A quick search of the term “RIP” in this blog will show that it has been used over the years to mark the passing of senior scientists, mentors, and explorers who have an influence on me, whether personally or by reputation. I never imagined that I would have to write one for a student several years my junior. So it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Marco Beltrando.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Marco did his PhD at the Australian National University when I was a technician there. In fact, he would have graduated a few years after I started this blog. He was a big friendly guy, full of energy, lighting up the hallway with the excitement of science. He studied the formation of the Alps, the journey of the various alpine thrust sheets down deep into the Earth and back to the surface again, prying apart their precollisional history, their tectonic wanderings, and their speed, one accessory mineral at a time.
Marco’s geochronological tool of choice was the argon-argon system, not uranium-lead, so we didn’t interact directly in lab on a regular basis. But he certainly had an excellent understanding of geologic time.
As geochronologists, we need to work on a very large span of time. The nanoseconds that we use to define the dead time in our counting systems are 24 orders of magnitude shorter than the duration of time since the Alpine rocks Marco studied were deformed. And the Alps are considered young by geologic standards. When we throw around millions of years of uncertainty in our professional lives, it can be easy to miss the individual moments that make up our day to day existence. And since the most we can hope for is a lifetime that spans 20 billionths of the history of this planet, it behooves us to treat our time more valuably. After all, Marco only got eight and a half billionths.
To put it another way, the 31 million year age of the Alps is also a thousand trillion seconds. Millions of years are easy to get lost in- ice ages, extinction events, and the evolution of modern humans all happened in a fraction of a million years. But we can all relate to seconds. We waste them all the time: By the hundreds waiting for the bus, by the dozens looking at random crap on the internet, by the score looking for things we ought never to have lost.
And yet, it only takes a single second to wave someone down at a conference, to greet a long lost friend, to offer a cup of coffee and the prospect of devoting a thousand seconds to catching up on years of life. It is a professional hazard of geology to think that places, things, and people will always be there, as they always have, with no vestige of an end. And it’s not until we lose someone that we realize how fleeting life can be.
Good-bye Marco, and rest in peace. You’ve left us some mighty big shoes to fill, in education, in motivation, and in research. But the best we can do is to try to make the time.