On The Necessity of Geology

There is an urgent need for talking and teaching geology.

Many people don’t know it. They think geology is rocks, but if they’re not rock aficionados, it’s nothing to do with them. So our K-12 schools inadequately teach the earth sciences (pdf). People don’t learn about geology, and they grow up to move to hazardous areas without being aware of the risks. They grow into politicians who feel it’s smart to sneer at volcano monitoring. They become people who don’t understand what geologists can and cannot do, and imprison scientists who couldn’t predict the unpredictable.

L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. A goverment's office disrupted by the 2009 earthquake. Image and caption courtesy The Wiz83 via Wikimedia Commons.

L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. A goverment’s office disrupted by the 2009 earthquake. Image and caption courtesy The Wiz83 via Wikimedia Commons.

So we need to talk geology, anywhere and everywhere we can.

A while ago at work, we got on the subject of earthquakes. I don’t remember how it happened, but suddenly, I was surrounded by a gaggle of people whilst I pulled up a diagram of the local subduction zone and delivered a mini-lecture on how it works.

You’d think such pontification would drive people away. It didn’t. They were riveted.

Cascadia Seismogenic Zone. Image courtesy R.D. Hyndman, Geological Survey of Canada.

Cascadia Seismogenic Zone. When it finally comes undone, the Pacific Northwest will experience catastrophe on a scale that will make Mount St. Helens look like a sneeze. Image courtesy R.D. Hyndman, Geological Survey of Canada.

Granted, it’s a fascinating subject. But there’s a huge amount of misinformation floating about in the aether. I had to do some gentle correction – and a bit of putting the fear of Cascadia into folks. It reminded me how critical it is to be aware of what’s going to hapen here – and how few people realize it.

One of my coworkers had vaguely heard that there was a dangerous fault that could lead to a big earthquake near Oregon. He didn’t realize Washington was also at risk – and we’re not ready for something so huge. Everyone I was speaking to looked extremely surprised when I told them we will get hit with a subduction zone earthquake on the order of the Tōhoku Earthquake that devastated Japan in March 2011 – and that we are far more vulnerable than Japan was, because we haven’t done what they have to prepare.

A close-up view of the ripped and twisted metal on a Japanese dock that washed ashore at Agate Beach, OR. The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami ripped this 47 ton concrete and metal structure from its moorings and sent it to sea. It floated across the Pacific to land in Oregon over a year later. Author's photo.

A close-up view of the ripped and twisted metal on a Japanese dock that washed ashore at Agate Beach, OR. The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami ripped this 47 ton concrete and metal structure from its moorings and sent it to sea. It floated across the Pacific to land in Oregon over a year later. Author’s photo.

That’s when the fear started. It’s a healthy fear, a realistic one I wish more citizens shared. We don’t need paralyzing fear, but the galvanizing kind, the kind that forces us to get informed and do what it takes to prepare for the inevitable.

We discussed some of the risk we’d face here in our particular corner of the Seattle area. We’re far enough inland and high enough in elevation that we won’t have to worry about being washed away by a tsunami. But some folks were under the impression we’d be safe from earthquake damage here. That’s not true. We won’t suffer the worst of it, unlike the coast, but a look at the shake map shows we’re going to get a shaking strong enough to cause damage; we’ll experience several minutes of severe shaking, and those earthquake waves have a terrible potential to get trapped and amplified by the basin we’re in, making that shaking worse. We are going to get hit: that’s a certainty (pdf). It could be today, tomorrow, months or years, but the Cascadia subduction zone will eventually slip catastrophically. And many of the residents don’t even know it’s there. Most of our emergency services aren’t prepared for an event of that magnitude (pdf). They don’t realize that “The Big One” isn’t going to be a single event, but a series of severe shocks that could go on for years after the 9.0. Ignorance of geology will lead to a greater catastrophe, because we didn’t know enough to prepare our cities against seismic threats.

Looking toward shore on Agate Beach, it becomes obvious we haven't prepared for the 9. Note the shiny new hotel nestled right in the low point of the tsunami hazard zone. This is why we need to talk geology: so that people don't risk their lives and fortunes by building in the path of inevitable destruction. Author photo.

Looking toward shore on Agate Beach, it becomes obvious we haven’t prepared for the 9. Note the shiny new hotel nestled right in the low point of the tsunami hazard zone. This is why we need to talk geology: so that people don’t risk their lives and fortunes by building in the path of inevitable destruction. Author photo.

Ordinary people who are not rock-obsessed have a need for geology. It’s a necessity, not a luxury. Here’s what a basic knowledge of geology can do for a person:

Those of us who know geology need to talk about it, write about it, wax lyrical over it and fight for it. And for those of us who’ve given it short shrift in the past, it’s time to reassess our relationship to the rocks beneath our feet. It’s never been more important than now.

USGS National Seismogenic Hazard Map. Image courtesy USGS.

USGS National Seismogenic Hazard Map. Image courtesy USGS.

 

Previously published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.

Cryptopod: Lavender Eyes (With Bonus UFD!)

Let’s break out of the North American rut, shall we? Here’s a gorgeous moth from Latvia, sent by our own RQ:

Image shows a moth on a brick sidewalk. The wings are red-orange, with black and purple eyespots.

Cryptopod I by RQ

I’m in love with those eyespots. I’m a sucker for the cool colors, blues and greens and purples, and that lavender eyespot fills me with all kinds of squee. It also vaguely reminds me of Drizzt Do’Urden – lavender eyes and all, you see.

Image is a crop of the previous photo, allowing the moth to be seen closely.

Cryptopod I by RQ

RQ says of her wonderful moth, “The colouring’s pretty fantastic, but it’s a common one around here. I’ve come to realize that, while they come in a different range from tropical nature, the colouring of northern hemisphere birds and insects is by no means boring or monotonous (see also: the [redacted], appended).”

Yep, RQ and I know what this UFD is already, but I figured I’d throw you an extra challenge, because why not?

Image shows a pinkish-brown bird with a dark stripe near its short beak, zebra-stripes on the wings, and dark flight feathers with a white throat and rump.

UFD I by RQ

There you are, my darlings. Two lovely creatures for your identification pleasure.

Plenty of room on this blog for more, you know, and I love it when we go worldwide. Got unidentified biological entities? Send ‘em to me! dhunterauthor at gmail will do.

Oh, Dear, the Rifts Aren’t Yet Deep Enough

Sigh. Yet another cycle of asshole atheists throwing feces at those of us who care about doing more than merely shitting on religion. We’ve got the so-called Amazing Atheist stirring up the masses to send ridiculous missives saying, in effect, Atheism Is All So Shut Up and Stop Dividing the Community By Requiring Basic Human Decency!!! And we’ve got Jaclyn Glenn putting up Very Concerned Comments and Videos about how divided we fall and feminists are icky and feminists are sooo divisive… my gosh, color me convinced. Mm-hmmm.

Or, you know. Not.

Image shows a black and white kitten lying in bottom half of an egg carton. Other half is spikey. caption says, Other side wazn't so comferbul."I don’t write about this stuff all that often, partly because I give myself a headache rolling my eyes and then wander off to do something more interesting, like scrub the cat’s water dish, but mostly because other people on this side of the Deep Rift™ do a bonza job of putting this drivel in perspective. A small selection:

Our own Martin Wagner on You NEED to stop doing things to divide the community:

Funny, it’s never the people who are actually making the “community” an uncomfortable and unwelcoming place for women and other marginalized groups who are being “divisive.” It’s never the misogynists or harassers. It’s never the prominent figures who use their celebrity to justify inappropriate behavior, nor the ones who shield them because they don’t want to lose a valuable, popular public speaker.

No, the “divisive” ones are always those who say “Let’s be better than this.”

Funny how that works, innit? I think I’ll stick with the divisive ones, in that case. I like the idea of being better, thank ye ever so much.

Stephanie Zvan assures people like Jaclyn Glenn, who likes to end streams of strawmanning and insults with cries that we all want the same thing, that we don’t, in fact, want the same thing:

No, we don’t want the same thing. I don’t want what you want.

    • I don’t want my arguments to rely on dressing my opponents’ arguments up in a cheap wig and a sneer because I can’t call them ridiculous when they stand on their own.

[snip]

    • I don’t want to benefit from the work of generations while telling the world that I’m not a part of what they’ve done.
    • I don’t want to feel so helpless I throw my hands up at YouTube or Twitter harassment because that’s just the way the internet is.
    • I don’t want to have to make myself look brave by suggesting that people who have stood fast in the face of years of harassment are “pussies”.
    • I don’t want anyone ever to see me conflate caring that people are treated well with weakness.
    • I don’t want to be held up as a “good one” by people who are pretty awful themselves.

[snip]

  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me argue to someone that our mere shared identity is a good way of evaluating how well I work in their interest.

And speaking of lists, Alex Gabriel compiled a doozy, focused this time on how the atheism “movement” treats women, and ends thusly:

When I remind myself and others that the people who carry out the above are supposed to be my allies, I find myself much less worried that I argue with them more than with believers. I’d be embarrassed if I didn’t: if I weren’t so divisive, and there were no rifts between us, I’d be fighting for the same new world they are, and that thought terrifies me. With friends like these, who needs religion?

If colleagues and I are creating the divisions Glenn describes, I’m proud of it, because unlike her I do find them necessary. We all want the same, she says, but I’m less sure: I want a secular movement as accessible to women as men, that challenges religious sexism with authority and isn’t the preserve of powerful men and misogynists. If building one requires rifts today, then like Jen McCreight, I want deep rifts.

I’m not sorry atheists are divided. I’m sorry we need to be.

Which sums up the situation nicely.

Listen: the sides in this rift are not equal. This is brought home to me with renewed force whenever those who want us to shut up start howling about how divisive we are whilst enthusiastically causing strife and pain. I watch their antics and reach for the dynamite, because I’d rather blast through bedrock and split the damned planet than heal any rift between myself and those folks.

Image is a sepia print of a woman in early 1900s attire gazing into the Grand Canyon. Caption reads, "I think we're gonna need a bigger rift..."

Artist’s conception of the Deep Rifts saga wot I made. Feel free to filch. The original image is from here.

They can keep the sexual assaulters, rapists, Randroids, racists, bigots, sexists, and various other undesirables on their side, please. I’ll hang out over here with the social justice warriors and assorted folk with well-developed consciences, thanks. And while I’m sure we’ll cross paths and walk a few steps in the same direction on a few issues, I don’t think I need to swallow my revulsion and lay down my interest in various human causes – such as feminism – in order to help them with… whatever it is they think they’re doing.

As for people like Jaclyn, who believes she doesn’t need feminism despite having to beg other women to make videos so she won’t be left alone and vulnerable in a sea of sexism and people believing she only succeeds because of her looks… well, love, we’ll be here when you realize that, hey, that’s just what those nasty feminists have been working to fix all this time. We’ll be here when you slip up and demand a little too much autonomy and respect from the assholes currently celebrating you because you’re such a cool girl. Feel free to join us when you realize that there’s still a long way to go before there’s anything like equality for women and minorities in this movement, much less this world.

It’s better over here.

Stachys Standing Proud

One of these days, I’ll get round to making a little e-book of the flowers ya’ll have identified, so I can look it up and say, definitively, “That’s the flower my readers identified as X” rather than, “Oh, hey, there’s one of the flowers my readers told me the name of, I think, only I can’t remember it off the top of my head, but they know what it is I swear!” Either that, or I will have to become fabulously rich so that I can take a gaggle of you with me all over the world, and have you identify things, and then we’ll post the pictures and idents via satellite phone or something, real-time. We could make up special t-shirts and everything. And we would also support various social-justice causes with our treks, and offset our carbon footprints, and all sorts of responsible things. All while subverting creationist drivel with fun facts. Sound good? Let’s do it! Now I just have to figure out how to become rich…

While I’m working on that, have some fun gazing upon one of the flowers you’ve successfully identified in the past: Stachys cooleyae, or Cooley’s hedge nettle.

Image shows a stem of purple-and-white mottled flowers that look like little trumpets, or possibly roaring lions..

Stachys cooleyae, which is hard to learn how to spell, but quite lovely.

This one was growing happily along the trail between Waikiki Beach and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. The whole place is a riot of vegetation filled with things like snakes and spiders and so-forth, but the beauty of the Pacific Northwest is, very few of those things are dangerously poisonous or even inclined to bother folks, so you can enjoy the flowers without worrying that something deadly is about to sneak out and bite you. Having come from a place where a good number of the creepy-crawlies were either lethal or would give you a very painful time, it’s refreshing.

Image is a crop of the previous, showing a few of the flowers, and the fine white hair that covers the stem and leaves.

A closer view. Look at all those darling little hairs!

See? Beautiful. And while it pays to mind your surroundings and know that even in a place where 98% of everything won’t attempt to annihilate you, there’s always the possibility something untoward will happen, nearly perfectly safe. Unless you have a phobia, in which case, until you’ve gone through the full course of therapy and gained the upper hand, it’s probably best not to run about a place that has such an abundance of potentially terrifying living things. Should I become fabulously rich and famous, such therapy will be offered free to those who wish to go geotrekking with me but find things like sudden spiders traumatic.

I wish I had a picture of the snake that kept popping out to see if we’d gone yet. I’m not sure what was in the spot that it wanted so badly – perhaps it was its favorite spot for catching a few rays – but the poor thing would go under its bush, then nip out after a minute, see us, and zip back again. Several times, this happened, in the few minutes we were at the summit of one of the headlands admiring the view. I almost never see snakes doing that. This one was a fair-sized brown garter snake with a pretty red stripe. I like garter snakes – they’re gentle little things, and they keep pests down, and they’re fun to watch. We tried to respect it by getting out of its territory in a reasonable amount of time.

That’s another thing I hope to do, riches and fame or not: help people develop a better relationship with things that creep and crawl. Suppose I’d best work on getting more photos of them, then, without pestering them overmuch…

“A Simple Answer”

What Avi said about the “Why don’t X produce Y” questions that clueless privileged people ask about the horribly disadvantaged. This is in context of Israel’s current enthusiastic killing of Palestinians, but with minor modifications, it applies to just about every sort of people who have a hard time producing the kinds of artists and intellectuals and so forth that we so admire:

I remember Dawkins and other atheists asking question once. Why does Israel produce so many people who are smart and productive while Palestinians do not.

And to that I have a simple answer.

There are no mathematics lessons in a fox hole.

Why is it that people who live in societies and bits of societies where they are largely (or completely) not forced to divert all of their physical and intellectual resources to mere survival so surprised that people not similarly advantaged can’t produce what the advantaged can produce? It’s like some jackass growing a garden in rich, rockless loam marveling that their neighbor can’t grow prize-winning zucchini on a cracked concrete slab.

That’s just the sad coda to a tragic post about a horrific situation. Read the whole thing. And then consider a donation to Médecins Sans Frontières. Facing inhumanity with humanity seems the only thing to do…

Kelly, MSF anesthetist, in the intensive care unit of the burns service of Shifa hospital where two brothers, 8 and 4 years old, are hospitalized after being severely burned when a missile fell on their house. Image/caption credit: Samantha Maurin/MSF

Kelly, MSF anesthetist, in the intensive care unit of the burns service of Shifa hospital where two brothers, 8 and 4 years old, are hospitalized after being severely burned when a missile fell on their house. Image/caption credit: Samantha Maurin/MSF

And yes, I know the United States not only supports Israel so that it can bomb children on beaches, but does quite a lot of bombing children on its own. And no, I don’t approve when we do it, either.

New at Rosetta Stones: Moar Illinois Geology!

Clearing the backlog of reader-submitted awesomeness continues apace with some lovely shots of Jackson Falls, taken by our own Heliconia, who would’ve also gotten us images of Garden of the Gods if her camera battery hadn’t given her a fine fuck-you just then. Camera batteries are assholes that way. And you can never find the size you need when you’re traveling. Or, if you do, you end up paying a fortune – just ask Cujo about that sometime, if you want to hear a St. Bernard howl. Still. Despite setbacks, Heliconia didn’t forget us, and got us some lovely images of what the Pounds Standstone gets up to when it isn’t forming ginormous shrooms. Do go enjoy!

I’ll probably be in later today with more things, unless cleaning and organizing the house into a proper workspace becomes a time-swallowing uber-Thing, in which case, you may not hear anything substantial from me again until at least Thursday. Good thing there’s a maclargehuge backlog of reader submissions including many intriguing cryptopods, some bonza fungi, botany from around the world, and beautiful mystery flora to keep us all occupied, then, eh?

Mystery Flora: Bitey McBiterson

The trouble with trees (and every other living thing) is that some of them have had to evolve defenses. Some of them are obvious about it, practically shrieking, “I’ll cut/puncture/poison/stickify you! STAY AWAY FROM MEEEE!!!!” Some are subtle and devious jerks, drawing you in by seeming all tame and pretty, then giving you a stealthy stab.

Such is this beauty, which attacked our own RowanVT, and whom she has dubbed Bitey McBiterson, which is the best name for a bush ever:

Image shows a verdant green bush with yellow flowers. It's very fluffy.

Bitey McBiterson I

You’ll have to ask RowanVT where this was. All I know is that it was June, and she was camping…. somewhere. Somewhere that had many interesting and beautiful things, which she sent to us, and one evil bushy tree, which was actually quite pretty.

Bitey McBiterson II

Bitey McBiterson II

Oh, dear, a philosophical mood has suddenly struck… but this is always how I’ve found evil to be most interesting. A lot of our stories and entertainment make evil ugly. Hairy, lumpy, slavering monsters; a devil with cloven hooves and misshapen features; wicked witches with warts. And yet, evil is often at its most compelling and most disturbing when it’s beautiful.

Another image of a flower, this one showing a red-orange streak to some of the petals.

Bitey McBiterson III

One of the most important lessons I ever learned was that evil doesn’t always come in bad packaging. It’s still hard sometimes to think of anything attractive – whether that’s a person, plant, or other entity – as being bad or dangerous. And that’s as true for non-physical qualities as it is for physical beauty.

Image shows the leaves, which are thick, green, and look somewhat like oak.

Bitey McBiterson IV

But I’m learning, as time goes on, to look at the total package, rather than just the dazzling bits. And I’ve learnt that there’s a lot more to beauty than the wrapper.

I’ve also learnt that plants trying to defend themselves aren’t, in fact, evil – although they sometimes seem so to those of us who are nursing wounds from things like Bitey.

Image shows the fruit, which is a little yellow lump all covered in tawny fuzz. It looks perfectly harmless.

Bitey McBiterson V

Not that it isn’t fun to jokingly attribute human qualities, such as a capacity for deception, to said plants.

Here endeth the philosophy. Here is RowanVT’s description of her encounter, and an invitation to identify this nippy little tree:

The tree with the yellow flowers, which I’m sure is non-native, bit the hell out of me when I gently touched its fruit. Those hairs are barbed and come off reeeeeal easy. >_< It is not a nice tree/bush/thing. Hopefully someday I’ll figure out what Bitey McBiterson is.

Hopefully, someday is today.

Sea Stack Pining for the Sea

One of the first roadside zomg-look-at-the-scenery pullouts at the northern end of Cape Disappointment State Park happens to overlook a wonderful example of what happens when sediment fills in the sea round a sea stack. Can you spot it?

Image is looking out to sea. In the foreground are trees, some snags, and a knob of rock. Beyond it is a flat area covered with vegetation and a strip of sandy beach beyond.

Lonely Sea Stack is Lonely

This is the result when a nice, hard stack of basalt (in this case the Eocene Crescent Formation basalt) ends up in a sea of sediment instead of a sea of saltwater. Poor thing is now stuck inland. The only time it’ll be a stack again is either during a tsunami or if sea level rises.

Image shows a closer view of the top of the former sea stack, which has grown a mantle of moss, grass, and possibly a tree.

Let’s Call it Broody.

There’s probably some technical term for these things. I thought it was “knocker,” but that seems to only refer to knobs of rock within a melange. And my brief attempt to wrestle an answer out of Google was non-successful. Who here knows what they’re technically called?

If there is no technical term, I call dibs on calling them “broodies,” just in case that catches on.

Hovergull

A bizarre sight greeted our eyes at Seal Rock State Recreation Site: a nearly-motionless seagull. You scoff, I know, and say it’s not unusual for birds to hang about doing not much of anything, and that is true. However: it’s somewhat rare for them to hang about doing not much of anything in mid-air. This one looked a bit like someone had glued a seagull in a flight pose to a clear stick and was holding it up.

This little bugger went nowhere fast. It hovered happily while other seagulls (including the fledgeling mentioned, but not visible, in the video) zipped and zoomed all round it. There’s probably some explanation for its behavior that’s not limited to “Because, that’s why.” Any seabird specialists in the house?

Image shows one smaller seagull hovering while a larger one flies past

Hovergull