Sunday, March 2, 2008

Do Geologists Have a Death Wish?

Something about having a huge pile of laboratory notebooks to grade on a tight deadline brings out the sloth in me, and suddenly every little distraction takes on monumental proportions, and I just have to share. I just looked at, courtesy of (, a spectacular series of photos of a 2006 rockslide at Elephant Rock above the Merced River on Highway 140 just west of Yosemite, taken by Herb Dunn ( I am trying to imagine the excitement of witnessing significant geological events in action, and Herb had a seat right behind the plate so to speak. Check out the photos, they are spectacular.

The photo above, taken by yours truly, is decidedly not spectacular, but it represents the only time I have seen a rock fall in Yosemite, despite something like 50 or 60 visits over the last 20 years. It happened on April Fool's Day in 2000, and I only had a cheap film camera at the time (my digital age began in 2001). And what did I do? Immediately drove as close to the impact site as I could so I could check out any damage.

Seeing Herb's viewpoint (he actually didn't have much choice, with steep slopes and boulders all around), I considered what happens when events like this happen to geologists. We run for a better look! A landslide, a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, it seems like we can't resist; while others run away in a wild panic, I imagine many or most of us will be scrabbling for a camera and running towards whatever is going on.

It isn't a death wish, of course. Many times (but not all), geologists may have a different understanding of the risks involved (the story of Maurice and Katia Krafft and the events at Galeras volcano in Colombia do provide a cautionary tale). I, for one, find earth processes in all forms endlessly fascinating, and we geologists have a perspective that tells us that what we see may be a once-in-a-lifetime event. At the very least, we want to share our excitement with others. Then again, maybe we are crazy...

Geotripper, acting perfectly safe and sane....

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