating effects of the eruption are clearly visible in this 2002 photo from the International Space Station.” Ayup, that they are. Image courtesy NASA.

And suggestively link to the dramatic story of the events leading up to the big boom that turned her from a Shasta-like cone to what she is today: a shell of her former self.** This is what is known as “setting the hook.” Heh.

As further evidence that our Bad Astronomer could easily become our Bad Astrogeologist, I present to you: bouncing moon rocks. And Mars rocks. And Mars sand.

Yeah. Phil knows geology ain’t limited to Earth science. If it’s rocky, it’s ours – whether it’s an Earth volcano from space, a planet, a moon, a meteor… it’s geology! In space!

Even astronomers can’t help falling in love.

I look forward to more geology-in-space goodness at Phil’s new digs. It’s just too bad I didn’t have the chance to lobby for a name as well as venue change…


*Actually, we’ve had that for a long time – Phil knows geology and astronomy are two great sciences that taste great together. See: meteorites.

**I realized recently that I can sum up the St. Helens eruption very simply and accurately. My best friend mentioned something about how scientific papers should come in understandable language. I told him that’s what I’m here for: to translate scientific prose into everyday words. Such as, “Mountain fall down, go boom.” I always said that as a joke, but it’s actually what happened: sector collapse (volcano fall down) followed by a lateral eruption (go boom). This is why I love geology, people. Okay, one of the million trillion reasons I love geology. Many of even its most complex aspects can be understood without too many mental gymnastics, and explained to a layperson without making them wish to flee. Some of the other sciences have a bit more of a challenge in that department.

New at Rosetta Stones: Volcano Go Asplodey

Our latest installment of The Cataclysm is up at Rosetta Stones for ye. In it, we see the directed blast make a break for freedom. Rawr.

Mount St Helens says Rawr. Image courtesy USGS.

Mount St Helens says Rawr. Image courtesy USGS.

I read soooo many papers for this, people. There were the four in Professional Paper 1250, and believe me when I say one of them made my brain bleed. Then there were all the papers I chased after trying to understand what we’d understood of directed blasts before. Then I kept finding more delicious papers. In fact, there are a few delicious papers I’m going to have to go begging PDFs of. That’s the problem with a project like this: you follow the information down a rabbit hole because, brain bleed or no, it’s intriguing and you want to know more. Why after why piles up. For every answer, more questions. This is science, people. It never ends, and it never gets boring. Well, never for long, anyway.

But I’m having a break from it for a day or two so I can read La Catastrophe, which just came in today. Yum!

“She Had a Heartbeat, Too”

That is the phrase I want all of you “pro-life” people to remember: “She had a heartbeat, too.”

And now she doesn’t, because people like you placed a doomed heartbeat above her own life.

Look at the woman your morals killed.

Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar. Image courtesy Shakesville.

“She had a heartbeat, too.” Remember that. There is a life carrying that fetus you’re so concerned about. There is a human being you’re condemning to death when you tell her that the failing heartbeat of a person that will never be is more important than her own beating heart.

And if you can look me in the eye and tell me that what happened here was right and just, then I will know religion has stripped all traces of humanity and compassion from you.

Kitteh in Winter Sunbeam

Because, you know, I’m infected by parasites. You all get to suffer.

Kitteh in Rare Winter

Kitteh in Rare Winter Sunbeam

We had a rare interlude of sunshine, which my kitteh enjoyed immensely. She’s elderly, and on these days, I tend to go a bit overboard on the pictures, knowing each and every slight variation in her posture will bring back warm memories one day. Of course, when she goes, there’ll be another kitteh to take gigabyte upon gigabyte worth of photos of. It’s a good thing memory is so small and cheap now. Otherwise, I’d have to rent an extra room to store the cat photos in.

Moar kitteh in sunbeams

Moar kitteh in sunbeams

For a while, she decided my Kindle sleeve was the greatest place to sunbathe ever. You can see a tiny bit of it poking out from beneath her chin. She’s looking remarkably good for an ancient old fart – aside from a little balding on her back, she doesn’t look her age. The only sign she gives is in sleeping a little more extensively than she used to, and being slightly stiff when first getting up. People who meet her for the first time don’t realize she’s nearly twenty. Especially not when she energetically tries to rip bits off them.

Kitteh on Mom

Kitteh on Mom

Seattle being Seattle, we lost the sun the next day. She decided to use me for replacement heat. I know this was only because I had a Coke in the freezer, because all the other cold, rainy days lately, she’s wanted nothing to do with me. But since I had something in the freezer that would explode if not removed in a timely manner, she suddenly decided she loved me and wanted to be with me. Cats are evil. This is why I love them. Dogs are nice, but I’ve never liked unquestioning worship. I like selfish gits who are only using me for their own gain.

I also like that little bit of end-of-day light, filtered through clouds, that gives the burgundy curtains such a weird bluish cast, with her green eye in the foreground. That expression on her fuzzy little face is the “Stop wiggling around trying to take pictures and be the perfectly still kitteh warmer I desire, or I will bite your face off” look. I think it’s adorable. But this is why I will never ever own a tiger, people. It’s nice to own a felid that can’t follow through on its threats. And who, occasionally, cuddles up purring loudly enough to be heard in another room and gives me the “I love you conditionally, human who serves me” look.

Even if it is just the toxoplasmosis making me feel all warm and necessary, I still love having a companion who holds me to high standards.

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Geologist Bird

This is another UFD from Eskered, and I think it is my favorite. I teased it a while back, saying “There’s one, especially, that geologists are going to identify with. It’s definitely our kind o’ bird.” RQ hazarded a guess as to what that might be. It was an excellent guess, but rocks are only one aspect to being a geologist.

The other is, of course, beer.

I’ve worried in the past that my distaste for beer means I can’t ever be a Real Geologist™, but Brian Romans and others assured me other forms of edible alcohol can be substituted, so we’re all right. However, this UFD has no problem at all with the most important aspect of being a geologist after the geoscience and the rock hammer. Therefore, I declare it an honorary geologist.


UFD I. Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand. Beer can for size. Image courtesy Eskered.

How do we know this bird is a geologist? We can tell it is even without any telltale outcrops in the area. It is hanging around the beer. It is perfectly alert despite hanging around the beer. It looks as if it’s chock full of intelligence, yet it’s a down-to-earth and approachable intelligence. It’s dressed casually in colors that will hold up in the field. It is standing between you and the sandals, as if to say, “Those would be a bad idea to wear while bashing rocks. I’d consider other shoes. Oh, we’re staying in camp for the rest of the day? Right. Crack me open another beer, then, and I’ll let you have your sandals back.”


UFD II. Cropped to better show the most important bits: the bird and the beer. Image courtesy Eskered.

You’ve never yet failed at an identification, my darlings, but if this bird eludes your best efforts, I suggest we figure out the proper scientific Latin for “small brown geologist bird” and claim it as that.

Hell, if you identify this bird, we’ll rename it anyway.

A Riverman Reads the River

Steve Gough left an enlightening comment on “Learning the Language of Rivers II,” which I don’t want folks to miss. It goes some way towards answering some of those questions the river raised:

From a guy who’s analyzed hundreds of miles of stream channels (I’m getting so old), many of them in human-impacted places like this, here goes: The line of rocks is definitely human-placed; and the angular rocks may have some from nearby rock that hasn’t been water-worked. Also in actively-incising/migrating channels in urban areas we see angular bank stuff eroded into streams. The fines/gravel mix is from either a damming episode (either logjam or anthropogenic), or was mixed and placed by a big yellow machine. Probably the cut-off was machine-made, too, and may be related. The historic aerials will tell you an interesting story I’ll bet. And at one/both ends of that dry channel you will find telltale berms/levees built to keep the channel out of it. Hope I get to look at one of these with you some day!

Me, too! I have to say, that’s like the possibility of jamming with Roger Clyne, or writing with C.S. Friedman. I’d go for some of that!

Mini-waterfall on the Marys River.

Mini-waterfall on the Marys River. Humans did it!

So we’ve an answer from an expert – that’s definitely a human-caused feature. Sweet!

I’m pretty excited by Steve popping by here – I’ve had my eye on one of his stream tables for ages. First thing I’m buying when I finally manage to afford a place with a garage or nice little outbuilding. Can you imagine how much fun it would be to throw neighborhood stream parties? My astronomer neighbor used to have herds of kids over to gaze at the stars through his backyard telescope, and that experience certainly got me enthusiastic about science. A stream table could be just an excellent an introduction. And I have a sneaking suspicion it would captivate a few adults, too. And in an area where stars are all too often blockaded by clouds, but you can see running water almost everywhere you go, it would have the potential to change the way we relate to the rivers around us.

Anyway. That’s one of my dreams. The other is to get out there on the banks with Steve and start speaking River more fluently. Thanks to him, all of us just learned a few more words!

Mystery Flora: Decidedly Odd

So here’s one from early this spring. I thought it was one of the strangest flowers I’d ever seen, which is why I spent at least fifteen minutes on my knees in the grass with it, trying to get adequate photos of it.

Mystery Flora I

Mystery Flora I

I mean, it barely looks like a flower, does it? It’s a short little thing whose blooms peek from behind the leaves, and it’s one of those little plants that take root in expanses of municipal grass and never get paid much attention to, except when people are griping about all the weeds. I’ve always found the weeds to be the most interesting part of a lawn. Endless grass is dead boring. I like the subversive little somethings that break up the monotony.

Mystery Flora II

Mystery Flora II

Often times, they have lovely little flowers. There are times during the year here when lawns that aren’t regularly attacked with weed killer become quilts of colors – white and yellow and purple and pink and blue, some larger, some smaller, all lovely – except to those who have it out for things that aren’t boring old grass.

Mystery Flora III

Mystery Flora III

Later in summer, when there hasn’t been rain for two months and the cost of watering all that thirsty grass is prohibitive, the patchwork of weeds is often the only green in an expanse of dead grass. Ha! Take that, grass! You aren’t adapted for this climate. So there. Pffft.

You also don’t have exquisite little purple flowers and furry purple-green leaves. Double-pffft.

Oh. Oh, dear. This is me insulting grass directly. I think it’s a sign I’ve been working too hard. I should go don some armor and blow on the kitteh’s tummy until I’m refreshed and ready to tackle blogging again without taunting domesticated plants…

Accretionary Wedge #51 Now Available – Geopoetry at Its Best!

Wow-e-wow. When Matt announced geopoetry as #51’s theme, I figured he’d get a few pieces, a little bit of fun stuff and some cute and clever entries. I didn’t expect so many folks in the geoblogosphere to be full-on poets. This is a beautiful collection.

And might I just mention, I love this photo Matt chose to accompany my own entry?

A beautiful vista of Coal Lake and Coal Ridge in the Yukon. (Photo: Matt Herod)

A beautiful vista of Coal Lake and Coal Ridge in the Yukon. (Photo and caption courtesy Matt Herod. Used with permission.)

Love love love!

Our own Karen Locke came in for some considerable praise.

Karen Locke has written a wonderful story in poetic form about a trip to Vaughn Gulch. This poem really brings the feeling of the place out and the experience of being on a geology class trip. A truly remarkable piece and I really love the end and how it captures the feeling that there is always more to see.

Exactly so!

Take some time to go savor these paeans to the good science of rock-breaking. And give Matt some love – he put together something special here.