An encyclopedia of geology that’s much less a reference than a journey

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Image of purple crystals inside a grey shell of rock.
Enlarge / An amethyst could make an excellent metaphor for geology as an entire.

To outsiders, geology can appear as uninteresting as a rock, with a lexicon simply as opaque, however to insiders, it’s a limitless supply of surprise. Varied authors have used completely different instruments to crack open geology’s uninteresting exterior to point out non-geologists the glowing wonders inside: Robert Hazen used coloration; Jan Zalasiewicz used a pebble; and Richard Fortey used a railway journey, for instance.

Marcia Bjornerud makes use of phrases to unlock the mysteries of geology the way in which a online game would possibly use gems to unlock a brand new degree to discover. Her new e-book is a buffet of bite-size chapters good for dipping out and in of, learn in no explicit order. Geopedia is structured like an encyclopedia to the extent that its subjects are organized alphabetically, but it surely’s written for enjoyment relatively than as a mere fact-reference.

Bjornerud retains the studying gentle even when serving up expanses of time and house, and he or she follows every geological ‘dish’ with a chaser of tips that could different entries that could be associated, if solely tangentially. After “Amethyst,” for instance, she suggests “Kimberlite,” a diamond ore, and “Pedogenesis,” the method by which soil is made.

Geological buffet

Every chapter is its personal taster-menu. Beneath “Amethyst” I realized that historical Greeks believed Amethyst crystals protected wearers from getting drunk. From there, Bjornerud jumps to the definition of a mineral, to limestone locking away atmospheric CO2, and on to atomic impurities giving coloration to crystals; she hops from subject to subject like a geological Mario leaping between platforms in a online game.

The “Tully Monster” (an actual creature from 310 million years in the past) takes us through Star Wars Episode IV’s “cantina scene” to ongoing controversy over the place it matches within the animal kingdom. “Oklo” hyperlinks a 2 billion-year-old nuclear meltdown to the rise of oxygen in Earth’s environment (your granite countertop is barely radioactive, Bjornerud mentions in passing).

The subjects embrace these I’d count on (like Anthropocene, Unconformity, Moho, and so forth.), however Bjornerud has gone out of her solution to embrace the odd (Geophagy, anybody?) and curiosities like salt glaciers and dust volcanoes. She has additionally unearthed phrases obscure even to geologists (till Geopedia, I assumed a Yazoo was a Nineteen Eighties synth-pop group).

Nibbles of huge concepts

The e-book may simply have been only a frothy assortment of trivia, however Bjornerud skillfully feeds the reader nibbles of geology’s meatier ideas like deep time, plate tectonics, and the co-evolution of life and our planet. Topics that might turn out to be technical are lightened by on a regular basis analogies (brittle failure likened to a “run in hosiery,” or uranium precipitating “like a busload of passengers pressured to disembark,” for example).

She additionally maintains a human connection. In “Geodynamo,” we find out how Danish geophysicist Inge Lehman (a uncommon girl in that area then) recognized Earth’s internal core in 1936 because of a big earthquake in New Zealand. Whereas explaining Earth’s magnetic area, Bjornerud observes that whereas there’s no clear proof magnetic area reversals trigger extinctions, one right this moment could be “debilitating” for people. In one other instance, she describes a 1929 earthquake off shore of Newfoundland that triggered an immense submarine landslide, leading to a tsunami that killed 28 individuals. Severed undersea communication cables tipped us off to this unseen hazard and supplied a proof for hitherto unexplained sediments known as “turbidites.”

Quirky gem

The tone of Geopedia is quirky—I by no means anticipated to go from “Karst” to mass executions in World Conflict II or from “Snowball Earth” to the Norse fable of Ymir and his rock-licking cow. It might probably generally be whimsical, like when Bjornerud portrays Earth’s most historical rocks as a matriarch she dubs “Previous Acasta.”

Haley Hagerman’s black-and-white drawings complement that quirky tone. On one web page, you’ll discover a rendering of a microscope thin-section that’s like an summary composition; on one other there’s a polar bear with an indication saying “North Pole Was Right here.” An intricate rendering of Amethyst crystals is adopted by a canine with a bubbly physique of basalt.

The Bjornerud-Hagerman partnership reprises their 2018 e-book Timefulness: How Considering Like a Geologist Can Assist Save the World, which was Shortlisted for the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science and was a finalist for the 2019 Los Angeles Occasions E-book Prize in Science & Know-how; it additionally gained the 2019 PROSE Award in Widespread Science & Widespread Arithmetic, amongst different accolades. Geopedia appears destined for comparable reward.

Its pocket-size format makes it good as a touring companion, and its brief chapters swimsuit our frazzled consideration spans, making it a enjoyable different to night-time doomscrolling or heavier nonfiction. Irrespective of should you’re a hard-core rockhound or a geological outsider, you’ll get one thing worthwhile from this little gem of a e-book.

Howard Lee is a contract science author specializing in geology and local weather change in deep time. He holds a B.Sc. in Geology and M.Sc. in Distant Sensing, each from the College of London, UK. When not writing, he’s most likely gardening, mountain climbing, or kayaking close to his residence in rural Massachusetts.


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