Friday, December 2, 2011

reading for fun and education

Sixty days ago I received the job offer to start my new job, and was given a small pile of literature for background reading before I started. As a result I started my “1000 words a day” challenge once again, after having had nearly a year off since last I had done that. The challenge is simple: do a little reading in the geologic literature every day, and keep track of how many days in a row you manage before you miss one. If you miss one re-start and begin the count from zero once again. How much is 1000 words? Well, today’s post is 691 words long. It doesn’t take much time to read that many words, but I have found that if I read that many I often keep reading the article until I either reach a natural breaking point or finish the article. Some days I read quite a bit more, others I just barely make the goal (do I actually count the words? No, not any more. And when I did at the beginning of the first time I undertook the challenge I didn’t count all the words, just how many words were in the first line of a paragraph, and how many lines long it was to calculate a rough word count for the paragraph, and then figured out how many paragraphs of that size it would take to reach at least 1000 words. It isn’t the precision that matters, but the consistency of actually reading (and thinking about what you read!) every day.

Since I started this time I have remembered to read every day. This has been easy during the week days since my job begun—the pile of literature I need to read and understand in order to get my knowledge base to where it needs to be for my research project is quite substantial, and growing all of the time as I find references to more and more articles I wish to read. Managing it on the weekends is a bit more of a challenge, but I have managed, so far.

So, what have I read over the past 60 days? I have completed reading six articles that relate directly to the ore deposits in the area near where my project is based (ok, one of those wasn’t a single article, but rather a PhD thesis which was comprised of five different papers, so really I have done 10 articles total on this subject), four articles on the concept of 3D modelling, and one article on geochemistry.

That last one (MacLean 1990)* explains how one can use ratios of immobile elements to calculate what the unaltered composition of a suit of altered rocks must have been. I am gathering from my reading (many of those local papers cite this technique paper) that this is a very useful way to determine what types of rocks were present before the hydrothermal alteration associated with the formation of ore deposits. It works especially well when the precursor rocks are volcanic and changed in composition due to fractionation of the magma. When this is the case one can plot the current compositions on the same diagram as the curve which shows the expected changes in composition due to fractionation, and extrapolate from the trends in the current compositions back to the likely original compositions when the rocks cooled from their magma. The paper mentions that these sorts of calculations are easy to set up in a template in a spreadsheet, and that they will give away such templates upon request. I wonder if that offer is still open two decades after the paper was published, or if people use a different technique to accomplish the same sort of task today. I will have to do a search for papers which cite this one to work my way forward to the modern techniques, if they have changed. What did people do for research before it was possible to easily look up who had cited a particular paper?

*MacLean, W. H. (1990). "Mass change calculations in altered rock series." Mineralium Deposita 25(1): 44-49.

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