Monday, March 21, 2011

NAGT Awards Deadlines Approaching!

(from the NAGT Newsletter)

Several awards programs run by NAGT have impending deadlines for application or nomination. Be sure to check out the program webpages for full information and the online application.

Neil Miner Award: Nomination Deadline - April 1
Each year, the NAGT presents the Neil Miner Award to an individual for exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the earth sciences. The Award, presented each year since 1953, commemorates Neil Miner's concern for personal excellence and effective teaching. His ideals, his notably unselfish outlook on life, and his personal philosophy inspired his fellow teachers as well as his students.

Jim Shae Award: Nomination Deadline - April 1
Each year, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers presents the James H. Shea Award to an individual for exceptional contributions in the form of writing and/or editing of Earth Science materials (broadly construed) that are of interest to the general public and/or teachers of Earth Science.

Dorothy Stout Professional Development Grants: Application Deadline - April 15
In honor of Dorothy "Dottie" Stout's outstanding work and lifelong dedication to Earth Science Education, NAGT awards grants to faculty and students at 2 year colleges and K-12 teachers in support of participation in Earth science classes or workshops, attendance at professional scientific or science education meetings, participation in Earth science field trips, and purchase of Earth science materials for classroom use.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why Geology is Important; Why Education is Important...The Sendai Earthquake in perspective

(Reposted from
We learn about geology for many reasons. If you have ever visited this blog before, you know we learn geology because it is just plain fascinating. But sometimes we learn geology because lives are at stake...

It has been a week that will long seared into our collective memories as we watched a tragedy unfold in real time in Sendai, Japan. An earthquake of magnitude 8.9-9.0 struck about 80 miles offshore, with a horrific tsunami that did incalculable damage along the coast of the island. It then spread throughout the Pacific Basin, and the effects of the quake became worldwide in scope. Whether one realizes it or not, every human being on the planet was touched by the shaking. Not in some metaphysical new-age sense, but literally. The waves were detectable for hours on seismometers worldwide, meaning we were all rising and falling whether we were aware of it or not. We were all part of this story.

Many will watch an event like this unfold and try to find some meaning. In one sense, there was no meaning; this was something the Earth does. Subduction zones have been active on this planet for billions of years, and will continue to be active for billions more. The oceanic lithosphere shifted a few tens of feet deeper into the mantle, where it will eventually be melted or distorted beyond recognition. The materials disappearing from the surface today will eventually reappear, as part of a volcanic eruption, or as a fault sliver along some plate boundary in some future era. Events like this are common beyond measure; the Earth has experienced millions upon millions of huge earthquakes like this one, and though life is extinguished in some areas, life in general goes on. This quake meant nothing in the long run.

On the other hand, there was much about this tragedy that has meaning. With our brief life spans measured in decades, we will rarely experience such events in our personal lives. I could never wish such tragedy on anyone, but we also learn that living on this planet means that we are sometimes exposed to extreme deadly events. If not an earthquake, then a volcanic eruption. If not an eruption, a deadly flood. If not a flood, then a searing heat wave, or freezing blizzard. No one is totally safe or immune from these events, and most of the time we are not really aware that they can happen to us at all. They come as a total surprise.

In earlier centuries, such events elicited cosmic and supernatural explanations. It was the capricious nature of the gods that caused these terrible punishments. These people must have done something wrong to deserve such horrific retribution. If we couldn't think of an explanation, we made one up. I would love to say we have somehow moved on from this kind of thinking, but charlatans like Pat Robertson and others remind us constantly that ignorance and hate are alive and well in our society and across the world.

Why is geology important? Geology provides us with a new mythology of the world, one that based on a better understanding of the processes of our planet. We don't just see an earthquake happen on the surface and jump to the conclusion that the giant turtle that underlies our bit of land has taken a few steps. Instead we explored new pathways to knowledge that revealed that the earth itself is releasing energy to space, and that one of the ways that this happens is through the movement of lithospheric plates. Do we know the absolute truth? No, we don't. That's why we seek to learn more. We can now predict where earthquakes are likely to happen, but we cannot tell when, at least not well enough to save lives and property. If we are to live at the limits of sustainability on this planet, we need to know all we can about it.

Why is education important? Everyone has a right to know what geologic hazards may affect their lives. It should be a fundamental human right. It's not, but we can make the effort to make sure that people know what can happen, and help them to prepare for it. I live on a plate boundary, and a major earthquake is likely to strike close to my home. But I know from personal observation that people in California are shockingly unprepared for a major seismic event. Few have an emergency kit in their home, or a plan for what to do in the event of a major quake. Few people know the location of the legendary San Andreas fault, and even fewer can name any of the dozens of other active faults that exist in our state. We see the unfolding disaster of self-destructing nuclear power stations in Japan, and are mostly unaware that we have nuclear power plants along the California coast (there were even plans to build a nuclear plant directly on the San Andreas fault at Bodega Bay in the 1960s). We can't make people learn these things, but we've got to try, and we have to give our teachers and educators and media specialists adequate tools to do so. Recession or not, cutting back on education at all levels is a foolish idea.

Seers and psychics have always sought to see the future. They have used tea leaves or chicken entrails, and consumed hallucinatory drugs to achieve visions. Earth scientists use seismometers and supercomputers to model future activity along fault zones (and consume lots of coffee). They also make predictions in many other fields, including climatology, hydrology, and volcanology. Our society is living, as I said before, at the very limits of sustainability. We need to know when the quakes will happen. But even more importantly, we need to use the tools at our disposal to understand the changes that are happening in our climate. We need to fully understand the behaviour of ocean currents and cycles. We need to have a clear understanding of how much coal, gas and oil is left, and how the continued use of these fuel sources affects the climate. Recession or not, cutting back on basic research is a foolish idea.

Why the flower at the beginning of this post? I wasn't sure at first. I was in the field yesterday with my students, looking at California's Mother Lode. It's early for wildflowers, but a few were visible here and there. This was a beautiful Indian Paintbrush that seemed to be glowing in the sunlight. It occurred to me that the best flower displays in the Sierra foothills actually take place in the aftermath of forest fires. A disaster wipes out the old trees and tangled underbrush, but life springs back, and sometimes there is beauty. I guess I am hoping that some good can come of this disaster; that we might make some smart choices about where to go from here...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"I'm a Geologist": Why That's Important

(From Geotripper) The following words are not mine, but I wish I had said them. Allen Glazner is a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a former classmate at Pomona College (in another century). He has written a number of excellent books on the geology of California, including a beautiful book on Yosemite National Park (with Greg Stock). Geology is not about rock collecting, it's about the sustainability of living on planet Earth. This is part of a column from Please give the whole editorial a look.

"If I were to ask average people where gasoline comes from, most wouldn't really know. They might have a mental image, from a children's book, of a black pool of oil underground with a pipe sticking into it, but this is far from the truth. Many think drinking water comes "from the faucet," with little idea of what the source is. The average American home has more than 400 pounds of copper in it. Where does that come from? Even the sources of the sand and gravel vital to construction are a mystery to most people.

Well over 90 percent of the power used in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Thank a geologist - we're the ones who find oil, natural gas, coal and uranium. Even if you think that these energy sources are loathsome, we're stuck with them for some years to come. Geothermal energy? That's an easy one - thank a geologist.

We all take clean, fresh water for granted. Thank a geologist - we find that fresh water and monitor its quality and inventory. Many "green power" devices, such as high-capacity batteries, LEDs and superstrong magnets, depend upon rare, obscure elements such as dysprosium, neodymium and indium. Thank a geologist - we're the ones who know how those elements are cycled in the Earth and where to find them.

The prices of many of these metals, including all that copper in your house, have doubled or tripled in recent years, and the price of oil has quadrupled in the past decade. Business people would benefit from learning a little geology so that they could understand this better.

Geologists are the go-to people for natural hazards. We monitor earthquakes and map faults so that buildings and bridges can be sited as safely as possible. We advise on where to put roads and houses to avoid landslides, and where to put tunnels for roads, pipelines and other infrastructure. We monitor volcanoes for risks to the local populace and aviation. We map areas susceptible to flooding. When the gasoline storage tank at the corner gas station starts to leak, we figure out where that underground gasoline plume is going and how to fix the problem."
Read more: . Thanks to Lockwood and Anne Jefferson for the tip.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Great Opportunity: CalPaleo, May 14 at Sierra College

This came across my desk this week. It looks like a great opportunity to learn about California's unique paleo-past! (cross-posted from Geotripper)

"Sierra College and Sierra College Natural History Museum are pleased to host the 2011 meeting of CalPaleo on Saturday May 14 – only two and a half months from now. PaleoResource Consultants – a company providing paleontological mitigation services -- is co-sponsoring the meeting.

Don't miss this great opportunity to present your own research and learn about the latest research of others. CalPaleo meetings have typically emphasized the research of students from California colleges and universities, with a sprinkle of research papers by professors and other researchers. The cohesive factor that makes us CalPaleo is that we are California Paleontologists -- either we live here and do research here, we live here and do research elsewhere, or we live elsewhere and do research here. Regardless, we are all California Paleontologists. CalPaleo meetings bring us all together in a way that GSA, BSA, AAPG, AASP, or even SVP meetings cannot.

In this 2nd announcement of the 2011 CalPaleo meeting, we provide an update on the CalPaleo 2011 website, fieldtrip plans, registration fees, local lodging, and the first Call for Papers (both oral and poster). With the next/3rd announcement, we hope that you will be able to download an attractive, colorful Call for Papers to give to all your friends. In the meantime, please forward this simple and rather plain 2nd announcement to everyone that you think needs to know about the 2011 CalPaleo meeting and encourage them to be here. You may even want to offer to let them ride along with you!

You will love the Rocklin area, located in the foothills of the Sierra just 20 minutes east of Sacramento right off I-80. Unlike much of California, we have trees, lakes, and permanent streams! In other words, our environment is much more like the late Tertiary. Plan ahead. You may just want to spend an extra day or two here in the Pliocene! Website – It’s up; it’s working. It’s just still under construction. that is. Check it out and give us feedback on what needs to be added to make it more “user friendly”. Thanks to Kristin McCallister who has been doing most of the work. Kristin is a former Sierra College student, a recent graduate from University of Nevada at Reno, and now employed with PaleoResource Consultants in Auburn.

Fieldtrip Plans – On Sunday, following the CalPaleo presentations on Saturday, Dick Hilton will be leading an informal fieldtrip from Sierra College up to Donner Pass. Some of us are calling it – “From the Pliocene, back to the Pleistocene”. During this trip we will examine outcrops that have in the past produced Jurassic invertebrates, Eocene wood and leaves, and Miocene leaves. Plus we will see classic Sierra Nevada geology, Mesozoic low-grade metamorphics, Cretaceous granites with xenoliths, Paleozoic roof pendants, Tertiary auriferous gravels and volcaniclastic sediments, and Quaternary alluvial deposits. Both the Tertiary and Quaternary deposits have produced vertebrates elsewhere, but not so far in the outcrops we plan to examine.

Registration Fees – After considerable gnashing of teeth, the CalPaleo 2011 Organizing Committee has decided that, in order to pay for both a continental breakfast and lunch, we will need to charge a nominal $20.00 registration fee. There will be an extra charge of $25.00 for the Sunday fieldtrip, including lunch, bus transportation, and a copy of the fieldtrip guidebook.

Housing Ideas – In the next/3rd announcement, we will provide a list of motels available near the Sierra College campus. There are both inexpensive and four-star hotels within walking distance of the campus.

Call for Papers -- Abstract deadline is Friday 01 April. April Fool! Actually the deadline is Saturday 02 April. Expect another reminder in late March, but why not put the date on your calendar now? Follow the Boy Scout motto -- “Be Prepared”. Help us capture the diversity of paleontological research underway in California. Remember that not all fossils have bones and teeth! Be present to ensure that your area of expertise is represented -- be it ichnofossils, microfossils, invertebrates, plants, fish, birds, other dinosaurs, or those lovable, warm, fuzzy guys!

Save the Date! -- As we stated in the 1st announcement, what's most important right now is that you Save the Date! Saturday 14 May 2011. We hope to see you at CalPaleo in 2011 at Sierra College in Rocklin.

CalPaleo 2011 Organizing Committee

Confronting Creation Science in the Classroom

From Larry Collins, FWS member, who has excellent resources on his website concerning creation-science in the earth science classroom:

"I am retired geology faculty member of California State University Northridge (retired since 1993) and used to be quite active in the NAGT FWS, but old age has caught up with me, and I am no longer able to participate. So, I will not be at the up-coming conference in mid-March. However, I am sure that you are probably aware of the fact that science teachers in elementary and secondary schools in many parts of country, including California, are being confronted by young-earth creationists who want to put their religious beliefs into science class rooms. This is an on-going problem. If you know of any such geology science teachers who are members of the NAGT FWS who are facing this issue, I call your attention to two pdf articles that they can down-load which give geologic reasons (1) why a supposed Noah’s ark in eastern Turkey cannot be either its fossilized remnant or a supposed cast (see attached image) and (2) why a worldwide Flood cannot have happened because of the presence of thick evaporite mineral deposits of rock salt and gypsum that occur interlayered with the fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks of many different geologic ages on all continents. In the first article, magnetite derived from weathered basalt is what produces the iron signals for supposed washers, rivets, and brackets instead of pure iron metal for Noah to use to hold the walls of the Ark together. In the second article, desert drying conditions cannot occur in the midst of a worldwide flood. See: and . I hope that you will pass this information on to possible interested teachers. I have other articles on my website on opposition to creationism that they also might find helpful. ."

Lorence (Larry) Collins