In the Delivery Room

When considered in the context of Earth’s geologic history, the range of geological experiences I’ve had the opportunity to actually experience firsthand are generally so mundane that none could be considered “important”. Certainly no one geological experience I’ve had stands out in my mind as singularly “important” – at least not yet.

And yet, choose I must, because September is nearly done and I’ve missed yet another Accretionary Wedge deadline. So, though I’m interpreting this topic a bit differently than many of my peers, my selection is, on some level, a trite and jaded one.

So many geological processes that we witness at Earth’s surface are destructive (e.g., weathering, erosion, mass wasting, etc.) but how often do we experience Mother Earth renewing herself? I submit that it is not often, yet when considered in the context of the rock cycle, it is of fundamental importance. How much less exciting would geology be on a planet that had long since ceased to be active? Thus I choose for my most “important” geological experience being present at the birth of a rock.

Pahoehoe, vintage 2004
Obligatory cute baby picture.

Current Issues in the Geoblogosphere – Episode #1

The notes can also be found as a Google Doc.

Audio Podcast: (52 minutes – 50 Mb)

    Call Participants

Ron Schott
Katharine North
Maitri Erwin
Chris Rowan
Julia Heathcote Anderson
Kevin Zelnio
Lee Allison

  • looking at ways of building a community w/o necessarily invoking a tight network
  • how to promote the geoblogosphere, both to each other and the outside world using widely-adopted web tools
  • create foci w/o necessarily everyone posting on the same server
  • open to anyone who would like to participate
  • overlap between geoscience and policy/government
  • example of geopathology: participation has ebbed recently
  • blogging activity always ebbs and flows – to be expected
  • what is the difference between a group of blogs and a blog network?
  • blogs reflect issues currently being discussed among geoscientists
  • is the blog the only outlet to these current issues?
  • how can we affect policy – open access, etc.?
  • Lee Allison’s blog goals:
    • facilitate support
    • build a community of geoscientists
  • Lee was first official in Arizona to blog, must be careful about partisan issues
    • natural extension of communication responsibilities of job
    • more interest in his agency because of blog – positive
    • hasn’t had much feedback – perception that blogging is not a normal state geologist function
  • want to keep growing geoblogosphere
  • how can we engage professional peers?
    • raise awareness of possibilities generated by blogging
    • aggregating geology news
    • (obviously not a peer-reviewed process)
  • professional commentary
    • could we review/discuss papers and include the paper author(s) in the conversation
    • this already occurs at The Third Reviewer (
    • seems to be a barrier to getting people to engage
    • most don’t see academic interest – need to get to root of this question
    • change perception from that of risk to a good opportunity
    • what is the incentive to blog, etc? Outreach.
    • nice for peers to participate in existing blogs, leave comments, etc.
  • first step: get other geologists/peers to participate
  • blogging is not viewed by others as a professional contribution
  • why isn’t teaching and outreach valued as much as publishing?
  • others ask, “Why aren’t you writing papers instead of writing a blog post?”
  • in general, need to get students into classrooms, attract more money
  • AGU, GSA have stepped up online presence in past few years, especially AGU
  • do GSA and/or AGU have educational outreach committees?
    • target high school students?
    • very few earth science courses below the university level
  • more voices = more likely that others outside the current geoblogosphere community will find something they enjoy and be attracted to geology
  • some blogging material is used in classrooms, grant proposals
  • therefore, blogging is a proven outreach activity
  • approach the NSF for support of geoblogosphere as outreach?
  • researchers are good at research and don’t necessarily have clear plans for outreach
    • proposals have plans to build websites that will do amazing things that never happen
  • COPUS: Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (Lee is co-founder, on board)
    • rethinking directions – strong social media approach
    • could COPUS bless/sponsor a geoscience policy blog?
    • has 1000 participants
    • under review: blog aggregator – as a facilitator, commentator
  • how do we move from aggregator services to active outreach? (the two overlap)
  • engage with MSM
    • example: #CAserpentine – focus on education, press release, engaging community, legislators, opponents
  • how to publicize geoscience research? become a media organization
  • Cheryl Dreyfus at NSF (public relations/media position) – sends Lee Allison announcements to post on blog
    • NSF is already recognizing blogs/social media as valuable
  • PLoS – good at getting bloggers information – can get papers ahead of publication time
  • sales pitch to individual departments to help attract geo students?
  • have to court media to get funding
  • traditional MSM doesn’t do a good job at explaining science
    • geoblogosphere could fill a vacuum of geoscience reporting
    • like Science Network TV – C-SPAN for Science
    • Who defines “Science” in MSM?
  • need more video and audio, not just blogs, Twitter – not very expensive
    • lots of bang for little buck – Ron would like to pursue
    • Ron has a lot of tech tools – close to being able to produce something
  • some researchers more enthusiastic about talking than writing
    • different skill set
    • people talk a lot – conferences, etc
    • an interview could be something to put on a C.V.
  • weekly show about a topic – a host and a guest or two
    • talk about a paper or news and answer listener questions
    • do that for each discipline: vulcanology, deep sea, seismic, etc…
    • could also be regional interest instead of discipline-specific, e.g. Geology of California
    • maybe 1 hr/week?
  • – set up quickly, easily b/c people got tired of writing, reading
    • maps are a visual medium – makes this compelling
  • Audioboo: – record ~5 minutes of talking about an issue, post similar to a blog
  • build a network, then proliferate
  • HOW do we aggregate? Where is the home?
  • Ron could do a proof-of-concept for the aggregate
  • Follow-up with Marilynn Souter (name sp?) at NSF (education division) – good sounding board for whether NSF would be willing to sponsor
    • do we need proof-of-concept or is the idea enough to get NSF interested?
    • what would NSF need from geoblogosphere to sell them on the concept?
  • start with Geoscience outreach in academia – need to just try something and see how it works
  • important to have different media forms to attract different people; some like to read, some listen, some watch
  • is a front page – network effects w/o a network
  • try a variety of approaches and modify; be flexible
  • all-geo YouTube channel? (Chris could look into it)
    • could just add favorites, not necessarily new content
    • state geologists have YouTube channels, links to other channels
    • becomes a one-stop portal that the geoblogosphere has vetted
    • highlights quality content
    • we don’t personally have to create content
  • Gotomeeting:
    • can share screen
    • a possibility for the next chat

Invitation: Current Issues in the Geoblogosphere

You are invited to join us for a group discussion on Skype of “Current Issues in the Geoblogosphere” on Saturday, 7 August 2010 at 1300EDT/1700GMT. E-mail to join. For a good primer to the discussion you’re encouraged to review the blog posts from July’s Accretionary Wedge and the comments that grew out of today’s post on Highly Allochthonous.

I hope to record the conversation and release it later as a podcast for those who are unable to make it at this time. If all goes well this will be just the first of a recurring series of Skype discussions on this and related topics.

The Geoblogosphere: Foothills Behind, Mountains Ahead

I’ve tended to do my geoblogging omphaloskepsis in late December or early January, shortly after the deadline for New Years Resolutions has passed (Schott, 2006; Schott, 2007; Schott, 2010). But this month, the Accretionary Wedge asks “What’s about the Geoblogosphere?” and although it’s still just mid-year, my blogging hiatus of the last few months has given me plenty of time to contemplate these matters, and the sound of a new deadline whooshing by seems to be just the thing I needed to stir me from my summer slumber. Also, since I evidently coined the term Geoblogosphere, I feel some sense of parental responsibility for its well-being.

Lone Pine Peak from the Alabama Hills, June 21, 2005


The question, as phrased in the call for posts, leaves a fair amount of room for interpretation. In fact, I rather like Ian Stimpson’s rephrasing of the essential question as “Whither the Geoblogosphere?” – though I have to admit that I needed to consult Google to figure out that “whither” means something like “Where are we going?” No one, of course can know the answer to that question, but with an understanding of where we’ve been and where other related communities have gone, perhaps we can sketch out some possible courses for the road ahead.

Why do we geoblog?

I blog because I want to share my understanding of the Earth with those who want to know more about it. This is why my chosen profession is teaching. Teaching at a university provides a structured environment for learning as well as a regular paycheck. It also happens to provide me with a first-class connection to the internet and the opportunity to extend my teaching beyond this campus to the world. Why do I blog? Here it is in a nutshell, from January 2006, fittingly titled “Geology Blogging“.

Queens Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, June 16, 2005


I think the fairest generalization one can make about the motives of the wider geoblogosphere is that all of us do this because we love geology and we feel impelled to share that love with others. Few, if any of us, make enough money at this to call it a living, and I’m not aware that anyone currently geoblogs because they are compelled to by others. These motivations are probably largely responsible for the relaxed atmosphere and camaraderie that our community enjoys. Insofar as that goes it’s a good thing, but these motivations also mean that there’s little driving us forward to innovate or push the boundaries and achieve something larger as a community.

Is there something more?

I don’t know about others, but I feel like there’s a lot more this community (or at least a group of self-selected members of it) could be doing. I think this might even be the elephant in the room that motivated the topic for this month’s Accretionary Wedge: What we’re doing is certainly fun and may even be fulfilling on some level, but isn’t there something more that we could be achieving through geoblogging?

The internet has revolutionized communications and it is disrupting many established institutions. Is there a place in this revolution for geologists? Is the science of geology susceptible to these disruptions? If so, don’t you want to be ahead of the changes rather than lagging behind? In the midst of the revolution, are there opportunities to advance the subject of geology that weren’t possible before? These questions have a scope that extends well beyond geoblogging, but I think there is just a thin layer of alluvium between this month’s Accretionary Wedge and these bedrock issues.


Needless to say I have my own answers for some of these questions. Others really deserve deeper discussion. I had originally intended to go on at length about them here, but this post is already overdue, so perhaps I’ll stop here and wait to see if this strikes a nerve with any of my fellow geobloggers. I’m hopeful that it will, and if it does we’ll certainly have more to discuss in the coming days.

A Brief Update: Packing for the Trip West

Earlier today I finally, wearily emerged from #gradingjail. Alas, there hasn’t been much opportunity to enjoy the achievement. I’ve spend most of the day packing for the trip to Google I/O and geologic points beyond that I detailed two weeks ago. My original plan was to spend four days driving to San Francisco, GigaPanning along the way. No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, however, so it looks like I’ll be driving hard for the next two days with maybe a break or two to shoot a quick GigaPan, if time and weather oblige. Fortunately, two days will be plenty of time to complete the drive, so while the GigaPanning plan on this leg may be compromised, I should still have plenty of time to make the drive at a sane pace.

Berti Waves to the Ferry Operator

I’m also a bit frustrated that I have once again fallen behind on my “daily” deskcrop and outcrop blog posts. I haven’t abandoned the project – it’s just that more pressing things have gotten in the way, particularly because of the end of the semester. The irony of the fact that I haven’t posted anything for this month’s Accretionary Wedge – on a topic that’s right in my wheelhouse – is not lost on me. (And I still haven’t gotten around to posting about my geologic heroes either… harrumph!) Hopefully once I’m out in San Francisco I’ll have time to at least get caught up on the deskcrops I missed.

At the Lone Pine Fault Scarp, Summer 2005

Once I’m done with Google I/O I’ll attempt to turn in daily field reports as I photograph and GigaPan my way around California and back across the Basin & Range and Colorado Plateau to my home on the Great Plains. To that end, you may note the new link in the menu bar at the top – I’ve added a “static” webpage for viewing my Outcrop Live Stream. I won’t have this on 24/7, but as often as I think I can show something interesting of my journey I’ll be experimenting with streaming geology live from the field. I’ll try to tweet when I’m turning the camera on, and if I get really organized, I may try to post a daily schedule of upcoming geologic stops – subject always to change with little or no notice. When I am broadcasting there is a chat interface on the UStream show page or you can just tweet @rschott – no guarantee I’ll be able to respond in real-time, but I aim to try, particularly while I’m shooting GigaPans (and definitely NOT while I’m driving).

Colorado Plateau Strata at Capitol Reef NP

Road Trip: An Experiment in Social Geology

With your help, dear readers and fellow geobloggers, I’d like to run an experiment in social geology this summer. My hypothesis is that real-time/live-web tools and social networking can be applied to geology-focused road trips in ways that enrich the experience for both the road-tripper and the audience of active participants. This blog post is a call for collaborators, and a starting point for discussion and refinement of this hypothesis. I hope that it evolves into much more than that. If you’re interested, read on for more details.

Merced River, Bridalveil Meadow, Yosemite Valley

The semester is winding down out here in western Kansas. I have one more week of classes to teach and then exam week, before school’s finally out for summer. I’m really looking forward to getting out of “grading jail“, but even more so, I’m looking forward to being able to spend my time developing new skills and working on projects that I can’t do while locked into a teaching schedule.

Immediately after the semester is done I’m driving out to San Francisco for the Google I/O developers conference on May 18-20. My own developer credentials aren’t strong yet, but this is something I’m looking forward to building over the coming year – particularly with an eye to developing apps for geologic field work and education.

As excited as I am about the I/O conference, I cannot hide the fact that I am at least as excited for the opportunity to drive out to San Francisco and back to Hays, KS and see as much wonderful geology in between as I possibly can. The response to my blog posts two weeks ago using excerpts from John McPhee‘s Annals of the Former World has inspired me to attempt to GigaPan at least four more of his I-80 geologic localities on my way out to San Francisco. Tentatively, and subject to tight restrictions imposed by the vagaries of weather and the need to arrive at the conference on time, I’m aiming to GigaPan the Gangplank/Summit area of the Laramie Range, roadcuts in the Rawlins, WY area, something in the Rock Springs/Overthrust area of western Wyoming, the Wasatch Front/Great Salt Lake, the Golconda Thrust, and an ophiolite in the Sierra Foothills.


Where this trip becomes an experiment in social geology, however, is really once the Google I/O Conference is in the rear view mirror, starting Friday, May 21st. From that point I’ll have about two full weeks before I need to be back in Hays, KS the second week of June for a visit from my parents. I’d like to make the most of these two weeks to see as much great geology as possible, GigaPan, photograph, and record video of it, and meet as many of my readers and fellow geobloggers along the way as time and route permit. Geotweeps have previously bantered about a having a geotweetup at Death Valley – this would be my best chance to participate if anyone else is still interested.


As with previous trips out west last summer and following the 2008 SF AGU meeting, one of my main goals is to photograph and GigaPan as much great geology as possible. I geotag all these photos and GigaPans and make all of them available through Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike licences. It is my sincere hope that my fellow geology educators will make use of these images to inspire and teach budding young (or old) geologists. In addition to photography, I want to begin to shoot more video of geologic processes and landforms – adding video to my blog was a major (as yet unrealized) goal for this blog this year.

None of the above is particularly groundbreaking, even among the smaller sphere of geobloggers. What I think might be genuinely new is adding web-based social features to this field trip that have only recently been made possible by advances in technology. Geolocated tweeting of text and photos in real-time is something that was hinted at by Callan Bentley back in mid-March. Ever since, I’ve been working on putting together the pieces that make this a real-time reality. I am now confident that the technology allows me to do not just near real-time geolocated photo tweets, but live streaming video from the outcrop, as well. The feedback from my deskcrop/outcrop series of blog posts this year suggests that there is some value derived by readers from this sort of post, though frankly it’s not as much as I’d hoped it would be. The jury is out as to whether lifecasting from the outcrop will be a captivating new approach to field geology or just information overkill. I’m eager to hear what you think would make this as interesting/compelling/useful of an experience as possible, particularly for those who follow the trip via the web.

Folded Metamorphic Rocks, Kings Canyon

So where do we go from here? Well, to begin with here’s a very tentative Google Map of the route I’m planning to follow – there’s lots of flexibility on the return leg from San Francisco to Hays, KS and this is really where I need your input to make sure I’m seeing as much great geology as possible. I’m also starting up two Google Waves: one for brainstorming about how to use the real-time web and social tools to best enhance the geologic field trip for all involved; and a second for planning the route and identifying specific localities for photography, videography, GigaPanning, and meetups. I intend to make these Waves publicly viewable, but editing is by invite only – e-mail me ( if you want contribute or need a Google Wave invite. I invite feedback via the comments to this post, e-mail (, or Twitter (@rschott).

The most pressing questions I have for you, my readers and fellow geobloggers, are as follows:

  • What outcrops/roadcuts/geologic features would you most like to see me photograph and/or GigaPan? There are already plenty of GigaPans of the panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, for example, so no need for me to duplicate them, but what about some lesser known outcrops or roadcuts that illustrate important geologic features or processes?
  • How can I make sharing my field experience useful/engaging/compelling to you as a viewer? I’d prefer this be a two-way conversation rather than a one-way broadcast, but it’s all experimental.
  • Want to join me for a stretch? Are you interested in meeting up somewhere along the way? If so, can you show me a favorite geologic locality that I might not otherwise know about?
  • Got a couch or shower I could use along the way or know of any cheap campgrounds with the latter? I’m trying to do all this on a budget. :-)


Day #120 Deskcrop: Bear Valley Springs Tonalite

We’ll close out the week and the month back in California with a deskcrop and thin section of the Bear Valley Springs Tonalite, one of the more abundant granitoids from the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Range in the Tehachapi-Bakersfield region. I’m not at all certain of the exact locality of this sample, but I strongly suspect that I collected somewhere along the Kern River Canyon between Caliente and Lake Isabella. It’s a run-of-the-mill Sierran tonalite, and a classic I-type granite with both hornblende and biotite as varietal minerals. The age of the BVS tonalite is right around 100Ma.

Bear Valley Springs Tonalite

Plane Light


Explore this and all of my 2010 Deskcrops and Outcrops in Google Earth!

Day #119 Deskcrop: Powell Kyanite Schist (Thin Section)

Sticking with the metapelites, today’s thin section “deskcrops” are from the Powell kyanite schist featured on April 16th. How many minerals can you identify in this thin section? Can you narrow down the range of P,T at which it last equilibrated? Bonus points for applying the phase rule – show your work! (Assume the rock is described by the components KFMASH.)

Powell Kyanite Schist, Plane Light

Powell Kyanite Schist, X-Polars

Explore this and all of my 2010 Deskcrops and Outcrops in Google Earth!

Day #118 Deskcrop: Staurolite Schist (Thin Section)

Today’s thin section “deskcrop” revisits the Black Hills staurolite schist featured back on March 24th. And those honkin’ big staurolite porphyroblasts don’t just look good in hand sample! In the thin sections below you’ll note the distinctly poikiloblastic texture of both the large staurolite porphyroblasts and the somewhat smaller garnet porphyroblasts, as well. You may also not the pleochroism displayed by both the staurolite and biotite crystals going from the first to the third images below. Um wa!

Zoomed-out, Plane Light

Zoomed-out, X-polars

Zoomed-out, Rotated, Plane Light

Zoomed-out, Rotated, X-polars

Zoomed-in, Plane Light

Zoomed-in, X-polars

Explore this and all of my 2010 Deskcrops and Outcrops in Google Earth!

Day #117 Deskcrop: Dunite with Cumulate Chromite

Another of my well-loved teaching samples comes from the Del Puerto Ophiolite in central California (though my recollection of the specific locality is somewhat vague). The sample is dunite, an ultramafic rock made of >90% olivine, with layers of cumulate chromite. This is a great sample for discussing crystal settling in magma chambers and is one of my favorite thin sections for introducing students to the mineral olivine, in all of its technicolor glory. In addition to the hand sample shot below, there are also standard photomicrographs of the sample in plane and cross-polarized light and MicroGigaPans of the same two lighting schemes. None of these is going to replace the experience of actually viewing the sample in a petrographic microscope, where one can turn the sample to see different optical properties, but with a bit of work and a little more technological innovation I think there’s the possibility to make a web-deliverable experience that’s a reasonable approximation.

Dunite with Cumulate Chromite

Photomicrograph in Plane Light

Photomicrograph in X-Polarized Light

Dunite in Plane-Polarized Light
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Dunite in Cross-Polarized Light
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Explore this and all of my 2010 Deskcrops and Outcrops in Google Earth!