Rosetta Stones Has a New Home!

For those who have been missing Rosetta Stones since the sad demise of the Scientific American Blogs network, I have fantastic news! We’ve moved into a sweet summer cottage while our custom forever home is being built. Bookmark this site, and come join us for a summer full of fun, phenomenal, and sometimes fearsome geology!

Image shows Rosetta Stones title superimposed over a photo of the sea and serpentinite rocks. Below is the headline

It’s got comments!

I’ll notify you here when new posts are available. You can also check in on our official Facebook page for regular updates and extras. And you can get early access to blog posts, exclusive content, and all sorts of extras on Patreon, so please do consider becoming a Patron. There are many levels to choose from, starting at just $1 per month.

To see what’s in store for this new Rosetta Stones epoch, check out this post. Raise your geologic hammers, and let’s get rocking!

Rosetta Stones Has a New Home!
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Four Must-Read Mount St. Helens Books

It seems like entire libraries have been written about the Mount St. Helens eruption. Here are four books well worth reading.

Let me just start by stating the obvious: this is far from a definitive list. It’s just a microcosm of must-reads. These are four books that provided particular insight. Some are out of print, but used copies are fairly easy to find. This is the stack I would personally hand to anyone wanting to learn all they can about that fateful day, who want accuracy, but who don’t want anything too technical or difficult.

You should purchase a box of your preferred tissues to go along with these books. You’ll get to know some of the people we lost up there. And it’s hard. But I feel we owe it to the dead to remember them, how they died, and to try to prevent the same thing from happening to others.

There are incredible stories of survival here. At times, there are frank discussions of terrible injuries. What a volcanic eruption does to a human body is truly grim. So be mindful of that. Take breaks when you need to.

The best part of all of these stories is that science prevented catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. And we learned so many lessons that helped save lives when other volcanoes erupted.

Mount St. Helens is one of the most fascinating volcanoes in existence. These books do her justice.

Continue reading “Four Must-Read Mount St. Helens Books”

Four Must-Read Mount St. Helens Books

Scotland’s Explosive History: Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

Book cover shows a knob of volcanic rock looming over the Scottish countryside.
Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

Let me admit from the start: I have a complicated relationship with Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland.

Continue reading “Scotland’s Explosive History: Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland”

Scotland’s Explosive History: Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

5 Fantastic Pioneering Women in the Geosciences

It’s International Women’s Day. While we’re appreciating living women worldwide, let’s celebrate some of the pioneering women who made the current state of earth science knowledge possible.

Illustration of two women sitting back to back holding rock hammers.
Credit: Dana Hunter

Pioneering Women in the Geosciences: Introduction

Geology has many fathers, and we know them well. But few of us can name its mothers. Mothers who sacrificed far more than most of the men did – many women could only succeed in the geosciences if they remained unmarried and childless (and some organizations, like the British Geological Survey, made that a formal requirement). They fought discrimination and doubt. They worked hard for a fraction of the recognition their male colleagues got. Despite all the decks stacked against them, they made important contributions to our knowledge of the world. Forgetting the women who left us geoscience legacies is intolerable. We need to remember.

This series seeks to restore these women to our lexicon of famous geologists.

Zonia Baber: “The Public May Be Brought to Understand the Importance of Geography”

Zonia Baber (1862-1955) is one of those people you aspire to be and fear you will never manage to become even half as good as.

And I only chose her as our first Pioneering Woman in Geology because of her name. I had this list of women I knew next to nothing about, and I hovered a finger over it, and said, “There. That’s an interesting name. Let’s start with her.” Then I found out she was a geographer, when I’d hoped to begin with a geologist. She was a teacher, when I’d wanted women who worked in the field. An American, when I’d hoped to start with a different country. Bugger. But Mary Arizona “Zonia” Baber? Still couldn’t resist the name. So I read past the first sentence in the Wikipedia article, and promptly fell in love. She co-founded the Geographic Society of Chicago, which was modeled after the National Geographic society? Awesome! Involved in social issues? Brilliant! Feminist, even so! And then I found out that she’d got her start in geology. Her geography had rock and earth all the way through. Outstanding.

Mary Horner Lyell: “A Monument of Patience”

You never hear of the other Lyell. Sir Charles, you know quite well: he set the infant science of geology firmly on its feet and inspired Charles Darwin. But there’s another Lyell who was a geologist, and without her, Charles Lyell would have found his work far more difficult, if not impossible. When he married Mary Horner, he pledged himself to a lifelong scientific partner.

Why don’t we know her?

Marjorie Sweeting: “The Basis for a World Model of Karst”

One of the best karst geologists in the world was technically a geographer. That’s the thing with physical geography: women were allowed to do it, and some of them made it just as geological as they liked. Dr. Marjorie Sweeting (1920-1994) certainly loved doing geology. Let’s call her what she was: geographer, geomorphologist, and distinguished Cambridge Fellow. The quality of her life’s work, plus my affection for alliteration, leads me to crown her the queen of karst.

I’ve fallen a bit in love with all of the women in geology I’ve researched and written about so far, but Marjorie was the first who got me copiously salivating. You see, I’m a bit of a karst addict. I especially love the karst landscapes of China. So finding out that this remarkable woman led the first set of British geomorphologists to China, and was the first western geologist to study those astounding landscapes, sent me into an agony of ecstasy. And I discovered a woman every bit as remarkable as the landforms she studied.

Inge Lehmann: “A Small Solid Core in the Innermost Part of the Earth”

At the age of 105, Inge Lehmann (1888-1993) looked back on a long, productive life with satisfaction. During her career in seismology, she had made two major discoveries and made other significant contributions. She’d won multiple prestigious awards, become a fellow of the Royal Society, and had honorary doctorates bestowed by Columbia University and the University of Copenhagan.She was an immensely talented seismologist.

She experienced her first earthquake when she was growing up in Østerbro, Denmark. “I may have been 15 or 16 years old when, on a Sunday morning, I was sitting at home together with my mother and sister, and the floor began to move under us,” she later wrote. “The hanging lamp swayed. It was very strange. My father came into the room. “It was an earthquake,” he said. The center had evidently been at a considerable distance, for the movements felt slow and not shaky. In spite of a great deal of effort, an accurate epicenter was never found. This was my only experience with an earthquake until I became a seismologist 20 years later.”

Janet Vida Watson: “A Scientist Who Communicated with the Earth”

Dr. Janet Vida Watson’s geology career is a love story.

She loved her rocks immensely. To her, they weren’t inert, cold stone. They had character. They had emotions. She loved her “happy rocks,” and trusted them more than she trusted the isotopes labs wrested from them (though she never shied away from new technology: on the contrary, she eagerly embraced it). She turned to them throughout her career, and they imparted their life stories to her, sometimes revolutionizing an aspect of earth science in the process.

She loved geology so much she did it on her honeymoon, with her groom, John Sutton. She adored field work, and teaching students to do this good science of rock-breaking. She loved it to the end of her life.

5 Fantastic Pioneering Women in the Geosciences