Tuesday, November 1, 2022

A short history of nearly everything … special edition: geology

I started reading legendary author Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything years ago and, like with everything he writes, it’s so good. But I somehow didn’t finish it. You could give this book to every high-school student and they would learn more than they’re probably learning in their science classes.

Here are some great tidbits from the section on geology that I learned or relearned:

  • The idea that the continents were once all connected, in a landmass called Pangaea, was not originated until the early 1900s, and not fully accepted as scientific fact until the 1950s.
  • There was long a belief among geologists that there was a continental drift causing the continents to shift, but that shifting wasn’t really just along the shorelines. The world’s largest mountain range extends underwater throughout the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (Hawaii is one of its mountain tops), and runoff sentiment from above land is coursing throughout the whole range. These findings led to the establishment of plate tectonics, and a shifting under ground and water throughout the entire Earth, which is a large part of the reason why the planet has earthquakes and a shifting climate.
  • Still, tectonics can’t explain everything. Denver doesn’t appear to have been formed by plates. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was much lower, as part of an ocean bottom, and it has only recently slowly been “baking like break” up to its current Mile High status. An opposite example is that Indonesia has been slowly sinking and taking Australia with it, with tectonics not being a likely part of the explanation.
  • Meteor Crater in Arizona is the biggest, well, meteor crater in the United States. And, believe it or not, scientists didn’t really know until research in the 1980s just how imperiled we actually are by meteors from our own solar system.
  • Very few scientists are actually studying asteroids, but these tiny chunks of rock (one the size of a house could destroy a city) pass by Earth a few times a week. Relatively speaking, they are like a bullet that passes through a person’s shirt on her arm but misses the arm.
  • It’s amazing to recall that paleontologists pretty much always thought the dinosaurs had died off over a long period of time. It was not until the 1970s that the current science has them all dying at once from a meteor hit.

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