Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Geosonnet 10

The Ediacaran saw creatures grow
Diversify as animals evolved.
But Cambrian descendants do not show
A lineage, preserved or else dissolved.
A missing fossil yearns to be dug up.
The flinders ranges burn to tell their tale
Trace fossils, both a spicule and a cup
Mean evolutionary theories can prevail.
Coronacollina was once a sponge
With opaline supports to hold it flat
Choia’s ancestor, before the plunge
Into the Cambrian destroyed the mat
  On which it lived, before it then evolved.
  Another fossil puzzle has been solved

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Geosonnet 9

The vast caldera of the Yellowstone
Erupts siliceous ash from time to time.
It’s far from the Cascade subduction zone
Therefore, a mantle plume’s the suspect prime.
But magma conducts electricity
Conductors in the mantle lie out west
The tomographic maps are very pretty
But show no melt where theory would suggest
A plume, with mantle source below the crust
Should yield a seismic and conductive trace.
Because we can’t detect deep melt we must
Explain resistance far below this place.
   A pulsed hotspot, or plate-related stall?
   Or maybe plumes do not exist at all.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Friday, September 05, 2014

Effect of impact energy on SIMS U–Pb zircon geochronology

I have a paper out in pre-publication online availability. The basic gist of it is that we are investigating exactly why SHRIMP is so good at geochronology.  It is a short format conference proceedings paper, so there isn't that much to it.  Basically, we investigated the oxide formation used to calibrate relative U/Pb ionization yields by bombarding natural zircon with a primary ion beam made of 18O2ions.  This way, all the molecular oxide ions were isotopically labeled- 16O if the oxygen originated in the sample, 18O if it was from the primary beam.  We then varied the ion impact energy to see what effect this had on the overall collection efficiency.

One of the other different things about this paper is that I co-wrote it with my dad.  He doesn't know any geology, but since I was about five he has been using SIMS (not SHRIMP, other brands) analysing semiconductors.  He still lives in America, so I don't get to see him much any more, and he's not getting any younger.  So it was nice to have a structured activity to work on together.  The middle author, Jim Ferris, did the atomic force microscopy. Unfortunately due to the short format, we didn't have space for any of his pictures, but he measured the sputter crater volumes, which we needed to calculated useful yields.

Magee C. Jr., Ferris J. and Magee C. Sr. (2014), Effect of impact energy on SIMS U–Pb zircon geochronology, Surface and Interface Analysis, DOI: 10.1002/sia.5629

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Geosonnet 8

The sunset lion, as Britannia aged
Survived, with every man, the frigid waste.
Industrial hostility upstaged
The sanctity of souls, their wreck encased
In icy seas and grinding floes made cold
By deep Antarctic circumpolar flow.
Dark isolation froze this land, how old
Are continental glaciers, ceaseless snow?
Six desperate heroes sailed the Scotia Sea
Dead arc, live backarc ridge beneath their keel
Tectonic forces pulled their goal to lea,
Deflected currents, begat their ordeal.
  Endurance sank, endurance overcame
  Asylum, dawn, and cause were all the same.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

Geology sonnet roundup

Firstly, I would like to place all six science week sonnets (plus the bonus poem) in stratigraphic order.  That is, youngest rocks described at the top. An analysis will follow the poetry:

A pox on all those proxies non-unique
Which make interpretation hard to do.
Magnesium to calcium we seek
Sea temp'rature, and not pCO2.
So lithium, uranium are used
to disambiguate the Mg curve
O. umbonatus data's not recused.
Antarctic ice growth isotopes observe,
But whence the melting in the Miocene?
Here isotopes of carbon join our tale,
And sedimentary burndown in marine
Organic carbon makes the icecap fail.
  Antarctic ice was thawed by CO2
  Let's try repeating this effect anew.

Just Sixty-six million short years ago
(Though Deccan volcanism coincides)
The Yucatan was smote a cosmic blow
And the Gulf shelf collapsed in those fell tides
Late Cretaceous sediments were scoured,
Deposited as “boundary cocktail.”
Unsorted forams, lime mudstone, powered
By Chicxulub-induced collapse of shale
The wildcatters call the seismic line
“Middle Cretaceous Unconformity”
Not middle, end; deluvian, malign,
Complete destructive uniformity
  The Mesozoic ended with this splat
  So Gerta Keller, please hang up your hat

The Central Atlantic Magmatic Province
Erupted tholiitic and potassic.
C O two upset atmospheric balance.
Eco-collapse ended the Triassic.
Green sulfur bacteria’s isotopes
Show photic zone euxinia prevailed.
Stomatal size decreased (show microscopes)
And carbon biomass was soon curtailed.
Compound-specific isotopes will tell
Which phytoplankton thrived in these tough times,
While wax from leaves and calcite from a shell
Record recovery in clastic slimes.
  The Triassic ended as it began
  Can those extinctions be surpassed by man?

Australia is a dry and stable land.
No mountain range, no active slipping fault,
And yet this plain had lava seas erupt.
We call them Kalkarindji flood basalt.
It’s hard to know just when these rocks were formed.
The weathering and rock type complicates
Radiometric dates of dykes that swarmed
When seas contained the first protochordates.
For ten long years they searched the outback rocks
For grains unhurt since fossils first were formed.
In hopes the nucleii-related clocks
Survived half billion years, still undeformed.
  510 MA, a date of some distinction.
  Flood basalts can lead to mass extinction.

Enough with carbon, climate variation
Let’s look at rocks from a far older time,
Which lacked much copper mineralization,
And when anorthosites were at their prime.
Earth’s middle age- boring for a reason?
Tectonics were remarkably unchanged.
Ice and iron were both out of season.
A billion years of uniform exchange
Of isotopes, strontium, and S
The active margins ringed the continent.
Slow, steady mantle cooling caused the process
Strong lithosphere held melts incipient
  It ended with Rodinia dispersion
  Which led to Earth’s exciting, current version.

Nobody studies fucking iodine.
The halogen too rare for us to care,
But iodate to carbonate’s inclined
So we might have a useful proxy there.
This IO3 requires oxygen,
And thus does not exist in reduced seas.
Its presence in old carbonates means then
Ozone and oxygen were in the breeze.
Archean carbonates do not have I,
But it appears when O first graced the air.
And thus another tool is forged, whereby
Our planet’s past can be unearthed to share.
  This gas we breathe controls the biosphere.
  We’d like to know what made it first appear.

The Schrödinger bacteria’s Barsoom,
Where robots scan the wadi of the Styx.
There died, or never lived a microbe bloom
When déjà vu and Dejah Thoris mix,
Her hungry eyes fixed on Hadean seas,
Lowell’s canal dream just an aquifer.
The playa droid with X-ray vision sees;
Areocalcrete Earthings soon infer.
With carbonate and opal intergrown,
Australia’s prayer of cheap uranium,
As vengeful Ares, orbited by drone
Blends nukes and life within his cranium
  Thus Opportunity grinds sands of time
  Which mortals fancy Ceres made of lime.

Thus ends what is possibly the least effective science awareness effort ever. I made it.  A sonnet a day, pulled from the pages of Geology, for the last 6 days of Science Week. And a bonus one earlier today, to try out some ideas I had while thinking up this post. If I wanted to kid myself, I would say that my failure was that I picked something too popular, and that the sonnets got lost in the celebrity gossip and other pop culture frivolity that haunts this form on the internet.  If only I had gone for American Mineralogist Villanelles.

This is not an entirely honest assessment. It was a tricky brief.  For the first few sonnets (1, 2, 4), I was basically seeing how well or badly I could jam technical terms and concepts into the structure without irreparably breaking the sonnet form, and still extracting the basic gist of the paper.  With 3 and 6, I was trying to show what it was about the study that was really clever- trying to channel the scientific genius in verse, with less of an emphasis on the story or terminology.  And with 5, I was aiming to show the difficulty in getting any data at all for that system, and emphasizing the blood, sweat, and tear aspect of research. Still, there are some core issues relating to good poetry and science writing which remain unresolved.

Others have written at length on the place of metaphor in science writing.   Personally, I think that it can be dangerous, and easily done misleadingly. Science is more like a murder mystery than an allegory. The particulars of who knows what when and how they determine it are generally more important than the anthropomorphisation of the interpretation of the day, but that isn’t always easy to put in verse. 

On the other hand, poetry without metaphor ain’t all that. It is worth at least linking Poe’s Sonnet to Science, which kind of set the mold of science as imagination-killing dreariness.  But the thing that he never realized, is that the universe is stranger and more bizarre than our imaginations.  So it is worth at least trying to convey the breadth and depth of a natural world which is stranger and more wonderful than anything we can possibly imagine without studying it, and then let our feeble human brains decorate those secrets which our scientific labour finally pries from the Earth. Furthermore, most poetry these days doesn’t really aim for accessibility or exposition.  So for 7, I maxxed the metaphor and theme, and didn’t even try to explain.

Overall, it was a fun exercise, and the overwhelming density of explanatory prose evident in the 3QD metrics makes me glad I tried, even if it was too obtuse and catless to interest much of the internet.

Geosonnet 7

The Schrödinger bacteria’s Barsoom,
Where robots scan the wadi of the Styx.
There died, or never lived a microbe bloom
When déjà vu and Dejah Thoris mix,
Her hungry eyes fixed on Hadean seas,
Lowell’s  canal dream just an  aquifer.
The playa droid with X-ray vision sees;
Areocalcrete Earthings soon infer.
With carbonate and opal intergrown,
Australia’s prayer of cheap uranium,
As vengeful Ares, orbited by drone
Blends nukes and life within his cranium
  Thus Opportunity grinds sands of time
  Which mortals fancy Ceres made of lime.