Dying Glaciers

A recent (September 2023) press release from the Swiss Academy of Sciences contained a startling statistic: over the past two years, the volume of glacial ice in the Swiss Alps decreased by ten percent (see It doesn’t take advanced mathematics to conclude that at such a rate all Swiss … Read more

Katie Paterson’s First there is a Mountain project

Imagine a group of people gathered on a beach. They all carry small buckets, but they aren’t normal sand pails. They are precisely molded replicas, in miniature, of five of earth’s mountains, all nestled together: Kilimanjaro, Shasta, Stromboli, Fuji, and Uluru. The beachgoers are about to scoop up sand in … Read more


Arthur's Seat

Magma intruding into sedimentary layers at Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh At the end of May, during the Edinburgh Marathon Festival weekend, I ran the 10K, and it got me thinking about time. Runners are obsessive about time, of course, always trying to improve their best time over various distances, but so … Read more

Iceland: Scars on the landscape

Distant fractures, Iceland

Faults in the distance, looking east across the valley at Thingvellir Iceland is splitting apart. One side is moving west, the other side east, and roughly down the middle of the island – if you know what to look for – you can see signs of this process. In the … Read more

Sandstone Marvels


Most of the buildings in Edinburgh’s New Town are made from hard, fine-grained sandstone that originated in a tropical river delta about 340 million years ago. I live in a building that is just a few years shy of being 200 years old. It’s also in a part of the … Read more

Rocks within rocks

Quetico portage

End of a portage over 2.7 billion year old rocks Most of us don’t pay much attention to the rocks under our feet. But portaging a canoe over rough terrain that seems designed to frustrate canoers somehow focuses the mind. Even if you are carrying a modern lightweight Kevlar canoe, … Read more

India 2014

Ganesha, with a coconut

Ganesha, with a coconut In February 2014 I spent several weeks in India, a country where I did geologic work for many years but had not visited recently. The first – overwhelming – impression was one of change. The cities, at least, appear much more modern and prosperous than they … Read more

The deep Pacific 2

Basalt "pillows" on the seafloor (East Pacific Rise at about 2500m depth). Taken from submersible 'Alvin'

Like the image in the previous post (Deep Pacific 1), this photo was taken from one of the small portholes of the research submersible Alvin at a depth of around two and a half kilometers in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The rounded forms you see are referred to as pillows, … Read more

The deep Pacific 1

Basalt "bathtub rings" on collapsed lava chamber, East Pacifc Rise. Taken from submersible 'Alvin'

In the spring of 1979 I was lucky enough to be on an expedition off the coast of Mexico to explore the East Pacific Rise – part of the globe-encircling system of ocean ridges where new sea floor is created. We used the small (3 man) research submersible Alvin to … Read more