Monday, 17 May 2010

Barrow’s kyanite zone

It has been a while since I made time to play in the Accretionary Wedge. This month the topic asks us to share (a) geologically significant photo(s). This announcement reminded me that I never did type up a summary of the field trip I did last year after the MAPT conference, so I’ll share a couple of photos from that trip, and explain why they are important.

The field trip went to look at the area Barrow made famous when he used it to formulate his theories on metamorphic facies. The Dalradian series is located just north of the Highland Boundary Fault in Scotland. Different parts of the series were metamorphosed at different pressures/temperatures, which resulted in different combinations of minerals in each area, though the composition of the rocks is similar.

In our field trip we started out near the fault, and stopped in each of the key areas along the way, visiting outcrops of the chlorite zone, the biotite zone, the carnet zone, and the kyanite zone. Most of the geologists on the trip are accustomed to looking at rocks in thin section, where, once you’ve learned how to identify them, it is a very easy matter to identify minerals and tell at a glance which zone the rocks come from. However, when Barrow did his field work in this area, he did it largely without thin sections—instead he looked at the rock outcrops themselves, and broke off pieces with his hammer and looked at them in the field.

The man was a talented enough petrologist that he was able to identify the minerals in the field, and to tell when he’d moved from one mineral assemblage to the next. Having spent a rainy day tramping around the lower part of the Scottish Highlands accompanied by geologists who knew in advance what minerals to expect in each outcrop, I still had difficulties spotting the index minerals in the outcrops. Or rather, I did, until we reached the kyanite zone. There is simply no mistaking the large blue crystals of kyanite in these rocks!

Book Review: The Fate of Nature

Up until the arrival of social networking sites on line, the only reading I ever did (other than assignments for school work) was science fiction and fantasy novels. I happily spent much of my life with my nose buried in good book or another, enjoying the stories as they unfolds. I didn’t understand the appeal of non-fiction books, and didn’t even have interest in “literature”, as such, preferring to escape from this world by reading about life on other planets, or in other times—worlds wherein humans had risen past their baser natures and founded cooperative societies that didn’t destroy their environments. However, over the past few years I begun reading the journals my friends posted over on LiveJournal, and expanded from there to following a few well-written blogs, and using Facebook to get back into touch with various people I’ve met over the years.

One such person with whom I’ve become reacquainted was a man who graduated from the same high school I did, a few years before me. I can’t claim to have been amongst his close circle of friends, but I liked and admired the “big kids” of his generation, who were always busy—active in community involvement projects, or just having fun hanging out with one another. As a result when I heard that he’d written a book, I asked him to send me a copy.

The Fate of Nature, Rediscovering our Ability to Rescue the Earth, by Charles Wohlforth is, in many ways, completely and utterly unlike those SciFi novels I’ve so enjoyed over the years, and yet, I found myself entirely entranced by the book, reluctant to put it down each night so that I could sleep. This is a fascinating book blending science and history, full of detailed, very personal, stories about the individuals who have made a difference, both positive and negative, in Alaska over the years.

The amount of research that it must have taken to tell this story is really quite amazing. He chronicles the factors in Western culture, and their changes over time that resulted in people being willing to come into a new area (like Alaska) and remove from it such resources as they choose to, without any regard to any damage they might cause in the process, nor any plan to leave any for future generations. He cites studies that claim that the competitive nature is inherent to humans, and that given our drive for short-term personal gain there is no other option save eventual destruction of all of the ecosystems upon which we depend. But he doesn’t stop there—he cites other studies which show that again and again many humans choose cooperation and helping one another in favor of selfish gain. He shares the personal stories of the people who have worked tirelessly to save one aspect or another of the environment and how they have succeeded in their goals. He tells of the cultural changes that have taken place which result in policy changes which give him hope that it is not too late—that we, as a species may yet choose to protect and nurture our world.

Reading this book led me through a series of emotions, from depression and disgust (reading vivid details I never knew about what happened after the Exxon Valdez oil spill will do that) to uplifted sprits and joy at all that is positive in “human nature”. Reading the personal stories of the people who made it happen is fascinating. Knowing that this person, with whom I went to school when I was young, actually knows so many of these people reminds me of just how small this world is—they say that we are all connected within six degrees, but sometimes the connections are even closer than one might think.

I recommend reading this book to anyone who wants to understand more about the science (everything from global warming, to earthquake studies, to psychological studies, to biology, and more) behind living on earth, and the stories behind the facts in the history books. This book is for everyone who has ever thought “gee it would be nice if our time period isn’t one of an extinction period to rival that of the K-T boundary”.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

some travel lulls are brief, indeed

Having several days in a row wherein I’m not traveling has been good for me—I’ve actually been making progress transforming my PhD research into a paper, I’ve downloaded my most recent experiment and gotten it polished and ready to analyze with the microprobe on Tuesday, and I even made time to repair my trike, which had been damaged in shipping, so that I can ride it again, since the replacement wheel arrived when I was in Vienna for EGU.

However, this time it is only several days in a row—on Wednesday I’ve a meeting in Siena. I need to decide if I’m going to stay overnight and see something of the area, or simply day-trip (which would make for a long day, since it is a several hour train trip). Then I’ve only one more week to prepare for the trip to Norway for a meeting of our research group.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Try and try again

Over the past couple of months I’ve been doing a fair bit of travel for conferences, short course, and writing workshop. Each meeting has been inspirational; each has resulted in additions to the list of things I want to accomplish in terms of research, data analysis, and writing papers for publication. However, the time I spend out of town for each of these meetings, combined with sight-seeing and exploring each new city ± time spent with friends at each location has meant that despite my inclination towards these tasks, the actual number of hours spent engaged in accomplishing them is distressingly low.

This is partially due to the amount of time it takes to arrange the logistics of travel—booking flights, arranging accommodation, packing, etc. and to the amount of time the travel itself takes up. Alas, my computer does not lend itself to in-flight use which so many fellow travelers accomplish—my computer has a battery which holds a charge long enough to properly shut down in case of a power-failure, but not for long enough to be worth turning the computer on unless I have somewhere I can obtain a steady stream of fresh electricity to keep the computer happy. For those of us flying budget airlines, this is not yet an option on flights. Likewise, returning home from a week spent elsewhere results in many urgent small tasks that need doing promptly after my return, all of which add up to not much progress being made on the above mentioned tasks inspired by the meetings.

Fortunately, other than one short trip during the week next week to finally meet in person the people with whom I collaborated on a paper a few years back, I’ve no trips planed until the end of the month. Therefore I state publicly here before you all that my goal is to not only get my next experiment downloaded, polished and ready for my scheduled microprobe analysis next week, but to also finish up at least one of the papers in progress and send it off to my erstwhile advisor for comment before submitting it. Readers who have been following my posts for a while might feel compelled to point out that I’ve stated that particular goal hitherto, but then gotten distracted preparing for upcoming talks on my current research. It is time to try again!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Conference ending; one last bike trip up the Danube before heading off

Today was the final day of the EGU conference. It has been a very hectic, crowded week; on their web page they say “The EGU General Assembly 2010 was a great success with 4,431 oral and 9,370 poster presentations in 594 sessions. More than 10,000 scientists participated in the conference”. Now that most of the sessions are over the hall is quiet, and it is easy to find a table near an electrical outlet, and therefore to blog in comfort.

I spent the morning attending the session on Subduction zone dynamics: A slab's journey in the upper and lower mantle. Unsurprisingly, most of the talks had to do with numerical modeling of subduction—such a high percentage of them that one guy felt compelled to apologize for offering a talk based on geochemical data from real rocks. I, for one, was delighted to hear his talk—while the pretty pictures and movies of what may be happening in the subjection process is certainly interesting, hearing details about real rocks and what we can infer from their chemistry is even more interesting.

Now it is time for me to shut down the computer, enjoy one final bike-ride along the pretty bike path.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Comparing this weeks EGU meeting with December’s AGU meeting

Having attended AGU in San Francisco in December, and being at EGU in Vienna this week, it is interesting to compare and contrast the two conferences. Both conferences offered the ability to create a “personal program” by browsing the web page or searching for specific key words, and clicking upon all talks/posters which sound interesting. Then with the push of one button it created a printout of everything I wished to attend, organized by day and time. I recall thinking at the time that AGU didn’t seem to have much of interest in the way of metamorphic or experimental petrology. Looking back on my personal program from that meeting, I count four talks and 26 posters on my personal program (plus two other talks on educational topics that I didn’t actually make it to). For EGU my personal program contains 27 talks and 60 posters.

Are there really that many more people in Europe working in fields which sound interesting to me, or have I become better at choosing search terms? Come to think of it, while I’ve not done a count, I have a vague impression that more of the authors of papers I’ve been reading are based in Europe, India, or Asia than in the US, so perhaps there really is a difference in focus between the two organizations.

One place where AGU excelled over EGU was the facilities they provided for internet access. Both organizations provided free wireless access, but AGU set up long tables and chairs, with power strips in sufficient quantity for everyone who wanted to use their own computer to do so without relying on battery power, and there were also cables available for internet access for those of us who preferred not to, or couldn’t use wireless. At EGU those of us who don’t have reliable computer batteries are limited to the occasional wall plug. While there are some low tables scattered near the food courts, very few of them happen to be within reach of wall plugs. As a result it is a common sight to see people sitting on the floor near an outlet, computer in lap. Occasionally one of the chairs will be dragged to an outlet to permit the electric-dependant computer user to sit in slightly greater comfort, but still with a computer on the lap. This explains why my posts are all lagging a day behind—while lap based internet access is sufficient for reading blogs or e-mail, it is not quite comfortable enough to encourage me to type. Therefore this is being typed sitting at a desk in the home of my host, and will be posted tomorrow, when I am back at the conference and once again have internet access.

My poster session at this meeting suffered from the same dearth of eager visitors as I experienced at AGU. While I could hear many conversations at most of the other posters in my range, most of the people on site who are interested in experiments on metapelitic compositions must have looked at the poster during the day when the author wasn’t present (as I did for all of the posters I wished to see). However, I did have one person come by and talk to me about my work—he has been doing isochemical section modeling for natural samples that include talc, and hasn’t been happy with the results he’s been getting. He uses Thermocalc (I know because his poster was on my list of things to see, so I went to look at it this morning, during a time when the author wasn’t present) and asked me about the Perplex activity model for talc. I looked it up and we discussed how my experiments aren’t very well predicted by Perplex. He commented that he thought that perhaps a non-ideal model would give us both better results matching the models with reality.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Yesterday at EGU

Yesterday was the first day of EGU, the session on today’s schedule which came closest to matching my research interests was TS6.5/GD5.10/GMPV55, Ophiolites, blueschists and mélanges in convergent margin tectonics. I enjoyed the morning talks, and then checked out the vendors, where I found myself doing an impulse purchase. I now own a copy of Vernon’s Practical Guide to Rock Microstructure , a review of which is available here . I couldn’t resist the purchase, since it is full of pretty pictures of deformed rocks, and thoughts about what the physical expression of that deformation tells us about the processes which formed it.
After my shopping trip, there being no other sessions scheduled for the afternoon related to my research interest, I hoped onto my borrowed bicycle and enjoyed a lovely trip along the Danube bike path back to my friend’s house and took a much needed nap.
Now I need to get ready to attend my poster for the afternoon session, so I’ll post about today’s interesting talks tomorrow (no internet access where I’m staying). If you are at the meeting, I’ll be at XL192 from 17:00 to 19:00, come on by and say hello.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Pre-conference Adventures

I am currently enjoying time playing tourist in Vienna before the EGU conference starts next week. I am very fortunate in that I’ve got a native guide to show me around and introduce me to her friends. I few years back I met a lady through an e-mail list for people who are interested in the clothing styles which were popular in the 12th Century. She posted a question about a costume she wanted to make, so I sent her the pattern I used when I did one in that style, and we began corresponding. I’ve long admired the photos she shares of her embroidery in her blog, and it is ever so much fun to see it in person, and to try on one another’s costumes.
She’s taken me fabric shopping, to museums, and to look at the early medieval stone carvings in the local cathedral and churches. She’s hosted a gathering of people to work on sewing projects tonight, and I am having much fun hanging out with like minded new friends. Tomorrow there will be more museums, and on Monday I’ll head to the conference and enjoy lectures on one of the other subjects which interest me. I understand we will have internet access on site, so I’ll try to post highlights of the talks during lunch breaks.
In the meantime I’m enjoying the fact that I can indulge two such very different sets of interest on one trip.