New at Rosetta Stones: On This Day in Mount St. Helens History…

It’s been 35 years since Mount St. Helens woke up. Today’s the day when the earthquake swarm started that let us know the volcano may be in for a rude awakening. Would now be a good time to revisit our Mount St. Helens series? Why, yes, yes it would!

Image shows a snow-covered Mount St. Helens, showing the dome inside the huge crater left from the 1980 eruptions.

Mount St. Helens as she is now. I can’t wait for her next dome-building episode!

Happy Most Special Pi Day of the Century! Have Some Geeky Art

Ohai, it’s Pi Day! This is the delicious day where we can all have a slice of pie and say it’s for the math. Yum! This is the most special Pi Day of the 21st century, because it is 3/14/15, and so perhaps we should celebrate with an extra slice of pie since we’ve got the first 5 digits of Pi right there in the date. And, of course, is should be a la mode.

This year, in addition to pie, let’s celebrate with some wonderful geeky art, shall we?

[Read more…]

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education VIII: Two Salty Tales of Ocean Origins

My conservative Christian former best friend used to say that too much prayer rots the brain. Earth Science 4th Edition provides clear evidence of this right from the blurb at the start of the “Oceans and Seas” chapter. They begin talking about desalination by saying wow, there’s more people on Earth than ever! Yay! “God didn’t place a limit on how many people should inhabit the earth.” [Read more…]

New at Rosetta Stones: Women of the Geoblogosphere

Happy International Women’s Day, everybody! Feel like celebrating with women in the geosciences? Sure you do! The full list is right here. Have I missed anyone? Tell me about them in the comments!

Throughout the week, we’ve been sampling the various blogs. You can find all of them right here:

Maps, Science Education, and Geology in Space

Zombies! Plus Kittehs, Water, and Plants!

Extinctions! Glaciation! Movies! Books from Space!

People-Snatching Pterosaurs! Fossils! Argo Floats! Plus #SciArt!

Careers! Volcanoes! Birds! Earthquakes! Centaurs! and Geysers!

 

hi-five

Marjorie Sweeting: “The Basis for a World Model of Karst”

One of the best karst geologists in the world was technically a geographer. That’s the thing with physical geography: women were allowed to do it, and some of them made it just as geological as they liked. Dr. Marjorie Sweeting (1920-1994) certainly loved doing geology. Let’s call her what she was: geographer, geomorphologist, and distinguished Cambridge Fellow. The quality of her life’s work, plus my affection for alliteration, leads me to crown her the queen of karst.

Marjorie Sweeting. Detail of image in obituary by H.A. Viles.

Marjorie Sweeting. Detail of image in obituary by H.A. Viles.

I’ve fallen a bit in love with all of the women in geology I’ve researched and written about so far, but Marjorie was the first who got me copiously salivating. You see, I’m a bit of a karst addict. I especially love the karst landscapes of China. So finding out that this remarkable woman led the first set of British geomorphologists to China, and was the first western geologist to study those astounding landscapes, sent me into an agony of ecstasy. And I discovered a woman every bit as remarkable as the landforms she studied. [Read more…]

Test Your Mad Glacial-Valley Spotting Skillz, with Bonus Mount Rainier

B and I made it up to Lord Hill at the end of January. It was a mostly-clear day, and we found the viewpoint I’d been wanting. Huzzah! Here I am standing upon it in triumph, gazing toward the Cascades:

Image shows me standing to the left, looking over a valley filled with evergreen and leafless trees, with the Cascades in a line on the horizon.

Moi at Lord Hill.

There are two kinda-hard to see things here, but I’ll bet you can find them. There’s the moon, and there’s a classic u-shaped glacial valley. I’ll give you some time to look round, and then show you it tomorrow! There will even be an airplane for scale! [Read more…]

Mary Horner Lyell: “A Monument of Patience”

You never hear of the other Lyell. Sir Charles, you know quite well: he set the infant science of geology firmly on its feet and inspired Charles Darwin. But there’s another Lyell who was a geologist, and without her, Charles Lyell would have found his work far more difficult, if not impossible. When he married Mary Horner, he pledged himself to a lifelong scientific partner.

Portrait of Lady Lyell, after a crayon drawing by George Richmond, R.A.

Portrait of Lady Lyell, after a crayon drawing by George Richmond, R.A. Image from the Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, bart. Vol II.

Why don’t we know her?

Charles provided some insight when speaking of mathematician Mary Somerville. If she’d married a fellow mathematician, he mused, “we should never have heard of her work. She would have merged it in her husband’s, and passed it off as his.” It’s possible he had his own Mary in mind when he said that.

Mary Horner Lyell (1808-1873) was surrounded by geology from the beginning of her life. Her father, Professor Leonard Horner, taught geology in England and Germany, and became a member of the Geological Society. He hired tutors for his sons and daughters, ensuring all of his children had an excellent education. That education allowed Mary to become a conchologist and her younger sister, Katherine, to pursue a career as a botanist. Both of them were well-respected and accomplished in their fields. Both of them also married a Lyell: Katherine married Charles’s younger brother, Henry.

Marrying Charles didn’t confine Mary to the domestic life of a housewife: far from it. She traveled the world with her husband as his partner in geology. She did the packing: their clothes, his geologic equipment and specimens. While Charles investigated, she sketched and painted the outcrops, geologic structures, and cross-sections they discovered. When circumstances prevented her from going out into the field with him, Charles didn’t neglect her. He created detailed journals of his investigations for her, and wrote affectionate letters beginning, “My dearest Mary…”

Mary wasn’t just an asset in the field. She helped him with research and cataloged the rocks, minerals and fossils they collected. She acted as his scribe and interpreter: her fluency in French and German allowed her to translate letters from European geologists, and she learned Spanish and Swedish as well. Charles’s eyesight became less up to the task of correspondence, she ensured he stayed current and connected.

When Darwin and Mr. Lyell discussed evolution, Mary was an active part of the conversation. When Darwin needed barnacles, she supplied them (“I am much obliged for the Barnacles,” he wrote to her, and then launched into a discussion of the glacial geology of the Scottish glens. In a letter a few years previously, he had described Mary as “a monument of patience” for putting up with his and Sir Charles’s “unsophisticated geologytalk – it seems that by the time she began slipping him barnacles, he’d figured out she actually enjoyed this geology stuff).

Mary also carried on a lively correspondence with another geological wife: she and Elizabeth Agassiz discussed the glacial geology of South America in their letters back and forth.

Her husband was fully supportive of women who wanted to participate in science. He insisted that women be allowed to attend his lectures. Mary didn’t limit herself to just his talks: she attended special lectures at the London Geological Society with keen interest.

Though her contemporaries and later historians too often overlooked her, it was clear she understood geology thoroughly. And she was certainly a scientist in her own right. In 1854, she collected and studied land snails in the Canary Islands, her own version of Darwin’s finches. In another age, her work may not have been so merged with and overshadowed by her husband’s. She was a geologist to the core. If Charles Lyell was one of geology’s fathers, Mary Horner Lyell was certainly one of its mothers, an extraordinary and dedicated woman we need to remember.

Mary Lyell later in life. Image courtesy Darwin and Gender.

Mary Lyell later in life. Image via Darwin and Gender.

Previous posts in this series:

Pioneering Women in the Geosciences: Introduction.

Zonia Baber: “The Public May Be Brought to Understand the Importance of Geography.”

 

References:

Ashcraft, Donna Musialowski (1998): Women’s Work: A Survey of Scholarship by and About Women. Binghampton, NY: The Hawthorn Press.

Hardman, Phillippa: “Talking to Naturalists.” Darwin and Gender: the Blog. Last accessed 4-25-2013.

Hestmark, Geir (2011): “The meaning of ’metamorphic’ – Charles & Mary Lyell in Norway, 1837.” Norwegian Journal of Geology, Vol 91, pp. 247-275.

Ogilive, Marilyn B. (1986): Women in Science: Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century. Boston, Massachussets: MIT.

Somerville, Mary (2001): Queen of Science. Edinburgh: Canongate Books Ltd.

 

(Originally published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.)

God’s Old Earth Curriculum Chapter 2: In Which We Get Our Earth Systems On

I’m seeing a pattern: the first paragraph of each of Greg’s chapters is all about establishing the Christian cred. Like so:

Our planet is perfectly designed by God to function using the physical laws that He set in place. Through these laws, the earth is constantly being modified. These laws can be seen operating in several key systems that He designed.

Image is a detail of God pointing from the Sistine Chapel. Caption says, "Look at that earth! I totally made that."

From there, God goes away, and science takes over. [Read more…]