Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Let's do the time warp!" offers The Accretionary Wedge

Where and when would you most like to visit to witness and analyze an event in Earth's history? Suppose you have a space-time machine to (safely and comfortably) watch an event unfold; which event would you most like to see? Why? What do we already know or hypothesize about that event that appeals to you, or that you would like to test? What would be the result, the upshot, of knowing more about this event?

The question is asked by The Accretionary Wedge, a flying circus of geology hosted intermittently on different blogs. You need not be a geologist to enter! (And how many times in your life are you going to hear that, eh?)

To see results of earlier questions, go to The Accretionary Wedge. The rules for this one await you here.

I know, I know -- many of my friends and readers are not versed in geologic arcana. but think of this as mental play. I mean, clearly I have a great yen to see the Spokane floods actually happening -- I've blogged about it, walked the empty land alone, dragged my family to Washington State's high desert for no other purpose,and sometimes mull over google's aerial views of the land and marvel over the hard work of heroic geologist J. Harlan Bretz.

Bretz lived much of his professional life before aerial photography. He went against the then-current gradualist grain of the geology establishment to create the flood hypothesis. He did his thinking walking the land, measuring, measuring. Year after year, his entire family moved to the desert for the summer and he set his kids tasks to help him build his theory. He was 96 years old when the Geological Society of American admitted "We are all catastrophists now," and gave him its highest award. He told his son he had outlived all his enemies and had nobody left to lord it over!

I would also like to see what happened when the rising waters of the Mediterranean broke through at the Dardanelles into the Black Sea basin. Bill Ryan and Walter Pittman at Lamont Doherty -- just across the Hudson from where I sit, so I feel kind of cozy about them -- have examined the likelihood of the Black Sea's being created like this. They also persuasively suggest that this particular flood out-flooded every other flood people could ever imagine and thus became the floods of Noah, Gilgamesh, and a dozen other literatures. Just imagine being able to watch it. How did it happen?

It's actually difficult to imagine. There had to be a moment when a land barrier existed between the two bodies of water -- then there had to be a moment when it gave way. Of course there were trickles; trickles happen. But trickles don't last for long. Generations must have watched the level of the Med rising; it was pouring in from the Atlantic through the Pillars of Hercules. Stories must have been passed down in families about the way it used to be, when the coastline was far off and waters were friendly. But how did it change? That's what I'd like to see. Did the land shake for years? How long was it before everyone left the area and it actually gave way -- um, they did leave, didn't they? What did people where Odessa is today hear, what did they see, what did they think, what did they do?

This is a subject of active debate among geologists, and it doesn't matter to me what actually happened. If itdid happen this way, I'd like to watch.

Time machine graphic from Gotham Schools blog. Bretz photo from University of Chicago, where he received his doctorate and was on the faculty.

1 comment:

Lockwood said...

Oh dear! I missed this one. Nice post... I'll try to add it in tomorrow, and get you listed in the participants in the AW. In case you're not familiar with the main website, it's here. Hope you participate in the future; the next set of entries are due next Friday (August 21).