Monday, July 25, 2011

Five Reasons Geology Rocks

                Today was a very frustrating day, I’m working with computer programs I am not familiar with at all and trying to do more with them then I feel capable of, in addition to that, my internship is up at the end of next week so I’m feeling the crunch to finish the last bit of my project. So in order to remind myself why I usually like to work in geology I decided to write myself a list of reasons why I love the earth sciences (this also has the additional benefit that it would give me answers when I am asked “Why do you study Geology?” besides my usual answer of “I like rocks!”)
1.      Every rock tells a story (you just have to figure out what it is):
·         If you have studied geology at all, you understand this and are probably fascinated by even the simplest stories rocks can tell: from coral reefs becoming beds of limestone, to lava flowing across the surface cooling into basalt, to the massive heat and pressure beneath the surface of the Earth which produces gneiss. All of these stories are fascinating; however, with more study the stories become even more interesting and subtle
·         For example, my girlfriend and I were hiking in around the three extinct volcanoes near Albuquerque, and at the first peak we went to I noticed an obvious path for water to flow down and as I looked down the path I noticed that the rocks in the path were not all black like most of their brethren, instead their bottom quarters to halves were white. The rocks in the pathway of the water were being chemically weathered but only as far up as the water ran during the periodic flash floods. I wish I still had pictures from that day, but I’m not sure what happened to them, so I guess I’ll have to go back another time.
2.      It is everywhere!
·         Okay look down, well you are probably inside so imagine the ground under you, guess what that’s geology. Everywhere you go there is geology, even in boring flat places (like most of the places I’ve lived) have had some really interesting geologic events  at some point, and if you read up on them before you drive through it, it will give you something to think about instead of slowing going insane due to boredom.
·         In addition, nothing spices up a road trip like cursory identification of rock strata as you cruise through road cuts at 75 mph, especially if you are the driver (caution this will cause you to swerve into oncoming traffic). This is why I love the roadside geology book series, it really doesn’t get much better than driving across country and getting to see new geology as you do (and learning why it is there)
3.       Thinking in geologic time
·         I have a love hate relationship with this one while I think the concept is great and awe inspiring, but also it is hard to appreciate the time span of anything humans have ever done, empires last for hundreds of years while a geologic age is measured in millions of years, kind of screws up your appreciation for history. However, the idea of incredibly long processes slowing shaping and reshaping the landscape is a beautiful (and true) idea, some days I like to sit and look at different formations and think about the massive time it took for it to form (unless it is a volcanic formation usually those things didn’t take too long to form).
·         Near Carlsbad, NM there is a part of Lincoln National Forest called Sitting Bull falls which is a spring fed waterfall. The spring comes up on sandstone and then comes into contact with limestone which was laid down during the Paleozoic, it is a beautiful example of differential erosion with the sandstone having barely eroded in that time, and the limestone having being cut away into a large hole around 50-60 feet below the coarser stuff up top.
4.       People ask you questions
·         I get asked a lot of random questions, from friends, family, and random people when I tell them I am a geology student, everything from “how do ocean waves work” to “what causes volcanoes” and a lot of other things. This is great since I love talking about science because 1. I like to hear the sound of my own voice and 2. Science is awesome and a lot of fun to talk about. Sure sometimes people try to trap you with questions about Global Climate Change and Evolution, but I welcome them, I have facts on my side, you just have crazy.
5.     It is like a detective story
·         I’ve always like detective stories, however, most thrillers and mysteries are pretty transparent to me now days, I think I just read and watched too many of the stories so I am too used to them now. However, trying to figure out what happened  in the geologic history books (rocks and strata) is an intense mental exercise that requires you gather and then use every bit of information available for that area, and it is always incredible rewarding to finally understand how a feature formed and the consequences that holds for the area around it.
So those are my five favorite reasons to study geology, and honestly I think any one of them is a good reason to study it, and honestly I do feel a lot better now, sure some things might be frustrating when you first encounter them; however, the payoff once you overcome it is completely worth the effort in the first place.

Monday, July 4, 2011

New Project

I feel very fortunate for a variety of reasons, but especially because I was given a great chance to succeed in science where the majority of my peers in Southeast New Mexico had to jump over huge hurdles just to have a chance to understand the subject. My parents are both teachers and they worked diligently to instill in my siblings and myself the importance of education; we went to a zoo, museum, or historical site nearly every vacation.  While we were driving we would talk about the history of the area or my dad would quiz our mathematical abilities  Nearly everything we did would somehow become a learning experience.

And while I always had a love of learning, my family helped nurture it, turning what might have been a secondary hobby, into my lifelong passion. The best example of this is when I was in fourth or fifth grade my uncle decided that every birthday/Christmas he should give me a book that would be too hard for me to understand right then, but eventually I would be able to. For some reason that I can't remember, the first book he gave me was Darwin's On the Origin of Species which I tried to read right then and got through the introduction before it was too hard. However, this was a huge turning point in my life and I continued to learn as much as I could about science from then on.

Like I said above, this gave me a huge advantage of my peers at school.  While I was learning about science and getting a jump start, their pastors, parents, etc were holding them back. Telling them science was wrong, evil, and a ploy to still their freedom or their soul.  As a result I have noticed that most of my friends from high school and college are very misinformed about science. I want to try to change this, though, and I have  come up with a project to try to change this. My Facebook friends are filled with people who have very little formal science education and their informal knowledge comes from impartial sources with political motivations to discredit everything from evolution to climate change to even the idea of an ancient Earth, so I want to offer to answer any question they might have about any discipline of science. I have a good basic background in science and can look up most answers myself; however, to add some legitimacy to this endeavor, I was hoping for some professional scientists to contribute to some the answers, even if it is only a line or two of logic or giving some evidence.

I want to do this because I believe that a personal touch in science outreach will encourage people to trust the experts instead of viewing them as shadowy authority figures. Hopefully this could help a group of students who have little to no science education learn to appreciate and enjoy the study. And maybe, this could serve as a model for other students from similar areas to spread their knowledge to their friends and family. Who knows maybe other science students in the position I am in could help expand the public's scientific understanding.