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Mary Anning: Google doodle celebrates the missing woman of geology May 22, 2014

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in feminism, gender, geology, history of science, science, women in science.
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Google doodle celebrates fossil collector and paleontologist’s 215th birthday as reported in The Independent.

And since Google is celebrating Anning, whom I’ve always associated with ammonites, an extinct group of marine invertebrate animals (phylum: mollusca; class: cephelopoda), I’ve posted below a photograph of two of my students from our March 2014 study trip in which we visited the famous “Ammonite Wall” in the Negev Desert.

AmmoniteNathanJoey

Pliny the Elder referred to these fossils as the “horns of Ammon” because their coiled shape was reminiscent of the ram’s horns worn by the Egyptian god Ammon. The photo below shows the remarkable exposure of a laterally extensive sedimentary layer chock full of ammonite fossils. That’s yours truly standing on the steeply dipping bedding plane.

AmmoniteYonatanJill

And note the the great piece in The Guardian about Anning and the other lost women of geology.

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Once an ocean, now one of the driest, most desolate places on earth May 27, 2013

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in earth system science, geologic time, geology, hydrosphere, Mars, Vassar College.
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Vassar freshman Aaron Jones probably wasn’t the first visitor to Death Valley to observe it looks a lot like the surface of Mars. But the future earth science major says if he hadn’t seen it for himself, he couldn’t have grasped the power of wind erosion and compared the resulting rock formations to those on the distant planet.

DeathValleyFT13AaronDeathValley

Fossil Rock Anthem November 30, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in geologic time, geology.
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For those of you who like your science set to music here’s the latest from “science populariser” Tom McFadden who is on a Fulbright Scholarship at the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Being (noun); Human (adjective) October 25, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, Buddhist practice, contemplative practice, earth community, geology, mindfulness practice, slow violence.
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This piece was published by Shambhala SunSpace on October 25.

Trying out a new set of phrases for focusing my attention while sitting a four-day retreat with colleagues from the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, I sat on a rock ledge at the Garrison Institute, eyes softly resting on the castle rumored to have been the inspiration for the one in The Wizard of Oz.

“Breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in; breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out.”

The castle has long been owned and occupied by the Osborn clan, whose ancestors are not only railroad tycoons but also some scientists — among them geologist and director of the American Museum of Natural History for a quarter century, Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935) as well as conservationist and president of the New York Zoological Society Henry Fairfiled Osborn, Jr. (1887-1969).

A red-tailed hawk sailed in the cloudless, powder blue sky, and the broad leaves of a tulip poplar rustled among the other leaves in robust autumn color. And the thought once again occurred to me: human being is no compound noun; being is the noun, human is just an adjective.

And then my mind wandered to the beings I find in my backyard most days of the week:

Cat, orange;
Chicken, white leghorn;
Deer, white-tailed;
Dog, stray;
Fox, kit;
Heron, great blue;
Maple, norway;
Owl, barred;
Spider, jumping;
Squirrel, gray;
Turtle, snapping;
Woodpecker, red-bellied

All of them beings, living.

When our group came out of silence, we spent a bit of time talking about how our contemplative practices affect us as teachers. One of the more concrete effects the practice has had on me is that in my geology courses, when talking about organisms, I no longer refer to “living things.” Rather, though sometimes sounding odd to my students, I talk about other organisms as “living beings.”

I owe this shift in perspective to the Metta Sutta (the Buddha’s words on kindness)

Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.

Some years ago after reciting the sutta in the course of metta practice (wishing ease for all beings), I experienced this epiphany. Now, all that lives and has lived on this planet is abeing to me, not a thing. And we share this Earth with multitudes of these beings. We need only be still in one place long enough to notice them. For those interested in such an endeavor, check out The Forest Unseen, biologist David Haskell’s observations over the course of one year of a single square meter of forest in Tennessee.

Have you had this kind of perspective-shifting experience as a result of your sitting practice? I’d love to know. In the meantime, may all beings live with ease.

Earth, Mars, and Meteorites Inter-Are October 1, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, earth community, geology, Iron Man/Space Buddha, Mars, meteorites, Norman Fischer, science, Thich Nhat Hanh.
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This piece is cross-posted on Shambhala SunSpace.

Credit: Dr. Elmar Buchner

While discussing the five skandhas (aspects) that constitute a human being during a dharma talk on The Heart Sutra—a core Buddhist text—renowned Zen teacher Norman Fischer commented that although we don’t need science to confirm the veracity of what we think to be true, it’s nice when it happens that way.

Recently some extraterrestrial data sources corroborated for me what my beginner’s mind thinks The Heart Sutra teaches—that all phenomena are expressions of emptiness. Fischer says this teaching on emptiness is really a teaching about connection. Emptiness, he says, refers to the emptiness of any separation and therefore to the radical connection or interdependence of all things.

Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term “interbeing” to express this idea that no thing arises independently. As he described in The Heart of Understanding, there is only the constant arising of the universe (which etymologically means “turned into one”)—each so-called thing enables every other so-called thing. News of the past weeks from both Mars and the asteroid belt confirm such connection between Earth and our neighbors in the solar system.

Ever since it landed in Mars’ Gale Crater in early August I’ve been following the discoveries of NASA’s Curiosity rover (a car-sized, six-wheeled robot), the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory whose mission is to see if the red planet ever could have supported small life forms called microbes. The photos the rover sends back are mesmerizing and the discoveries tremendously exciting for they show that the material substance and processes of Mars are the material substance and processes of Earth.

Curiosity’s discoveries in the past months repeatedly reveal rocks and rock formations that are similar maybe even the same, as what we see on Earth. For example, the first rock analyzed chemically by Curiosity, just for the sake of target practice and dubbed “Coronation,” turns out to be basalt. This is no more spiritually surprising than it is scientifically surprising: this type of volcanic rock is common on Earth and Earth’s moon as well as known from previous missions to Mars to be abundant there.

In at least three sites, visual observations by Curiosity’s high-resolution imager reveal sedimentary conglomerate—a rock composed of compacted and rounded gravels naturally cemented together. We know from geological observations on Earth that water transport is the only process capable of producing the rounded shape of rock fragments this size. Curiosity has found evidence of an ancient Martian streambed!

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and PSI

Listen to Rebecca Williams of the Planetary Space Institute describe these findings. Williams is able to offer her lucid explanation because Curiosity is seeing on Mars the same materials and processes we are accustomed to seeing on Earth.

And as if I were not already convinced of the truth of The Heart Sutra, word arrived that a one thousand year old Buddhist statue taken during a Nazi expedition in 1938 turned up five years ago and was analyzed by planetary scientists in Germany.

Guess what the monument is carved from: iron meteorite, a piece of a meteor from the asteroid belt. Okay, so this piece of iron meteorite has an unusual composition. It’s an especially nickel- and cobalt-rich variety and so is easily traced to the Chinga meteorite that 15,000 years ago smashed into the border area between Mongolia and Siberia. Nonetheless, this “Iron Man” was carved from a piece of space rock whose major elements, iron and nickel, are the very same elements that make up the core of Earth.

Not that we need science to confirm that what we think is true. We’ve also got the wisdom of the ancients. Earth, Mars, and meteorites, for example, inter-are.

This entry was created by Jill S. Schneiderman, posted on October 1, 2012 at 10:28 am and tagged. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

Connected Across a Billion Years August 4, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Eden Village Camp, environmentalism, geology, Hudson Valley, Jewish spirituality, metamorphism, science.
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This piece is cross-posted at Shambhala SunSpace.

For the past month my family and I lived at Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley, New York. Rooted in the Jewish vision of creating a more environmentally sustainable, socially just, and spiritually connected world, the campers at Eden Village were empowered to promote a vibrant future for themselves, their communities and the planet. While my partner and I worked as science “specialists”—focusing especially on earth science—and our children participated as campers, we lived a collaborative effort to create an earth-based, safe, and kind community.

As a result, I came to think of Eden Village as a Jewish version of the Buddhist sangha.

My job at the camp was to connect campers scientifically with the ground we walked. In fact, this was a remarkable opportunity not only scientifically, but spiritually because the bedrock of Eden Village camp is ancient, perhaps as much as one billion years old (Proterozoic age). Named by previous geologists the Reservoir gneiss, most of the rock unit consists of interlocked grains of globular quartz and feldspar separated into bands by phyllodough-like layers of thin grains of mica (dark colored mica is named biotite, light colored is muscovite).

 

I find in this geological fact a metaphor for the way in which individuals, whether they are inorganic mineral grains or organic living beings, coexist.

The reservoir gneiss is a polymetamorphic rock; that means it has been changed from one solid form into another more than once in its history. These rocks have “lived” a long time and tell multiple tales most especially about chemical and physical responses to dramatic changes in their immediate environment. But they can be read metaphorically as well.

Plates of mica have formed layers in the gneiss by aligning themselves so as to present their maximum surface area to the directional forces encountered during mountain building events. (In the image below—a photograph taken of a thin slice of gneiss—the white, black and gray grains are feldspar and quartz whereas the blue, strand-like grains are micas viewed edge-on, as if looking at the sheets of paper in a closed book).

At Eden Village, during the early formation of the Appalachian Mountains, the micas shared the intense pressure of deformation by rotating as a cohesive group so that the plates of mica were stacked and strong.

What’s more, by looking closely at these rocks we can read other lessons. Rocks, like people, can break or bend in response to intense pressure. Metamorphic petrologists, geologists who study metamorphic rocks, talk of brittle and ductile deformation of rocks; abrupt change, as in shifts of the earth’s crust, causes rocks to rupture, whereas time for adjustment to substantial change results in flexible bending seen as folds—as in the image below—in seemingly hard material.

At Eden Village camp we strove to bring innovative earth-based teaching to a community that would be Jewishly connected and inspired to endure the massive environmental changes occurring on Earth. Neither Buddha nor Torah, the Earth also teaches lessons that can guide us as we aspire to a sustainable path in community with others.

Awake in the Anthropocene May 12, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, Buddhist concepts, earth cycles, geology.
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Indus Karakoram highway.jpg
The Indus and the Karakoram highway in N. Pakistan

Because of the extended time frame over which they occur, human-induced environmental changes—increased temperature, rising sea level, high-energy storm patterns, desertification and drought—are out of sync with human lives lived in an age of short attention span. The violence exacted on all living beings by these changes poses real representational challenges to our abilities to address it. Are there any tools within Buddhist view and practice that can help us work progressively at the intersection of violence and environmental degradation? How can Buddhism facilitate the work of awakening human beings to violence that is potentially catastrophic, but so slow that it’s difficult to discern and counter?

Read the rest of this piece, a featured article from Ecological Buddhism: A Buddhist Response to Global Warming, here.

This Month in the Earth Year: April April 26, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in cyanobacteria, earth community, earth system science, geologic time, geology, science, stromatolites.
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The last bits of snow have disappeared from the piles we plowed this winter and the daffodils have poked up through the defrosting topsoil, so it’s relatively easy to get a sense of time passing in our day-to-day lives. And at this time of year, when some readers may think that, as is often said, the only things certain in life are death and taxes, I’d like to add to that expression the existence of an ever-evolving Earth. For if we take the calendar year as a metaphor for the age of this planet, using January 1 as the date of its formation, by the end of April only 1.5 billion years of Earth history will have transpired. That may seem like quite a bit of time but if we gauge the passing of geologic time by looking for milestones in Earth history, it’s easy to see that Earth time is deep.

April is an auspicious period in the planet’s metaphorical history. The Archean. If you time-traveled to April of the Earth year it’s likely you wouldn’t recognize the Earth as the same planet we inhabit today. The Earth’s crust would have cooled enough so that continents had begun to form, but the similarities to today’s Earth would have ended there. To sustain a visit to the Archean, you’d need to have brought with you a supply of oxygen, for the atmosphere would have been unbreathable. Consisting of methane and ammonia, among other gases, the Archean atmosphere would have been toxic to most of the life that exists on our planet today.

Nonetheless, the first life that appeared on Earth—cyanobacteria— lived in the Archean. In fact, the oldest known fossils date to this slice of time.  The bacteria that grew in the Archean seas left behind large layered mounds called stromatolites that formed as the colonies trapped sediment and secreted calcium carbonate. Though stromatolites don’t commonly develop in today’s seas–because too many other organisms are around to eat them–those simple bacteria are still here, like death and taxes.

Japan in my thoughts March 17, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in disasters, earthquakes, geology, Japan, Tsunamis.
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For those of you interested in the science of earthquakes and tsunamis, you may be interested in this recent piece from Scientific American. It features an interview with my colleague Greg Valentine, geology professor and director of the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York Center for GeoHazards Studies. Also, if you would like to follow developments in the science of tsunamis, I recommend my colleague Brian McAdoo’s  The Tsunami Project: Transdisciplinary Approaches to Disaster Risk Reduction.

The Science of Earthquakes and Tsunamis March 15, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in earthquakes, geology, Japan, science, U.S. Geological Survey.
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For those readers interested in the geoscience behind the events in Japan, I can recommend CoreCast from the U.S. Geological Survey; this episode provides an  informative interview with USGS geophysicists Bill Ellsworth and Eric Geist on the mechanisms of the earthquake and tsunami.