Ten years ago today, I was still a potty-mouthed political blogger with no inkling that an ordinary scribbler could end up blogging for Scientific American. I'd only been mixing in a bit of science writing, and hadn't yet even planned that fateful trip that started a whole lotta unexpected doors opening that led here. If you'd told me right then that on January 5th, 2020, I'd be looking at very nearly 10 full years of being a geology writer, 8 of them for one of the most respected science magazines in the country, I'd have laughed.
It's pretty wild to look back at that younger version of myself, sitting with an elderly homicidal felid in my lap, completely unaware of what was coming.
It's been an amazing decade. I want to take this moment to thank all of you. Thank you to the science bloggers who ignited my passion for knowing. Thank you to the writers who put difficult concepts within reach of a layperson. Thank you to the geobloggers who claimed me as one of their own, taught me how to be a geologist, and wouldn't listen to my doubts. Thank you to the Scientific American Blog Network editors who gave my writing a fair go, and decided to hang on to me all these years.
And thank you, my dearest readers, for being here to share your enthusiasm, your questions, your favorite geological things, and your encouragement. You all know, couldn't do this without you, right?
So let's hop in the Wayback Machine and hit the highlights of the past ten years. And as we travel, I want everyone of you to remember: follow your passion. Even if you're not formally trained. Even if you're not sure you can do it. Even if you think you're just being a bit silly. Because you never know where that path is going to take you, who you'll meet and what doors may be opened to you. And at worst, you'll have spent some time and money doing things that bring you joy. That's not a bad old way to live a life!
It begins with a book. Being in the Pacific Northwest had rekindled my interest in geology; Ellen Norris Bishop's In Search of Ancient Oregon poured lighter fluid on and lit the match.
This led to me purchasing guides to the area's geology, a really good camera, and taking an epic road trip with my Intrepid Companion to personally explore the geological wonders of Oregon. Being a blogger, I wrote it up in a 9-part series.
And this is why I'm here today. Genuine geologists in the geoblogosphere discovered that series, claimed me as one of them, and wouldn't take "But I don't have a geology degree!" for an answer. Lockwood DeWitt made me the padawan to his rock-hammering Jedi.
I've been incredibly fortunate in my friends, mentors, and readers. My gratitude has had decades to grow and is now pretty much boundless!
Before this year, I stuck with textbooks, blogs, and popular science books. I was afraid to venture any further. After all, didn't science include a lot of math, which I'm terrible at? Weren't papers published in science journals written by scientists, for scientists, and unintelligible to laypeople? Wasn't everything behind expensive paywalls?
But then I discovered a treasure trove of free papers on Google Scholar. I ventured to read some, and discovered they weren't dry and incomprehensible. In fact, they were exciting! Geology papers cover some pretty dramatic events, and often don't include much math at all. And there's a paper or dozen freely available on nearly every region, landform, and process you can imagine. Score!
Lockwood continued my education in geology by taking me to see Crater Lake for the first time. This included seeing deposits of pumice it had left 30 and 40 miles away, nearly 8,000 years ago.
And I found out that Charles Darwin, famous for his contributions to biology, had actually been a geologist, and had some lovely inspirational words on the subject. I have become, like him, an adorer of the good science of rock-breaking.
What a year for a young geoblogger!
Imagine my shock when the then-editor of the Scientific American Blog Network, tipped off by the excellent and amazing Anne Jefferson, approached me for a guest post. Fortunately, my Intrepid Companion and I had taken a trip through the perfect landscape the previous summer, so I was able to take readers on a tour of some very heady subduction zone geology. It was awesome good fun.
I had no idea that post was anything but a one-off, but shortly after it debuted, I was offered a spot on the network. I trussed up my imposter syndrome, stuffed it in a closet, and said yes. Rosetta Stones was born on April 2nd, because we weren't fooling!
A new blog begged for an in-depth series. I chose my favorite volcano, Mount St. Helens, and we began a close examination of the geologic processes that led up to the cataclysmic eruption of May 18th, 1980. It was a wild ride, and it's still ongoing!
My dear friend and fellow geoblogger Evelyn Mervine finished her PhD that spring, and we went geotripping near her family home in New Hampshire, making some important advances in paleontology along the way! Do you know how lucky I am to know this woman?
Later in the year, I got in a very fun tussle with Cambridge's own Mary Beard, and we had a perfect excuse to examine how Pompeii perished.
And a marvelous cap to the year: Chris Rowan and I got to share a book together, as each of us had an essay selected for publication in Open Lab.
None of this was how I'd envisioned my 2012 going, but all of it was marvelous!
If you scratch the surface of the history of geology, you'd think only the menfolk did the rock-breaking while the womenfolk stayed home. But I began digging, and found out women have been doing geology since the beginning. Thus Pioneering Women in the Geosciences was born, because I'm 1,000% done with women being erased.
It's always nice when your work get noticed by the Really Prestigious Folks, and this year was a bumper one for that! My Tolbachik post got used as a source by NASA, which was super neat for someone who'd seriously considered becoming an astronomer as a kid. Then Evelyn and I ended up in the freaking New York Times with a Geokittehs post.
Seriously need to get back to illustrating geologic processes with cats...
You can tie pretty much anything to geology if you do a little digging, and both the Seahawks' Super Bowl win and the Winter Olympics gave me endless excuses to do so. A lot of geology goes into creating the gemstones for Super Bowl rings. And Olympic venues depend on geologic processes to create the landscapes that make them suitable, plus geologists to ensure the infrastructure can hold up.
Also neat: Seahawks fans make seismometers dance!
Speaking of earthquakes: we explored earthquake safety, and that is a hot topic for any year.
I absolutely love taking apart creationism and flat earth nonsense, so imagine my delight when I discovered that the other founding father of evolutionary theory, Alfred Russell Wallace, had once gotten into a tussle with a flat earther! It ended rather badly for him because cranks gonna crank, but it was great fun to write about.
The most massive and important project I took on that year was compiling a list of blogs authored or co-authored by women. There were many more to come! Parts Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six covered bloggers writing on an enormous range of topics.
And at long last, due to reader demand, I overcame my terror and wrote about Cascadia. Believe me when I say it wasn't easy!
Researching the Cascadia subduction zone's earthquakes may be white-knuckle, avoid-thought-at-all-costs terrifying, but it's also fascinating. And the 1700 Cascadia megathrust quake and tsunami found its way into legend. That may be among the top best posts I've written.
The year was an absolutely amazing one for astrogeology. We got to see Pluto as a geologically intriguing world, not a sad little ice ball. And we got a geologic map of Mercury! You know, if I'd known as a kid that I could combine rocks and astronomy, I'd probably be a certified scientist today. But being able to write about these discoveries is also amazing.
Surviving natural disasters was also a hot topic. I wrote up a fun volcano survival guide for those of us living in the shadow of active volcanoes. I also wrote a rather more serious guide on surviving flash floods, a subject near and dear to me after watching far too many people in Arizona die because of them.
And this was the last geoadventure I had with my dearest friend Suzanne. We had a delightful visit to Seattle's Burke Museum, where we explored exhibits displaying the intricate interplay between geology, paleontology, and archaeology. And we saw Washington State's first ever dinosaur fossil! It was brilliant good fun.
I will forever wish we'd had more: more trips to our favorite volcano, a chance to see the new Burke together, and time to explore her beloved Oregon coast. But I will always be grateful for the adventures we did have. She was one of the best people I've ever known. And if you know how generally incredible the people I'm fortunate to call friends are, then you have some measure of how excellent Suzanne was.
This was the hardest year. We lost Suzanne. My companion and geokitty of 23 years died. Our country had a president at the helm who appointed the worst possible people for science, education, and our national parks. And my living situation fell apart. It became horribly hard to write. But even in the midst of all that, there were some good things.
For Black History Month, I introduced you to black geologists and their outstanding writing and work.
We talked a bit about phreatic eruptions, which Whakaari/White Island has recently, tragically reminded us are really dangerous.
Kilauea was the hottest topic of 2018, beginning with fissures opening right under a subdivision. People had to flee, and we talked about how to evacuate in volcano country, which can be useful to anyone with a volcano (sometimes literally!) in their back yard. Throughout the summer, we followed the progress of the eruption, including the lava tornado that lit up our 4th of July. And we investigated LAZE, a rather intriguing hazard that happens when lava enters the sea.
By the end of summer, the eruption was winding down. We honored the prolific Fissure 8 with a duo of posts exploring its birth, life, and death. It was pretty amazing to have been there throughout! And we saw that the science goes on long after the eruption ends.
The other fascinating, and in this case far more tragic, volcanic event was the eruption and collapse of Anak Krakatau. We learned from the survivors what to do in the event of an unexpected volcanic tsunami.
Of course, geology isn't all volcanic disasters all the time. We closed out the year finding out where Santa gets his coal, and how it came to be there.
This has been an interesting and varied year!
We revisited the Anak Krakatau disaster by exploring all the various ways volcanoes can cause tsunamis. There are surprisingly many!
We began a geology of birthstones series, which we'll be continuing in 2020. So far, we've discovered how garnets get into rhyolite, how amethyst gets its pretty purple color, that aquamarine has a rather more firey origin than you might expect, and the deep origins of diamonds.
Grand Canyon National Park turned 100! Since that's where my early love for geology was ignited, that was very exciting. We celebrated by learning how to explore one of the world's most spectacular natural wonders without dying.
We bade a fond farewell to a robot geologist on Mars. This has been a huge decade for Mars geology, and much of it couldn't have happened without Opportunity's hard work.
And while Kilauea didn't erupt, that doesn't mean it was finished doing new and exciting things. We got to see a crater lake born! And we got a front-row seat to the science as HVO volcanologists figured out how to grab a sample of that hard-to-access water.
The decade ended with a stark, tragic reminder that no active volcano is completely safe. Geology is fantastically beautiful, but the processes that give rise to gorgeous scenery are completely oblivious to human health and safety.
None of us know what the new decade will bring. But I look forward to seeing what's next, and sharing with you some of the most amazing geology on this planet and beyond.
Thank you for sharing this marvelous decade with me!