Thursday, March 23, 2006

A brief interlude

Coming from Colorado as I do, perhaps it is no great surprise that I am utterly fascinated by geology. The Rocky Mountains are a great place to get bitten by the geology bug, and I certainly was! After taking a class in it, I was constantly pointing out where or when this or that particular rock came into being.

I bring this up for two reasons. One is a new book I picked up recently, The Earth: An Intimate History, by a British Paleontologist, Richard Fortey. Fortey looks at a wide range of sights across the globe, and explains them all in terms of Plate Tectonics and the never-ending dance of the continents. He also discusses how human history and civilization is dictated by the geology of the area. How the geology defines what will grow, the dangers of earthquake or volcanos, and impacts the climate. It is a fascinating book, and he has a talent for taking very complex ideas and making them, if not simple, then at least understandable. In a chapter I just read he discusses the discovery that there was once a vast Himalaya like mountain range, the remains of which cover our Appalachians north through Newfoundland and then the strata (rocks) reappear across the Atlantic in Scotland and then into Scandinavia. A giant mountain range torn apart by the spreading Atlantic ocean! Now that is cool. What's even cooler is that the range was created much in the same way as the Himalaya today, by the closing of an ancient Atlantic ocean.

So I read this cool book, talking about closing and opening ocean basins, and then I see this link... Africa's New Ocean Yup, a continent is splitting apart, and a new ocean forming. Its slow, but fast enough that we can take useful measurements, and see the effects of these geological forces in real-time, and not by studiying rocks that are 120 million years old. Fascinating stuff!

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