Between a Rock and a Hard Place


Christmas cracker jokes 2014


Q:Why didn’t the geologist want his Christmas dinner?
A: He lost his apatite.

Q: Who did Santa bring along to perform at the Earth Sciences Christmas party?
A: Elf-is Presley!

Q: What is Father Christmas’s favourite element?
A: Holmium (Ho Ho Ho!)

Q: What happened to Rudolph when he accidentally ate clay?
A: He got illite.

Q: Why are advent calendars like the dinosaurs?
A: Because their days were numbered!

Q: Why aren’t there any single geologists at Christmas parties?
A: They will date anything!

Merry Christmas from Team BaR! See you in 2014.

P.S If you thought these were bad, have a look at last year’s!

Science Snap (#22) Landslide in Washinton state

DSC_2400 copy

Aerial photo showing the aftermath of the landslide that buried the town of Oso in WA, USA.
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Air Support Unit , King County Sheriff’s Office

This week, the world has been shocked by images of devastation after a huge landslide buried the town of Oso, north of Seattle, in Washington state, USA. At 11:00 PDT on Saturday 22nd March 2014, a 500m-wide section of mud and rock became detached from a hillside above the 180 population town, and hurtled down the slope at high speed. Deposits from the landslip are up to 6m deep and cover over a square mile. At the time of writing, there are 25 confirmed fatalities and 90 people remain unaccounted for.

The USGS has confirmed that there was no seismic trigger for the landslip. Instead, it is thought that exceptionally heavy rain caused a section of hillside to form a rotational slide complex. In such cases, material detaches along a pre-existing plane of weakness and falls ‘top first’, with the basal section moving upwards relative to the ground surface. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the hillside above Oso comprises loosely consolidated glacial till; some of this material mixed with water from a nearby river to form a devastating debris flow.

Although there is geologic evidence for other large post-glacial landslides occurring in the western foothills of the northern Cascades, making precise predictions about where landslides will take place remains almost impossible. The extent of the current slide is being mapped using LiDAR and aerial photographs, in the hope that future hazards related to the newly deposited mud can be alleviated.

Seems like everyone is a climate modeller these days!

KT Cooper is a PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. A carbonate geochemist by training, she has just returned from a three-month secondment to Houston, Texas, USA working with Exxon Mobil.

In December last year there was a lot of buzz around J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy land Middle Earth, and I am not just talking the second instalment of The Hobbit franchise. Taking a break from racing his rabbits about Anduin, Radagast the Brown (otherwise known as Dr Dan Lunt, University of Bristol) got involved in some of the climate modelling that is happening here at the University of Bristol and prepared a very interesting article for Journal Hobbitlore on The Climate of Middle Earth. Just adding a new feather to his hat!

Climate model prediction of annual average temperature (in Centigrade) of Middle Earth. Credited University of Bristol Press release

Climate model prediction of annual average temperature (°C) of Middle Earth. Credit: University of Bristol Press release

Climate model prediction of rain and snow fall (mm/day) of Middle Earth. Credited University of Bristol Press release

Climate model prediction of rain and snow fall (mm/day) of Middle Earth. Credit: University of Bristol Press release








The paper suggests that the Shire has a climate similar to that of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire in the UK, which would account for the green lusciousness of the Hobbit Holes, and that Mordor is very dry and ‘subtropical’, a bit like Los Angeles or western Texas. This may go some way to explaining the dryness of the Orc’s skin!

Radagast’s paper also describes climate model simulation results from Modern Earth and Dinosaur Earth (Late Cretaceous) time periods. It then details the importance of climate sensitivity in the context of current global warming and explains the role of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

As a non-climate scientist, this was a really useful insight into state-of-the-art climate modelling via a lighthearted example. Well worth a read, especially in Elvish or even Dwarfish! But as with most things, I prefer both my science and my fantasy worlds in cake form.

Hobbit Hole Birthday Cake made by a very talented friend of the Family. Credited Pat Ackland

Hobbit Hole Birthday Cake made by a very talented friend. Credit Pat Ackland