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Interview Madness I, In Which I Perform Reflection Seismology on Chris Rowan

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I adore Chris Rowan of Highly Allochthonous. He and co-blogger Anne Jefferson were my first exposure to the geoblogosphere back when they were on ScienceBlogs. Now they have their own All-geo, which collects some of the best geoblogging on the web. Someday, I will tell you the story of how much I’ve learned from both Chris and Anne.

Today is a different story. Knowing I adore Chris Rowan, you can imagine how over-the-moon-and-orbiting-Jupiter I was when I discovered he and I would be sharing space in Open Lab 2012 (which he admitted he had a little something to do with, having submitted me for consideration). Look! Both of our names are on the cover! Along with other of my heroes and heroines!

Open Lab 2012, inside of which you will find much delicious science!

Open Lab 2012, inside of which you will find much delicious science!

And now, we have only so many shopping days until Christmas, and I figured The Best Science Writing Online 2012 is the gift to give to the people in your life who Need Moar Science. It has science of all kinds in it. It has science writing from the best in the blogosphere. And it has Chris’s beautiful “Ten Million Feet Upon the Stair,” which many more people should read. You might find yourself paying much more attention to stairs and the impact of your feet on this planet afterward.

Chris is a frantically busy person, and I’m chronically disorganized. We’re both swamped by work. But we manage to catch up with each other sometimes, and I did manage to perform some reflection seismology – otherwise known as a short interview – upon him for your benefit. Enjoy!

Chris Rowan, friends and fellow Earth denizens. Image filched from Chris's Sci-Am Guest Blog post "Japan earthquake: The explainer."

Chris Rowan, friends and fellow Earth denizens. Image filched from Chris's Sci-Am Guest Blog post "Japan earthquake: The explainer."

 

 

Dana: What’s your origin story? What got you interested in geology?

Chris: The long version is here: http://all-geo.org/highlyallochthonous/2007/09/the-accidental-geologist/.

The short version: I’ve always been a bit of a science geek, and like many science geeks of a certain age, my twin loves were dinosaurs and space. In my teens, space and cosmology seemed to win out, and I went to University intending to specialise in Physics. In my first year, however, I randomly signed up for a geology course to fill my timetable (and because field trips sounded fun), and before I knew it I was peering at the ground whenever I was outside. It also turned out that I was much better at puzzling out practical, hammer-able scientific problems than ones involving eleven-dimensional hypospheres and quantum states. Eventually, I took the hint! In hindsight, there were several earlier signs that Earth Science would be a good fit for me, but because it wasn’t really covered in science at school, I never really considered it before university. Fortunately, my degree was flexible enough for me to change course.

Dana: Ha, ha, see! Earth Science: easy to take, hard to leave. What led you to blogging?

Chris: I first encountered blogs when researching my surprising discovery that creationist views about the age of the earth and evolution were not just confined to a few hardliners in the American South. That led me to blogs such as the Panda’s Thumb and Pharyngula, then others which were more focussed on explaining scientific concepts and research, rather than combatting antiscience. At the time, there were only a couple of blogs I could find that were even vaguely geology-related, and after a few months bemoaning this state of affairs I decided that maybe I should do something about it. Thus, Highly Allochthonous was born.

Dana: Good for all of us that it was! Tell us a little bit about All-geo.

Chris: Ever since I started blogging, I maintained a shared Google Reader feed that aggregated posts from all the geology blogs I came across, with latest posts displayed on my blog sidebar. I thought this was a good way to foster interaction and share traffic with the the growing community of geobloggers – providing some of the benefits of a blog network without actually setting up a true network. It seemed to work pretty well, with people getting a good and permanent boost in traffic once I added them. All-geo and its Twitter incarnation @Geoblogfeed are the latest incarnation of this shared feed, although with the death of Google Reader’s share feature I had to employ my almost-good-enough programming skills to collect all the posts.

Dana: It’s the kind of collection a person can get lost in for eons. Possibly supereons. Which I have.

Turning now to Open Lab: In your post, you use the metaphor of feet on stairs for our impact on the planet. Mitigation efforts will have to include large-scale changes, but do you also encourage individual efforts?

Chris: In a way. The key is that it is identical, or co-ordinated, small actions that can eventually add up to a large impact. According to the concept of uniformitarianism in geology, the co-ordination comes from the physical laws that control and limit how a system behaves. In society, the co-ordination needed to make large enough numbers of people pursue slightly less environmentally damaging options over more damaging ones has to come from governments or other large organisations.

Dana: That’s one of the places where we can have an impact. Ten million voices united for action would certainly get their attention. We’ve seen what ten million feet on stairs can do! What’s the best/most durable rock to make stairs out of (from a geologist’s perspective)?

Chris: A good question. There is actually a trade-off here, since the more durable the rock, the harder it is to actually make stairs from. A quartzite (metamorphosed sandstone) or granite would be exceptionally resistant to wear, but would also be a pain to cut, and hence expensive. The Edinburgh stairs I describe in my post are made from a well-cemented sandstone: a good option because the bedding planes are still a point of weakness to split the rock along.

Dana: A fact which the Anasazi used to magnificent advantage in pueblo-building in my native desert Southwest! Their sandstone buildings have (mostly) survived near a thousand years.

Your co-blogger Anne Jefferson is also an outstanding writer. Do you have a favorite post by her?

Chris: I am contractually obliged to say I like them all! However, her recent post about how storm-surges from slow-moving hurricanes are just as dangerous – and damaging – as strong winds, is a nice clear explanation that is exceptionally relevant in the recent wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Dana: That one was excellent. But then, I say that about all of the posts on Highly Allochthonous! Chris, thank you for taking the time to answer questions.

Sometime eventually, when he has five seconds to breathe, Chris will be performing reflection seismology upon me, and you can be sure I’ll be linking.

Dana Hunter About the Author: Dana Hunter is a science blogger, SF writer, and geology addict whose home away from SciAm is En Tequila Es Verdad. Follow her on Twitter: @dhunterauthor. Follow on Twitter @dhunterauthor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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