Wrangellia: How the west was won

The Wrangell Mountains are Alaska’s most secretive volcanoes. We have looked at what they are (post I) and how they may have formed (post II). This area of Alaska has suffered the brunt of the most recent continental collision on Earth, and the Wrangell Mountains are an immense scar from this monumental accident. But there…

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

There is something about it. Gardening is a very human passion. Wherever there is nature, there is the urge to improve on it, removing the thorns, thistles and weeds, and replacing them with colour and fruit, adding beauty and harmony, a taming of the wild world, an artifice of flowers and pleasing shapes, where every…

Mercurious

It is a strange one. Metals are shiny, and this one certainly is, in a dark-grey, silvery way. It is so shiny that it can even be used as a telescope mirror. Metals tend to be hard, but this one certainly is not. It isn’t even a solid. Mercury is one of only two elements…

The stones of Stonehenge

The bird struts across the henge as if its owns the place. It is quite a sight itself: large, confident, and long extinct. It was re-introduced here a decade ago but is rarely seen. Great bustards are shy, befitting the fact that they look very edible. This one, for a strange reason, had lost its…

Sahara, Scotland

The conifers stand tall, straight. They look old but there are patches where trees have been cut, and there is replanting elsewhere, evidence of tree harvesting. The evergreen forest is popular with tourists. This is in spite of the latitude: there are more northerly places in Scotland, but not many. The climate is not as…

Time for komatiite

People mellow with age. At least, most of us do. The emotions of youth become less all-important and less demanding of our attention. Young people feel that every perceived slight needs addressing. The heat goes to the head and mistakes are made. The Earth, too, went through that phase, before it settled down in middle-age…

Hawaii and the story of the Pacific Ocean

The expanse of water seems to go on forever. The Pacific ocean covers a third of the Earth surface, more than all the continents combined. The east-west width between Indonesia and Colombia is almost 20,000 km. There is 700 million cubic kilometer of water down there! 45 different countries own part of it. The averaged…

Fossils of Mount Everest

The summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth, is a sea floor. That may come as a surprise; after all, a sea should be at sea level. In practice, there is some flexibility on this. Three seas are below sea level: the Dead Sea, the Salton Sea and the Caspian Sea. All are…

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…

Jokulhlaup in the English Channel

Christmas is a time of hope. The days may be dark and dismal but the corner has finally been turned. The sun is beginning its journey back to the north, and from here on the days will get lighter and longer. The new year has started. In Christianity, it is the birth of a baby…