Black smokers

When visiting volcanoes, the first thing to strike you is the desolation. The ground is black without any sign of green, a lifeless wasteland. In Hawaii, walking through the rain forest, the sickness in the trees is the first thing that becomes evident. A little later, the forest opens up and disappears as the path…

Sands of time: walking the Grand Canyon

The Earth is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. A long time ago, the local council put in new sewage pipes in the town where I grew up. The smell was overwhelming. Normally, a smell of coffee would permeate the town whenever the wind went northwest: the main…

Volcano at fault: Neenach and the art of moving mountains

The San Andreas fault makes a great bend around the city. It leaves its citizens well separated from the real America. On the rim of the Pacific, Los Angeles has become the ultimate laid-back city. The beach-and-body life, the Pasadena coffee culture, the dancing on the highways (ok, that was only in that movie, I…

Saving the Earth with asteroids

The dinosaurs would disagree. After owning the Earth, they were now in a bit of a bother. A major re-arrangement of the Earth had taken place. Pangea had split; Gondwana was broken up. The Indian ocean had formed but not in a clean way: a number of parallel rifts were running through Africa, and the…

The Drakensberg and the storm that ended Gondwana

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo Setshaba sa, South Afrika Imagine. Around you is a sea of sand, stretching out far beyond the horizon. Mirages reflect the cloudless sky, and suggest water where only sand rules. But strangely, a mile ahead a river pushes through the mirages, flowing slowly, a blue ribbon amidst…

The island at the end of the world: Bouvetøya

If you want to get away from it all, this is the place for you. If you prefer to experience your volcanoes in utter isolation, you could not do any better. If you have seen it all, come and see this. Find yourself a globe (for younger readers, this is a historical version of google…

Rockall: The lost continent of Middle Earth

Mid-oceanic rifts should be in the middle of the ocean they formed. And often they are, but there are exceptions. The Reykjanes Rift, south of Iceland, is one of these. It is well known for its connection to Iceland, and events there are often discussed in this blog. Reykjanes has separated Greenland from Scotland, and…

Iceland in motion

Imagine an Atlantic island affected by a deep and complex rift, with half the country pulled east, towards Europe, and half pulled west, leaning towards America, but the northern part actually feeling closer to Scandinavia whilst the southern half doesn’t know where it is going. The rifting causes frequent eruptions with significant financial consequences. Its…

Echoes from a silent spring

It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh. (From Rachel Carson: Silent Spring) The history of life on earth…

Faults of New Zealand

It is a wonderful, and funny place. New Zealand has more than its fair share of the world’s beauty. You want volcanoes, rivers, beaches, forests, mountains, liveable cities, it has it all. Its history is out of this world. Apart from a few bats and some dolphins, the first mammals to arrive were human. In…