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As summer looms ahead, the season of beaches begins! But enjoy it while you can. To a geologist, beaches are very temporary things.
Every modern beach in the world today did not exist twenty thousand years ago!
At the peak of the last Ice Age, sea level was at least 90 meters (300 feet) lower than it is today. Ice Age beaches would have been miles farther out to sea! Los Angeles, Sarasota, Myrtle Beach - any city famous for its fun in the sun - would have been landlocked completely. There was no such thing as an English Channel, a Bering Strait, or even the Great Lakes.
Going to the lake this summer? Modern lakes didn’t exist during the last Ice Age. Most lakes in the Midwest are “kettle lakes”, lakes created by great chunks of retreating glaciers that broke off and melted in place.
But the Ice Age did have some enormous lakes! They just don't exist anymore. A glacial dam in Montana would create the legendary Lake Missoula. Lake Missoula at its peak covered 2,000 square miles and contained over 500 cubic miles of water - half the volume of modern Lake Michigan!
Glacial Lake Wisconsin was born when the Green Bay Lobe (a glacial lobe over present-day Green Bay) created a dam on the Wisconsin River. Glacial Lake Wisconsin would eventually grow as large as the Great Salt Lake.
However, glacial dams are made of ice. Since ice has only nine-tenths of water’s density, rising water levels will create a buoyant force that tries to lift an ice dam, like how ice cubes float in your ice tea.
When that happens, glacial lakes will empty violently!
When the dam broke on Lake Missoula, over 500 cubic miles of water suddenly raced to the ocean! This created the eerie landscape known as the Channeled Scablands of the Columbia Plateau. When the southern moraine collapsed, the explosive draining of Glacial Lake Wisconsin carved out the Wisconsin Dells, which today are a major tourist attraction.
Some Ice Age lakes were created by climate changes. Lake Bonneville was a lake that covered over 20,000 square miles - almost as big as Lake Michigan - and stretched from Idaho through Utah. Lake Lahontan in Nevada’s Great Basin Range grew to cover 8,570 square miles (bigger than Lake Ontario’s 7,540 square miles). Both Bonneville and Lahontan were over 900 feet deep, deeper than any Great Lake except Lake Superior.
What created these monsters? It was Ice Age weather! The jet stream is a zone of high-velocity wind that carries moist air from the Pacific into the American Northwest and Canada. This wind pattern strongly influences the humid climate in coastal Washington and Oregon, making it quite different from the arid Southwest. But during the Ice Age, the fierce cold of the continental ice sheet split the jet stream and established a strong region of high pressure, called an anticyclone.
This anticyclone drove part of the jet stream north and the other part south – a deflection of as much as three degrees of latitude. This detour brought the moisture-laden jet stream into the arid Great Basin, which created huge pluvial lakes. But with the ice sheet’s retreat, precipitation decreased. Lakes Bonneville and Lahontan slowly shriveled up. The Great Salt Lake – and its little sister, Utah Lake – is all that remains of the mighty Lake Bonneville. Tiny Lake Walker in Nevada is all that remains of Lake Lahontan.
Beaches may come and go, but these processes take thousands of years.
Maybe it’s all relative. After all, doesn’t every summer go by in a blink too?
Alt, David. Glacial Lake Missoula and its Humongous Floods. Missoula, MT: Mountain, 2001.
Dott, Richard H., and John W. Attig. Roadside Geology of Wisconsin. Missoula, MT:Mountain, 2004.
Orndorff, Richard L., Robert W. Wieder, and Harry F. Filkorn. Geology Underfoot in Central Nevada. Missoula, MT: Mountain, 2001.
Orndorff, Richard L., Robert W. Wieder, and David G. Futey. Geology Underfoot in Southern Utah. Missoula, MT: Mountain, 2006.
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When I was a kid, I sucked at sports. I caught baseballs with my face. I caught footballs in my throat. I was awful. But at the end, there were participation ribbons. They sucked too. But participation ribbons may have saved lives. Let me explain.
Everybody’s a winner!
Participation ribbons have become participation trophies. Championship and MVP trophies are a constant. But now, there can be awards for “Best Team Player” and “Best Attendance” and “Most Improved” and “Best Attitude”, etc. Potentially, everyone could end up with an award. This practice has been critiqued in columns, blogs, and even on TV shows, like "The Middle." But it might be a wise practice.
Schadenfreude is a German word for the feeling of pleasure you take from another person’s misfortune. “Schaden” means “harm,” and “freude” means “joy” in German. We take pleasure when our enemies – or even friends - fail. Schadenfreude is a mean and dirty part of human nature.
Not too long ago, some Dutch social psychologists conducted a series of studies to explore schadenfreude. In one study, participants took a test to measure their self-esteem. Then, the participants read an interview about a brilliant student, who was later found to have done badly on her thesis. The worse the participants felt about themselves, the more pleasing was this student’s failure (items such as “I couldn’t resist a little smile” or “I enjoyed what happened”).
A second study was conducted. The procedure was similar. But this time, the participants were broken into two groups. In one group, the study proceeded as before. But in the other group, after reading the brilliant student’s interview – but before reading about her bad thesis – the participants were given a prompt to think “self-affirming” thoughts about their important values. The participants in this other group – who experienced the self-affirming thoughts – were less inclined to take pleasure in the student’s failed thesis.
“There’s nothing like a little success to blunt the influence of low self-esteem,” writes Richard H. Smith, a psychology professor. Smith also wrote a book, “The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature” – which explores schadenfreude on multiple levels in our culture.
Back to the Participation Trophies
Recently, the “Facebook Killer” used mindless violence in some twisted way to deal with his romantic failure. How many Americans are just teetering on the brink? How many of us are dealing with the toxicity of low self-esteem? Whose pain and agony will they take pleasure in?
So, maybe participation ribbons and trophies aren’t so bad. A ribbon. A trophy. A random compliment. A perfunctory get-well-soon card signed by your co-workers. A token “Happy Birthday” on Facebook. Little bits of “self-affirming thought” can keep the demon of schadenfreude away, which gives the better part of our human nature a chance to hold on for dear life.
Van Dijk, W., van Koningsbruggen, G.M., Ouweerker, J.W., & Wesseling, Y.M. (2011), Self-esteem, self-affirmation, and schadenfreaude, Emotion, 11, 1445-1449.
Smith, Richard H. (2013), The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature, New York: Oxford University Press.
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It’s morel mushroom season! But what if I told you that once upon a time, before the first dinosaur ever roared, there were mushrooms that were as big as palm trees!
I’m talking about Prototaxites, a super-fungus which was once the largest land creature on the planet.
Picture Earth during the late Silurian to late Devonian Period (i.e., 420 to 370 million years ago). This was long before the giant ferns and conifers that would father the coal fields of the world. Plants are small, timidly exploring this crazy place called “Dry Land.”
In this proto-forest of dwarf plants, Prototaxites could be a 1 meter (3 feet) thick and almost 8 meters (26 feet) high!
The Prototaxites were discovered first in Canada by W.E. Logan in 1843. But it was John William Dawson who would name the species fourteen years later. Dawson thought the tree was a kind of ancient pine tree (“first yew”, or Prototaxite) that had been eaten up by fungi.
The Fungus Theory
But a century and half later, plant scientist Francis Hueber classified Prototaxites – the whole thing - as one big fungus, due to its structure and morphology.
A few years later, a research team (including Hueber) concluded that Prototaxites was indeed a fungus, due to its variety of carbon isotopes. In plants, like today's trees, two particular carbon isotopes should be in balance because they get their food by photosynthesis. In plants and animals that eat other life-forms, the isotope ratio should vary widely. The Prototaxites’ combination of isotopes indicated that it fed on decaying organic matter, just what you would expect from a fungus.
Of course, if Prototaxites was a large fungus, it would also need a large food supply. But if the plant world was new and small, where would the food come from? Scientists Erik Hobbie and C. Kevin Boyce suggested that Prototaxites could have fed on “algal-derived organic matter.” Algal mats were most likely because there weren’t many true (vascular) plants for a good compost.
The Non-Fungus Theory
However, another group of researchers asserted that Prototaxites was more like a kind of liverwort, curling up with other liverworts and plants and ascending into the air. They thought that the fungus-like structure was just an associative growth with fungi and cyanobacteria, just like in some modern liverworts.
But the “monster mushroom” theory is currently in vogue.
The Mushroom Vogue
Did Jules Verne know about Prototaxites? In chapter 30 of Jules Verne’s classic “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” the heroes find themselves in “a forest of mushrooms” that had been “constructed on a gigantic scale.”
Simon and Schuster’s 2008 edition of the classic has a drawing of the mushroom forest on its cover. If you eliminated the mushroom caps, you’d get a pretty good visual of Prototaxites.
My cousin told me he was a “mushroom hunter.” I told him that you can’t call it “hunting” when the prey lacks teeth or even feet to run away. But who could hunt Prototaxites? Not even Mario and Luigi.
According to this year’s The Real Weddings Study by The Knot, the average engagement ring in this country costs about $6,163. That’s up from $5,095 in 2011.
Who could spend $6,000 for this “average” ring? The real question is this: Why spend money on a diamond ring in the first place?
Diamonds Are Forever, But Not That Savvy
Diamonds are not a good investment. Like most retail items, diamonds lose half their value the moment you walk out of the store (unless you buy bonded diamonds). Don’t believe me, just try to re-sell your diamond later.
Diamonds are out! Welcome the Moissanite stone – because an engagement ring made of Moissanite could help pay your honeymoon!
According to an article on CNBC.com, Millennials are increasingly turning to substitutes, like lab-grown diamonds and sapphires. Colorless “white sapphires” can make a good diamond substitute. Actually, rubies and sapphires are both corundum crystals; rubies and sapphires just have different coloring elements.
A white sapphire from The Natural Sapphire Company can be more than 80 percent cheaper than a diamond of the same size and cut! But a gemologist would quickly tell you that – among other things – sapphires will sparkle less than diamonds.
So, what’s more sparkle worth to you?
But what if I told you that there’s a stone that costs less than sapphires, is more brilliant than a diamond, and whose price difference could pay for your reception hall?
Say “I Love You” With Moissanite.
Geologically, Moissanite is silicon carbide and seldom occurs naturally. But lab grown Moissanite rates about 9.25 on the Mohs scale - almost as hard as diamonds. Moissanite is so similar that a jeweler’s electronic diamond tester will register Moissanite as a diamond!
Last year, CBSNews.com reported that a Kay Jewelers store was accused of stealing diamonds off a client’s ring and substituting Moissanites – a clever fraud given that the two stones are so hard to tell apart.
Moissanite vs. Diamond
Moissanite also has a higher refractive index (“sparkle”) and dispersion (“fire”) than diamonds. Translation: unlike white sapphires, Moissanite stones sparkle more brilliantly than diamonds!
What does this mean for you? A Charles & Colvard Forever One Moissanite - round, one-carat, and colorless (or “D” on the GIA Diamond scale) - sells for about $600. On the website of Helzberg Diamonds, I found a round, one-carat, slightly included, colorless (“D”) diamond for $7,000!
We're talking about a stone that anybody - including a jeweler, your mother-in-law, or even the snobbiest of "frenemies" - will think is a diamond. But at a fraction of the cost. A wedding ring that saves you enough for a honeymoon or the wiser investment of a home down-payment.
Of course, couples should decide this together. But a Moissanite engagement ring would save you thousands! That extra money could help pay for the wedding, the honeymoon, or…help put a down payment on a house.
Diamonds might be forever, but Moissanite stones are ingenious. Thank you, science!
By H. Shive
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Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.