Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interactive Geologic Map And Cross Section Of Kumaon Lesser Himalayas In Shama Gogina Region

This has been pending. As I posted earlier this month I returned from a trek in the Kumaon Himalayas along the Ramganga river in the Namik Valley just west of the town of Munsiyari in Pittorgarh district. The terrain is mostly the Lesser Himalayas made up of the Lesser Himalayan Sequence (LHS) composed of  late Proterozoic to early Palaeozoic metasediments.

The red line on the map below shows my location with respect to the regional Lesser Himalayan structure and stratigraphy.

Source: Celerier et. al. 2009

A quick recap of the geology:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Darwin's Bad Days And Long Ponderings

On Krulwich Wonders, Robert Krulwich mines Darwin's correspondence with Charles Lyell in which he complains of bad days and feeling poor and stupid. The great man was not worrying about natural selection but rather an upcoming book on orchids!

There is more on Darwin's tendency to be anxious and careful about his ideas and data:

In his short biography of Darwin, David Quammen writes that he was "nerdy, systematic, prone to anxiety." He was not quick, witty, or social. He spent decades working out his ideas, slowly, mostly by himself, writing letters and tending to a weak heart and a constantly upset stomach. He was a Slow Processor, who soaked in the data, thought, stared, tried to make sense of what he was seeing, hoping for a breakthrough. All around were snappier brains, busy being dazzling, but not Darwin's, which just plodded on until it finally saw something special, hiding in plain view.

Plodded on until it finally saw something special, hiding in plain view.

To that I will add that most people can't see something special, hiding in plain view. Inspiration often comes to the prepared mind and Darwin through his meticulous observations and prolonged days of thinking had a prepared mind, one that was not ideologically constrained but one that could accommodate and not summarily reject more radical notions of nature and change.
I am reading right now from  Darwin's Timeline which summarizes chronologically his life. There is a section on his life and work in London after he returned from his epic voyage on the Beagle in 1836. In it are two incidents which sowed the germs of two of the most important ideas on the nature of life and evolution; common descent and natural selection.

The first was in the months of 1837 when ornithologist John Gould on examining the collection of birds from Galapagos announced that what were cursorily identified as finches, wrens and blackbirds were all actually closely related varieties of finches. Why the confusion? Because the birds all had distinctly different shaped beaks. The prevailing world view of nature was that organisms could be grouped into different "kinds" distinguished by large differences in some trait or a collection of traits. Taxonomy was a flourishing field then and that species could be organized into hierarchically related groups was well understood. But that was seen to be the Creator's way of ordering the natural world.

Darwin on receiving Gould's interpretation that these birds were really closely related varieties of just one "kind" i.e. a finch began thinking on a different interpretation of the tree of life, on ways by which one species may change or transmutate into several species differing in one character, in this case the beak. His own collection of finches from the Galapagos was a mess. He had not labelled the birds by the island he collected them from. Fortunately, some other sailors on the Beagle had and using their collection Darwin could place the variation of beaks in a geographic and ecologic context. Perhaps few finches made their way from the South American mainland and populated different Galapagos islands? Isolated on different islands,  some force may have led to the differentiation of beak shape, each specific to a particular island ecology. That is common descent and adaptive radiation as we understand it today. More than natural selection, common descent is probably Darwin's most original contribution to biology.

The second "moment" for Darwin came in October 1838 when he read Thomas Malthus's essay on human population growth. Malthus argued that human populations grow until there is a resource scarcity, thereafter which a struggle for existence ensues and the weak die off. Darwin recognized that resources are limited in nature and a struggle for existence must be taking place wherein some organisms survive to reproduce while those not possessed with the right characters die out without reproducing. Populations will gradually change in character as generation after generation passes through this nature's filter, a process he called natural selection.

The Darwin Timeline is fascinating to read.  In all those months of thinking and rethinking there would have been bad days and days of frustration as Robert Krulwich points to. But Darwin was truly great not just because he had a couple of great ideas but because he took a firm grip on them and had the intellectual courage not to let go even as he increasingly realized that his theory would demolish cherished notions of our place in the universe.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Chinatown And Water Law On Generation Anthropocene

No.. no.. Jack Nicholson didn't show up on Gen. Anthropocene to revisit his great role in the movie Chinatown. In that movie, detective J.J.Gittes played by Nicholson uncovers a shady plan set in the early 1900's  to monopolize the water resources of Owen's Valley and to divert that water to the growing city of Los Angeles.

Buzz Thompson who is an expert in environmental and natural resources law and policy has a personal connection with California's dodgy water history as he recounts how his grandfather's farm was bought over by the city of Los Angeles in the early 1920's using a local farmer as a front and then letting the farm lay fallow as it diverted water for urban use. 

He also gives a tutorial on the different water use doctrines prevalent in the U.S as he explains the differences between the riparian water use doctrine of the eastern part of the U.S. versus the prior appropriation water use doctrine common in the west and also talks about how enforcement of water law has generally failed in the U.S. Another important topic covered is the economics of water use especially in the context of water recycling.

 Excellent conversation from Gen Anthropocene.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Humor: Young Earth Creationists And Oxygen Levels

I get responses to my blog posts from students, geology and nature lovers and even journalists asking questions, requesting papers and sometimes just to chat.

Occasionally I get comments like this one recently left on my blog post Early Homo Leaves Modern Footprints:

hasn't anyone ever stopped to think that, maybe when that giant flood happened a long time ago (10,00 years?) that maybe, just maybe, due to the serious compression of heat, oxygen, and pressure, that that is why we have fossils and remains? also, before "the flood" the oxygen level in the air was significantly higher than afterward. so our modern "technology" that measures how much oxygen something has been exposed to, is merely based on the level of oxygen that is currently in the air. not what the levels were long ago. thus, those who claim the earth is billions or millions of years mistaken due to the lack of knowledge of the oxygen levels before "the flood".

Feel free to dissect this nonsense :)

The four glaring problems:

1) There is no evidence of "the flood" which in young earth creationist language means a global flood which deposited all the rocks seen on the surface today.

2) rocks exposed to "serious compression of heat, oxygen and pressure" would destroy organic remains, not provide conditions for fossilization.

3) There is no evidence that oxygen levels a few thousand years ago were much higher than today.

4) We don't rely on the levels of oxygen in the atmosphere to figure out how old the earth is.

One good thing about comments like these is that I get tempted to dig into the literature to read more on the fundamentals. I found two good sources on the geologic history of atmospheric oxygen. Atmospheric oxygen over Phanerozoic time by Robert Berner and a chapter on Oxygen Through Time in Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Field Photos: Kumaon Himalaya Landscapes In The Shama Gogina Region

The location of the picture below is from near the village of Shama in the Kumaon Himalayas. Here  I am, dreamily looking north towards the Namik Glacier lying on the footwall of the north dipping Berinag Thrust and also the footwall of the north dipping Main Central Thrust! .. That is one of the structural characteristics of the Lesser Himalayan region.. it is made up of stacks of thrusts sheets.  ..but the geology will be up in another post as I need time to sort through some photographs and such (Update November 29 2012: See my new post on the geologic traverse!).

Meanwhile here is a location map of where I went on my trekking adventure followed by images of the scenic landscapes.

View Gogina, Uttarakhand in a larger map

Nanda Devi at sunrise from my camp near village Shama. This is the 2nd highest peak in India and the 23rd highest in the world.

View of the Panchchuli range from near the village Shama.

The pictureque village of Gyan Dhura where I camped for several days.

 Range after range. Himalayas leave you breathless.

 Red hot chilli peppers drying in the sun to be used in making a spicy chutney!

Children of the village Gyan Dhura. Roofing material is a graphitic slate and phyllite of the Deobang Formation.

Another beautiful village. In the background are the north-north east dipping Deobang Formation dolomites and graphitic phyllites.

Brilliant  yellow in the Himalayan sunshine. A house in the village of Gogina.

Ending with a teaser. There is a structural feature in this picture I will be writing about in my upcoming post.

I did an important traverse from the village of Shama to the village of Gogina and saw some very interesting geology, structure and metamorphic transitions. Annotated satellite images and cross section to follow soon.. stay tuned.

Update November 29 2012: See my new post on the geologic traverse!