Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Friday, 16 October 2009
As I’ve mentioned before, I needed a book on Grand Canyon that went some way to answering the myriad of questions I needed answering when I returned home to ‘Blighty’. Wayne Ranney’s book, ‘Carving Grand Canyon’ answered my prayers by laying out all the theories and mysteries surrounding the canyon and it’s history in a highly enjoyable and understandable way. It’s a book that will work for anyone with a modicum of interest in the subject.
Such was the impact of this book on me personally, it caused me to look beyond Grand Canyon and outwards to the Colorado Plateau as a whole. The more you look around Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and the staggering geological wonders to be found there, the more fascinating the American south-west becomes.
So, right on cue, Wayne in collaboration with his old college lecturer, Ron Blakey, last year published a truly stunning book entitled ‘Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau’.
Viewers of this blog will hopefully have noticed the little slideshow (in the right hand column) of Ron’s palaeogeograhical maps of the world. These have been available on his own web site for some time, but this book at last brings his ground breaking maps to a wider audience.
Above: An example of one of Ron Blakey's palaeogeographicalmaps to be found on his web site (See link on right hand column of this blog!)
Palaeogeographical maps are strangely absent from many geology books these days and I find this odd. For me and I’m sure many others, it is difficult to visualise when looking at a geological formation, just what the region looked like at the time of deposition. Throw plate tectonics into the mix and the job becomes even harder. ‘Ancient Landscapes’ is an absolute triumph in this respect.
The book is split into the essential periods starting with the early Proterozoic (1,750 million years ago) through to the Cenozoic (65 million years ago) and to the present, with each chapter readable on its own. Each period includes varying numbers of truly stunning maps that along with Wayne’s typically understandable text really bring it all to life. As Ron himself explains, the maps have to involve a degree of ‘artistic licence’. Obviously, no one can know for sure what the area really looked like at these points in time, but the maps are based on thorough and accepted research that Ron Blakey has seemingly spent his life drawing together. It is fascinating to read that he created the stunning images from numerous satellite images of modern comparable landforms that he ‘cut and pasted’ together on his computer!
The book finishes with a summary of the historical geology of Grand Canyon and the Grand Staircase followed by a chapter on ‘Where to see the rocks’, covering such locations as Sedona, Petrified Forest, Zuni Cliffs, Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, Arches National Park and many, many more. I've learnt so much already, such as the effect of repeated transgressions and regressions has on the pattern of strata. So far, I feel I've barely scratched the surface of what this publication contains so it's certainly a book that I will repeatedly return to over the months and years.
In short, a quite magnificent book and possibly the best £25 I have spent in a long while!
As well as buying the book, it is also worth taking a wander over to ‘You Tube’ and having a look at a series of films of Ron and Wayne’s joint lecture at the Grand Canyon Field Institute last year all about the book, the making of the maps and the Colorado Plateau story . Click Here.
Until next time!
Monday, 21 September 2009
A brief thumbing through 'Fossils of the World' easily identified these albeit slightly ropey specimens. They are in fact a fossil called Gryphaea arcuata, a mollusc from the Jurassic, i.e. 180 - 135 Ma. According to the natural history museum web site, this is a fairly common fossil but is particularly common to Suffolk, Gloucestershire and the Scunthorpe area, where the Lower Jurassic rocks were mined for their iron ore. Quite why so many of these fossils are lying in amongst other random pebbles and chunks of granite I've no idea. Maybe the dressing supplied to the company to decorate the borders is just a mix of waste rocks of about 2 -3 cm just thrown together.
Anyway, this little chap consists of two pieces, being what I believe is called a 'bi-valve' - a curved left valve and a flat, lid-like right valve. I have only managed to find one example of the latter, seen at front left of the photo. The curved part of this little creature sat in the soft sediment with the lid above the surface. They are commonly called 'Devils Toenails' apparently, presumably because of their resemblance (with a bit of imagination) to toenails? Well, sort of . . .
It seems amazing to me that even in these fairly poor quality specimens, there are distinct growth bands to be seen, which is remarkable for something up to 180 million years old and have most recently been churned up in sacks! But this is what is amazing. Looking at something that stems from something that lived millions of years ago, is pretty mind blowing. Well, mind blowing to me at least. I'm not sure the rest of my family quite understand the fascination - yet!
So, there you go - my first fossil find! A bit of a cheat really, as they were rather handed to me on a plate! What I need next , is a genuine 'first', out in the field extracting a nice trilobite or ammonite from its rocky matrix. Proper palaeontology?
All in good time eh?
Before I go, I had a message posted up (see here) in response to my June post on the 'Geology of Charnwood'. The postee highlighted an innocent error on my part which I've corrected and highlighted my lack of acknowledgement of the source of my information. While I recognise that paraphrasing other peoples work and passing it off as ones own constitutes plagiarism in academic work, perhaps one should bear in mind what 'Holey Schist' actually is - a humble blog! A serious piece of academic work it ain't! I have and always will acknowledge my sources of text and photos, when I deem it sensible, but please remember folks, these are just the casual ramblings of a wannabee geologist - no more, no less!
Cheers for now!
Monday, 14 September 2009
Thursday, 3 September 2009
This all leads very nicely onto the other book I mentioned earlier, 'The Earth After Us' by Jan Zalasiewicz, which looks at Earth 100 million years from now, long after the human being has become extinct. What evidence will there be for the presence of homo sapiens? How will we be judged? Intriguing stuff and more on that next time!
Thursday, 6 August 2009
Brace yourself! It's result day! Nine months of sweat and mental toil come down to this. The suspense has been killing me for the last couple of months, so without further ado, my result is . . . . .
So on that triumphant note I will leave you! Rest assured, lots of bubbly stuff will be consumed in due course!
Sunday, 19 July 2009
Well, as promised, a lead has been puchased from a proper camera shop that stocks proper replacements as opposed to 'universal leads that cost twice the price from a retailer with a name that reminds one of 'Indian food' if you get my drift!?!
So, without any further ado, here are the pics from our recent trip to the delightful Derbyshire spa town of Matlock Bath. . . .
The cable car ride was very reasonably priced and included trips to view two caverns, so very good value! The cars slowed to a halt almost half way up allowing some good photo opportunities:-
Cheers for now!
Sunday, 5 July 2009
While Sunnybanks position on a steep hill does make parking problematic, Mark paintakingly ensured that there were spaces available for all his guests which was great. To be honest, Sunnybank B & B is MY kind of place! I've never been a fan of pretentious 'poncey' hotels with their gyms, saunas and health spas and their superfluous trouser presses! I always feel so much more able to relax in a good quality, straight forward B & B like this one. So Sunnybank B & B comes highly recommended from both me and Ruth and we'll definitely return - soon and with others!
Well folks, I'll leave it at that for now. I will update this post when I've managed to replace my lead and upload the photos. I will then proceed to enlighten you on the geology of the area too with photos of High Tor - a stunning lump of limestone that overlooks the town!
P.S. Can't go this week without mentioning the fact that a certain Wayne Ranney and Helen were married on 21st June overlooking his beloved Grand Canyon! Many congratulations guys and here's to many years of health and happiness for you both!
Wednesday, 1 July 2009
A cast of the 'Charnia', the first accepted complex Precambrian organism. (From Wikipedia)
It is quite staggering to think that right on my own (new) doorstep are rocks that contain evidence of the earliest known multicellular life form on earth! The Charnia is one of the organisms found to have been present in the Ediacaran Period of the Neoproterzoic era which was the last era of the Pre-cambrian at 575Ma to 545Ma.
Strangely, the Ediacaran Period gave rise to a distinct form of life that only lasted in this relatively short timespan, before what became known as the 'Cambrian explosion. Few of the characteristics of the Charnian biota were carried forward into the Cambrian explosion of lifeforms, so alas they were a short lived phenomenon! Why they disappeared so abruptly hasn't fully been explained, but some believe it my have been due to the emergence of competition from other lifeforms, the emergence of predators or simply a change in the environment.
Prior to the discovery of the Charnia in 1957, it was believed that no life forms existed prior to the Cambrian. The humble fossil shown above brought about a hasty rethink! What is particularly interesting about the fossils of this period is that they are all soft bodied. Such creatures generally don't fossilise, so there must have been something about the global conditions of this time that allowed such delicate creatures to be preserved in such numbers.
The Leicestershire City Council Museums and Galleries website suggests this interpretation of what the Charnia may have looked like all those years ago:-
How the Charnia may have looked 575 Ma to 545 Ma.
This weekend sees Ruth and I getting away for a couple of days to Matlock Bath in Derbyshire, home of The Heights of Abraham, a scary cable car ride and some interesting caverns. I'll take the camera and post up a few photos next week if you're lucky!
Until then, take care!
Friday, 12 June 2009
Pre-cambrian rock exposure at Bradgate Park, Leicestershire.
(Photo: from www.naturalengland.co.uk)
There are indeed rocks of pre-cambrian age in the Charnwood Forest area and they are volcanic in origin. Back in the early Palaeozoic, this area formed part of the southern fringe of a continent of which Scandinavia and northern Scotland also formed a part. Volcanic eruptions occurred over a prolonged period from a major crater that is now located near to High Sharpley. Other smaller vents surrounding the main volcano also contributed. Material ejected from the volcano was deposited around the crater for several kilometres with a high proportion carried in the wind in a southerly direction.
There was a great amount of variation in the size of volcanic material produced, which lead to the formation of the agglomerates, tuffs and ashes evident in the exposures seen at Beacon Hill. (See map).
As the period of vulcanism subsided, grading and sedimentation occurred on the sides of the volcano, leading to large areas of conglomerates, overlain by volcanic mudstones. This series of rocks is called 'The Brand Series' and are particularly evident in the western parts of the region as outcrops such as the 'Hanging Stones' beneath Beacon Hill, Billa Barra and Groby.
After the period of volcanic activity, the mid Palaeozoic period saw uplift and folding and the creation of a huge anticline. The numerous faults that were thus created allowed igneous intrusions to form through them which are now seen as the syenite outcrops at Groby, the 'Altar Stones' at Markfield and Cliffe Hill.
Apparently, the dome at Charnwood would have been several thousand feet higher than it now is while its base would have been over a thousand feet lower than its present elevation due to the continuous erosion, stripping rocks from the exposed surfaces, filling the surrounding valleys with the eroded material.
Following this we entered the carboniferous period with the surrounding valleys being swamps and shallow marine environments. The Triassic period saw Charnwood buried beneath dry desert clay-sands ultimately forming marls. The impermeable nature of marls thus allowed shallow lakes to form. The Cenozoic saw further erosion in the tropical environment and the following glacial periods of the Pleistocene added its own process of 'freeze-thaw' erosion and examples of Charnwood rocks have been found in places some considerable distance from the area due to glacial transportation.
So there you go! An rather brief geological history of Charnwood! That's what I have deduced from a bit of reading and may be somewhat abbreviated and maybe even wrong!?! If there is a 'proper geologist looking in who has spotted any alarming errors, please feel free to correct me! As I have said before in a previous blog, we learn just as much by being told we've got it wrong, as we do when we are being patted on the back! What I need to do now of course, is get out there, see all these outcrops for myself and take some photos! When I do I'll update this blog and post them up!
There has also been an interesting development within the younger members of the family recently! My 16 year old daughter Anna, while revising for her GCSE Geography exam, has been bombarding me with questions about geology and rocks recently and has developed a particular fondness for saying 'slatey cleavage' as often as possible! AND even Aimee who is 11, has been asking me what a glacier is and how it forms! So perhaps they are both gradually beginning to realise that maybe geology AND their step-father aren't quite as boring as they once thought? There's nothing quite like getting outside and 'into the geology' to make it all come alive!
One final thing to note is that the pre-cambrian rocks of Charnwood include within them, fossils of some of the earliest examples of multi-cellular life forms on earth! More on this next time!
Cheers for now!
Monday, 1 June 2009
What a strange feeling it is! With the Open University course now all wrapped up, I'm left with a slightly empty feeling! No assignment to aim for? No deadline to meet? Weird!?!
Having got over that realisation now, I find I am able to go ahead and read a book without having to necessarily write a 500 word appraisal of it, (mind you, the type of books I read, I tend to do that in my head anyway!) So at least now I am able to get stuck into my two 'birthday books'. My mum and dad gave me some money for my birthday, so I purchased 2 geology books would you believe?
Firstly, I got a book called "The Earth After Us", by Jan Zalasiewicz. In this book, the author imagines what a population of alien visitors to Earth would make of our planet when they arrive 100 million years from now, long after the human being has gone the same way as the Dodo. What have we humans left behind in the fossil record? What will these aliens make of the 'human stratum' and how will they judge us? I've just started this one and it's a fascinating read as I've often wondered myself, what evidence of our lives will be left millons of years from now? What will the remains of say, a landfill site look like millions of years from now? Bottles, both glass and plastic, mountains of diposable nappies, all compressed and changed into another form presumably, but what? I'll read on and see what unfolds!
The second book is one I've been itching to buy ever since I heard about it's imminent publication. Following my family's trip to Arizona last year, I've been fascinated not only by the Canyon, but the whole of the Colorado Plateau area. While there, I bought a book by Wayne Ranney (I may have mentioned it before within this blog? Maybe a million times?) called 'Carving Grand Canyon', which is a superb book, detailing the theories and mysteries surrounding the possible formation of Grand Canyon. Well, the multitude of staggering geological wonders to be found in the American southwest are inextricably linked to the ever changing Colorado Plateau and this is the subject of Wayne Ranney's latest book "Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau".
Cheers for now!
Friday, 22 May 2009
After nine months sweat and toil, it's almost over! S104: Exploring Science, is all but over with only the 25 question computer marked assignment left to do. Astonishingly, I achieved a whopping 97% in my final tutor marked assignment, which means that if I manage to get 85% on my End of Course Assessment, I will be awarded a 'distinction'!!!
When I started out on this journey nine months ago, the goals were merely to see if I was up to study again after donkeys years of nothing, learn a bit and see if I can pass an Open University course - nothing more than that really. With all that has gone on domestically since the turn of the year, it's frankly astonishing that I have even a sniff of a distinction. There have been times when I even considered, albeit briefly, to throw the towel in. With so much going on around me, to then sit down and try to grapple with Quantum Physics, was a 'big ask' as Mark Lawrenson would say!
But this course has given me so much that I never even considered beforehand. I now find myself routinely reading the BBC Science web pages, NASA's Mars mission pages and countless others to feed my almost unquenchable thirst for knowledge. But to have this thirst at the ripe old age of 49 is kind of interesting. I can never remember ever having had such an enthusiasm for learning all those years ago in school. Not even in college either! I'm left thinking that maybe one needs to 'live life' a bit, experience the repetitive dullness of employment, before one realises what is truly exciting and stimulating in life. In that sense, education is rather lost on the young. School and indeed further education seems geared to getting 'a job' at the end of it, without thinking beyond that.
Well folks, listen up! THERE'S MORE TO LIFE THAN GETTING TO THE TOP OF THE CORPORATE LADDER!
There, I've said it! Tar 'n feather me if you like, but that's what I feel. I can assure you, when I get my Geology degree, I won't be seeking employment with another consulting engineers, to resume that climb up the ladder again (not that I ever got above the second rung previously!). Nope, of more interest to me is research. As I've already said, if I can make some contribution, however small to the multitude of questions, asking how Grand Canyon came to be the way it is, I will die a happy man! If I can write a geology book like Wayne Ranney's, that make this wonderful subject understandable to the interested layman I will be very proud indeed!
That's got to be preferable to meaningless staff appraisals, 'taking ownership of your deliverables' and endless corporate 'tosh' surely?
Each to their own, I guess.
Until next time!
Friday, 15 May 2009
Anyway, that aside, it's going reasonably well so far and I think I'm on schedule to finish it in time. Just about!?! Progress was hampered by the OU's insistence on including an exercise that requires online discussions and contributions to the course forum. This involves online research and also needs the cooperation and efforts of all your fellow students to spark an online debate! Well, having to rely on ones online colleagues was never going to be that straight forward and the 'debate' has been virtually non-existant. Only 7 people have contributed anything at all, out of about 15 who started the couse in our group! That suggests either a major drop out rate or some students simply sacrificing a few marks in favour of getting on with the rest of the questions without this ill conceived hassle interrupting their flow! Maybe a wise choice, I'm beginning to think!?!
AND, I've still not received my mark for my final tutor marked assignment, so I don't know at this stage what my final mark is for my course work. My tutor has been pretty excellent thorughout the whole course, taking over at short notice after our original Canadian tutor failed to get her work permit renewed and consequently got shown the door. I've already passed the course work anyway, so it's not that important I guess.
Oh blimey, somebody stop me moaning! That's something my wife and I are doing way, WAY too much at the moment, but I guess that's just a sign of the stress we are under right now! There's got to be an outlet somehow!
So tomorrow, Ruth and I are going to have a bit of stress relief by going to watch our beloved Bolton Wanderers play Hull City at the Reebok Stadium in what is the final home match of the Premier League season! It's a bit of an 'end of season' affair with nothing at stake for the Wanderers, but poor old Hull are hanging by a thread to their Premier League status! Should be fun!
Cheers for now!
Friday, 8 May 2009
Friday, 6 March 2009
After my sharing my thoughts last week regarding the ability or otherwise, of geologists to embrace the fact that they can actually be wrong sometimes, my thoughts this week have turned to that other strange tendency that geologists seem to have - the need to speak in gobbledy-gook!?!
As you're probably aware by now, I went to Grand Canyon last year. (No, really?) Following my return I have had an insatiable thirst for knowledge of anything 'Grand Canyon', but particularly anything that will shed some light on how this magnificent place came to be. I downloaded every single one of the papers from the 2000 symposium on the 'Evolution of the Colorado River' - Click here if you would like to do the same!
Now, I know I should perhaps wait a few years before trying to read academic papers, but the language used in some of them is absolutely unintelligible to anyone other than geological academics. Okay, perhaps little ol' me wasn't part of the target audience when these guys wrote their papers. But back in 1945, Donald L. Babenroth and Arthur N. Strahler wrote a paper on the Geomorphology and Structure of the East Kaibab Monocline . The interesting thing about this paper is the language it is written in! Even for the relative layman like me, it is very readable and understandable. Another paper by Chester Longwell in 1946 entitled 'How Old is the Colorado River?' was similar - straight forward and readable. Surely this is how it should be isn't it? Why should this fascinating subject be submerged in complex, ludicrously long worded, technical terminology, only understandable to a small minority? What on earth has happened in the last 50 years to turn geology into some sort of foreign language?
Two geologists that have inspired me greatly over the last year or so are Dr Iain Stewart of Plymouth University in England and Wayne Ranney of Flagstaff, Arizona. Wayne, as you'll know by now is author of 'Carving Grand Canyon' and co-author with Dr Ron Blakey of 'Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau'. Iain is the presenter of the excellent recent TV series 'Earth: The Power of the Planet' and other superb geology and environmental television series. What these gentlemen have in common is that they both recognise that geology is a fantastically exciting subject that stirs the imagination of a great many people. They realise that while some people might go to Grand Canyon and say "ooh, isn't that lovely" and then hop on a helicopter back to Vegas, rather more people actually stop and wonder "how the heck did this place come to be"? That's exactly what I did and I went in search of a book that might tell me. A book full of long words and technical jargon would've been of little use to me. What I needed was exactly what Wayne's book provides - a detailed explanation of the theories and mysteries in a language understandable to the interested layman. The end result is a thirst for more! Job done Wayne!
Similarly, Iain Stewart inspired me with his series and book mentioned above. I think it was New Year's Day 2007, when I was hopping round the TV channels while staying at my mother-in-law's, that I stumbled upon ironically, the last in the series of 'Earth: The Power of the Planet'. This was basically rounding up the series with a look at the future of planet Earth. The straight forward, enthusiastic presentation style and above all, non-technical language was a sheer delight. Iain presents geology on television with a passion I can relate to. Surely this is how geology should be presented?
Yes, I know, technical papers are not directed at layman. We're talking about different audiences and I appreciate that. But, it seems to me that so often these days, scientific news is regularly misinterpreted in the media, often to an embarrassing degree. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it is because scientific journalists simply don't fully understand the message of a particular paper after getting bogged down by the jargon! Okay, once I get my MGeol degree (how's that for positivity?) I will need to be submitting papers to peer review journals and these will need to be liberally sprinkled with technical language. But I hope there will always be room for a more thorough explanation within my text, in an accessible language that will make it understandable to a wider audience.
Any thoughts? Post 'em up if you like!
Before I go, Iain Stewart makes the point at the end of 'Earth: The Power of the Planet', that the our world doesn't need saving at all! Outraged? Well, there's no need to be! Our dear planet is quite capable of coping with whatever us clumsy, destructive humans can throw at it and is looking after itself quite well, thank you! What actually needs saving is the human being! More on this next time!
Cheers for now,
Friday, 27 February 2009
Friday, 30 January 2009
Monday, 5 January 2009
The trip to Arizona and Grand Canyon was (as I have mentioned many times already!) was the outstanding highlight. Ruth and I also had a great time in August travelling round Britain on the 'Carillon Tour' - a tour of most of the UK's Carillons with Ruths' sister Caroline who is the Carilloneur for Loughborough in Leicestershire. For the uninitiated, a Carillon is a fascinating and rare (in the UK at least) musical instrument, consisting of varying numbers of static bells, played by a clavier or baton keyboard.
Bells! This whopper is also from the Bournville Carillon.
Anyone interested in reading a lot more about Carillons can take a look at the outstanding daily blog we did during the tour, expertly written by my dear wife Ruth. Just click here.
So what of 2009?
Well, exciting stuff in store! In February, Ruth starts her new job in the midlands, which means that Ruth and Aimee (our youngest), will move down to Loughborough, while Anna and I will remain in Lancashire until Anna does her GCSE's in the summer. In the meantime, we'll be rushing back and forth between Loughborough and Lancs at weekends. Splitting up the family temporarily isn't ideal I guess, but as we have always planned to relocate back to my wife's home town at some stage, at least we can do it gradually, rather than try to sell up, move, get jobs, etc, etc, all at once! At least this way the stress load can be spread over several months - well, that's the theory anyway! In between, we'll need to do a lot of decoration of our house to get it in sufficiently good shape to either sell or rent out - preferably the former! Plus of course, the Open University course continues, so I'll have to find sufficient time to continue the studies!!! Phew!
So, exciting things ahead! I'll keep ypu posted!
Cheers for now!