Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pele's Flapping The Sheets

I've said it before. People take things so dang personally. One little thing goes wrong and it's all about them. Everyone bitches about the crappy weather on the weekend, but crappy for whom? There could be legions of salamanders who couldn't be tickleder about it, but nobody thinks about them. They think only of themselves.

I guess it's just our nature. We've got a hell of a thing going on in Hawaii right now that anybody should be honored to witness but it's being described as leaving a "path of destruction." Yes, it's possible you and your car and your house and your slower offspring and everything you've ever loved and cherished could be melted on the spot, but let's get some perspective here. This is clearly an act of creation, not destruction. You've got brand new real estate welling right up out of the ground before your very eyes.

We had much the same sort of event right here in Oregon not that many million years ago. Same kind of basalt flow. It flowed mostly westward at a decent clip until it hit the ocean and got chilly. Generally speaking, the basalt was said to flow at a rate a human being could outrun, although he would have to outrun it for a solid week. That was usually the sticking point, or would have been, had people been invented yet, but they hadn't, which cut down on the whining.

There are various ways in which molten rock meets blue sky. For instance, you could put a wedge of sea floor underneath the shoreline and keep shoving it down until it got so deep the pressure remelted it, causing volcanoes such as our own Cascade Mountains to pimple up about a hundred miles inland. But in the case of our huge shield-volcano basalt flows and the Hawaiian ones, it's because there's a hotspot underneath. Some spot in the deeper earth layers is perennially hot and churns out lava. Could be in the mantle, could be one floor higher; they're not sure. It's the spot where the fire goddess Pele sits and fans herself and complains that everybody's mumbling and the music is shitty now, and many people have left gifts for her as a bid for leniency, bouquets and leis and virgin teddy bears, but it doesn't work. (She wants chocolate.)

Pele doesn't move around, but the lithosphere above her does, so it twirls out a nice apostrophe of islands over time. In the case of the Hawaiian chain, it's the southeasternmost island that is newest and they are progressively older to the northwest. There's a volcano newer than Hawaii but it hasn't broken the water surface yet, and nobody counts it until they can drop a parking lot on it. That's another narrow-perspective thing people do.

Our own basalt flows have quite sturdied up the landscape for us. Apparently we are sitting on enough basalt that it could have covered the continental U.S. evenly up to twelve meters ("meter" is French for "yard"). We and our parking lots stand now as the westernmost legacy outpost of the old hotspot that is currently under Yellowstone. Ain't nothin' but heat coming up around Yellowstone and no end of wonders to behold, but even here you'll find people all cranky about not being allowed to annoy bison with their snowmobiles. If there were any justice in the world, these are the people who would get their asses geysered.

I think there are a lot of things everyone should be required to learn. Here's one that rarely makes the list: whichever patch of the planet you live on, you should know its story. You should know what got rammed or rumpled to give you your view; you should know why there are seashells in the middle of your prairie. You should appreciate how very tiny and ephemeral you are, and be humble, and enjoy the show, and try not to trash the place on your way out.

23 comments:

  1. What I don't understand is how people can actually build their house around an active volcano, and then be astonished when said volcano erupts and destroys their house. It's the same dynamic with people who build houses on stilts overlooking the ocean -- when the sea levels are rising! -- and are shocked when a hurricane takes it out. Or New Orleans, for that matter. Here we have a city that borders a body of water and is below sea level. Um... y'think it might be time to relocate inland, people, and just let NOLA become a modern day Atlantis? You can build levees all you want, but in the end, Nature will win.

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    1. And then there all the cities built (and re-built and re-re-built and ...) on earthquake hotspots. "But that's where we've always lived!"

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    2. Simple answer: People are generally stupid!!

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    3. To be fair, there are a heckuva lot of people in New Orleans who have no place else to go and not a lot of options. But yeah. We've been building in floodplains for years and paving over wetlands. Let the insurance companies work this one out.

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    4. You think? It's easy to call people stupid if you're sitting on high ground and enough money to choose where you live. And I agree there is a problem when FEMA rebuilds houses on stilts with an ocean view for the wealthy. But overall, I find these comments judgmental and harsh when there are so many who don't have such easy options. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/natural-disasters-by-location-rich-leave-and-poor-get-poorer/

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    5. Poor people in general do not have the options rich people imagine they have.

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  2. "Buy land," they said; "they quit making it."

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    1. But don't buy land next to the ocean...

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  3. "One little thing goes wrong and it's all about them." Cracked me up. And 'a nice apostrophe of islands' is a lovely turn of phrase. You are the best, Murr.

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    1. I'm probably one of the better Murrs.

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    2. I put that comma in there, just for you ;)

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  4. Saw your headline in my feed and thought "good grief! Murr's become a soccer fanatic!"
    Sorry, wrong Pele.

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    1. Yeah, I never really got soccer. It's so not baseball.

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  5. Love this! It seems to me that us oldsters learned about our local geology somewhere in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. Don't they teach these kids *anything* any more? :)

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    1. We DID? Because if so, I do not remember any of it. I still can't recall much about Northern Virginia except that it's on a swamp, which is not ancient geology.

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    2. Northern Virginia?! I’m from N. Virginia! And, yes, they did do a lot of filling in of wetlands in that area. All I remember is that the Blue Ridge Mountains are SO OLD!

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  6. If you want to know how North America was created, read John McPhee's wonderful book, "Annals of the Former World". Marcia Bjornerud's "Reading the Rocks" is excellent, too.

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    1. I did read that! Of course! (McPhee's.)

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  7. What is missing from this conversation about New Orleans and rising seas is that EACH and everyone of us is contributing minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, year in and year out to those rising seas via our own personal carbon footprints. New Orleans just happens to be among the lowest in elevation and will feel the wrath of climate change-created rising sea levels first. It takes real hubris to be glib about other's "stupidity" when you're absolutely contributing to the problem that will put their homes and communities (and those of millions of others in the years to come) underwater.

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    1. I suspect, because I love and know my commenters, that many are thinking about the rich people who MUST have their oceanside manse. Lord knows we talk plenty about climate change and the carbon cycle here! Kind of a theme. Thanks for the comment. PS Mar-a-lago can go straight to the bottom of the ocean any time, and it will, soon.

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  8. I have to study the history and geology of my country? How about I just promise to continue to appreciate it deeply?

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    1. Without STUDYING? Get back in there and hit the books or no dessert for you! Oh, okay.

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  9. If schools taught geology like you just wrote about it, it would be both meaningful and memorable. I could visualize the sea plate scooching under the land plate and pimpling up the Cascade volcanoes. So utterly wonderful!

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