The Truth Behind a Geology Degree

There’s a lot of colouring in.

I am a baby in the Geological studies world. I’ve only just finished my first year of studying Geology and Physical Geography where I spent a lot of time having absolutely no idea what was going on and coming out of lectures thinking they were in a different language. I didn’t really know what I was expecting, I mean, I chose to study those specific modules at that specific university so I can’t really complain right? There were a lot of things that I would have benefitted from knowing before choosing Earth Sciences.

1. It’s a lot more Difficult than I Expected

If you’re currently studying geography A level or even geology A level (if your college is cool enough), and you think you may want to study geology at degree level then prepare yourself because that basic knowledge of volcanoes is assumed and they hurl you in at the deep end. In my second lecture of dynamic solid earth which started with geochemistry, we covered a semester of A level chemistry in 45 minutes. Bearing in mind, I hadn’t studied chemistry in 2 years, I was so lost. And I was terrified. I did not sign up for chemistry. No thank you.

I still am not sure what this was going on about. If anyone ever says the words “Stereonets” to you, run away.

It didn’t stop there. In the second semester we had a module on palaeontology and palaeobiology which took up 5 contact hours a week. More than this, I was convinced that my lecturer was speaking a different language most of the time. Learning about the anal system of a Brachiopod was really not my forté and stressed me out more than it should’ve. It wasn’t really what I thought I’d be studying and it’s definitely something to look for when looking at Earth Science degrees.

2. You’re Doing a Legit Science

When you tell people that you study geology, their initial reaction is “ew you study rocks” but then they do understand that it’s a difficult and well respected degree to have. You learn everything from GMOs to statistics. You’re likely to have an understanding of both essays and scientific research. Your job prospects are pretty damn good, especially if you have geography in there with it.

3. You do Colour In

Okay okay so you tell anyone that you’re studying Geography and Geology and they say “so all you do is colouring in right?” Well, they are kinda right. You do A LOT of colouring in if I’m honest. Sometimes it’s literally drawing fossils with your GCSE art qualifications and sometimes it’s drawing fault lines in the field.

If someone’s accuses you of drawing, you proudly agree that that is the majority of your degree and then find some way of judging their degree. For example, if they study engineering they also draw and if they study communications, all they do is learn how to talk to people.

4. There are Field Trips and They are Cold

Having just finished my first year, I can confidently say that sleeping in a caravan in Pembrokeshire in March while it was snowing has not been a highlight of my university experience. Luckily for me, I managed to escape after 2 days but that’s another story.

With an Earth Science degree, you will 100% have at least 1 field trip every year. It’s actually a requirement from the Geological Society in order to become a certified geologist. The field trips actually are so helpful (especially if you have no idea what’s going on in lectures). Being able to see features in the field help to solidify how the processes of rocks form and just like what was going on 350 million years ago (a lot btw).

Try to enjoy being cold while drawing pictures of rocks, it’s some of the best times of your degree.

5. Not Everyone is like Howard from Fresh Meat

After watching Fresh Meat, I genuinely thought that all geologists were nerdy male scientists who spent their time travelling to holiday destinations with cool rock formations. I was partially wrong. In my degree, I would say that it is a 50/50 split between genders and most of the people are actually normal and will do normal student things (like clubbing and taking part in societies). Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely nerds on my course, but I’ve managed to make a group of friends who don’t just talk about rocks all the time.

6. No Matter How Hard you Try, you LOVE Rocks

So when I joined my degree I was set that I thought rocks were boring and that I would hate staring at them for extended periods of time. That maybe lasted 4 weeks. Looking at rocks like the one below under a microscope really changed how I think everyone felt about rocks. They’re stunning. Not only this, but they tell a story about the environment, the climate and the geography of what that time period was like.

The moment I realised I love staring at rocks was during a practical and we were staring at a trilobite. I just remember thinking that this species went extinct like 250 million years ago but we can still look at them today to deduce where the trilobite would have lived, the environment in which it died and what this meant for the global climate at the time. I just thought that it was kinda cool that a tiny dead organism could show that.

Just accept that you get excited by rocks and move on.

Is a Jurassic World coming for us?

It is, of course, a very important subject at the moment, with the film coming out imminently. Most people will watch Jurassic World and think that it’s a ridiculous idea created by Hollywood for a few billion views, and yes, they are probably right. I know what I’m going to say will sound like a bit of a stretch, and I know that the idea of recreating dinosaurs is a ridiculous stretch. However, when I watch Jurassic World, I see something with a deeper meaning. 

The whole point of Jurassic Park in the first place was to create a park where you could step back in time and see what used to live on planet Earth. Clearly, it wasn’t a success. The part that actually was a success was the actual recreation of the dinosaurs. You see, studying paleontology, I can understand that extracting DNA from amber that has been exceptionally preserved can successfully aid in recreating these creatures. From that perspective, it was a success. 

The meaning that hides behind Jurassic World can represent how this power humans have over creation can lead to our societal collapse. By introducing species where we don’t understand the consequences to our ecosystems, we’re destroying much more than just a park. I know we haven’t done it to the same extent but we are invading our ecosystems by bringing alien species into them. This was done in Australia whereby foxes were introduced to reduce the numbers of rabbits and hares. However, the foxes (like teenagers), decided to be lazy and hunt the slower koalas instead, thus the rabbit problem was never solved and the koalas suffered. The food chain was thrown out of sync as a result. I know what you’re thinking, it’s only rabbits and foxes, right? Not much of a problem? Well, by doing this, the food chain was completely altered. The foxes didn’t have a natural predator, and neither did the rabbits. 

Late Cretaceous food web 

Comparing this to Jurassic World, you can clearly see that the dinosaurs at the top of the food chain (your t-rex’s etc), don’t have a natural predator. There is no way they can survive without scientific intervention because they don’t have a natural food chain to live in. Scientists created an ecosystem for them thinking this would prevent predation of humans. However, the climatic conditions and the flora/fauna could not be completely accurate as during the Jurassic for example, there was a supercontinent called Pangaea whereby the dino species could move up and down latitudes if the climate changed. However, since the Mesozoic (when the dinosaurs lived), flora and fauna have changed due to the break-up of Pangaea into different continents (as we recognise them today), this is not possible anymore. The scientists attempted to restrict the habitat of the dinosaurs to a small island which is not how they would have lived originally. The dinosaur food web would not have been the same as they tried to create it (as most went extinct 66 Mya). This ‘experiment’ was clearly not going to work but humans did not see it failing. They thought they could control nature. They thought they could play God?

There is a reason humans and dinosaurs didn’t co-exist and there is a reason that they shouldn’t. 

I know this sounded ridiculous and if you’ve kept reading, thank you. I’m trying to prove the power that humans can have over creation and how we should try to think about the consequences when messing with nature. Humans cannot act as though they are more powerful than creation. Afterall, we have only been on this Earth for 10,000 years whereas the ecosystems we’re destroying have been living for millions of years. Nature doesn’t have any obligation to keep allowing us to survive in it (Gaia Hypothesis) and will continue to keep living after humans are gone. We can’t act as God when we’re just a part of creation. We need to think about the consequences of our actions. We have to try and work with nature instead of acting against it.

So to answer the opening statement: is a Jurassic World coming for us? Well, maybe not in terms of actual dinosaurs, but in terms of humans taking power over the Earth to a point where we can’t control it anymore, yes I think it could. So if you watch Jurassic World, try to think about what humans are doing in the real world to destroy nature and how life finds a way.

References:

Cover photo

What you need to know about Tropical Cyclones.

 

For those who read the news and have seen Storm Alberto heading towards Lake Michigan (for the first time ever), you may still be wondering what a ‘Tropical Cyclone’ is and why they always seem to be in the same region. Here are some facts you might like to know as we enter the Atlantic storm season.

1. What are they?

A tropical cyclone is essentially a system of low pressure over tropical or sub-tropical waters. These systems contain thunderstorm activity (otherwise known as convection) with slow-moving winds that can circulate both clockwise and anticlockwise; anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere.

2. Why are they called different things in different places?

It confused me for a long time; is there a difference between Cyclones and Typhoons? If there is, what is it? Well, it turns out it’s just a geographical difference. Once wind in the system has exceeded 74mph, in the Atlantic it is classed as a Hurricane and the eastern Pacific whereas, in the western Pacific it is classed as a Typhoon. Areas such as the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, it can be classed as a Tropical Cyclone or Cyclone. The literal only reason for these different terms is dependent on where the storm forms.

Image result for map of tropical storm

3. Why do they have personalised names?

This is just so there is an ability to distinguish between the storms as there is likely to be more than one per year. Also, the names don’t keep going down the alphabet until ‘A’ is reached again. Every year the first storm will start back at ‘A’ and will then continue down the alphabet until the new year is reached. After 6 years, the names are recycled, so for example, if there was a Storm Alice in 2011, Storm Alice would then be used again in 2018.  This system started in 1953 by the National Weather Service whereby it was also stated that the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z shall not be used. The furthest it’s ever come to reaching the end of the alphabet was in 1995 when 19 named storms passed over the Atlantic ending with Storm Tanya which dissipated on the 1st November 1995. Also, extremely intense and destructive storms (that are potentially Category 5) are not used more than once to show sensitivity to people that were affected by these events. (The National Hurricane Centre has a list of retired names on their website.)

4. How do they form?

In the tropics, there is an area of low pressure which is above and below the equator. Above the equator the winds blow north-west and below, the winds blow south-east. When these two meet, they are moving in opposite directions so can spin around each other. Not only this, they require warm water to form which means that the warm air (usually around 27 degrees C) on top of this ocean rises, causing an area of low pressure. Underneath the warm air system, the cooler air is moister and forms clouds underneath the warm air. This whole system is fed by the warm ocean and the two sets of winds that cause the motion of the cell.

Image result for formation of cyclones

5. When might they occur?

As the previous point suggests, they are caused during warm seasons during peak level of solar radiation. The ocean itself reaches its maximum temperature a couple of weeks after this peak and thus the storms will start occurring usually during the late stages of summer and early autumn. This occurs from July to September in the Northern Hemisphere and from January to March in the Southern Hemisphere.

6. How do they die out?

In the most basic terms, when these systems reach land or cold water, they are no longer being fed by the warm ocean. This means that they are not being fed any water or convective energy to use so therefore they weaken. Another way they could weaken and die out is when dry, cool air is suddenly present in the system, this reduces the possibility of convection to keep the storm going.

7. How are they ranked?

There are multiple different scales used to measure their intensity. The most common scale uses wind speed to measure its intensity and is called the Saffir-Simpson scale.  Category 1 is the weakest form of a cyclone and Category 5 is the strongest.

Not only is wind speed used but also a less objective measure can be found. This might include observations of destruction the cyclone causes. For example, a Category 1 might only damage some crops and trees but no houses whereas a Category 5 would cause extreme and widespread destruction. There is also a scale for this subjective measure which is called the Beaufort Scale which is a scale from 0 to 12 (similar to that of the Modified Mercalli Scale for earthquakes). This scale covers all wind speeds and not just storm events. It starts at wind speeds less than 1km/h and escalates to hurricane force winds at over 118km/h.

Not only are there different types of scales, but the different geographical regions have all have their own scales with different categories for the severity of cyclones.

8. How are they forecasted?

Due to technological advances in meteorology in the past 50 years, computer modelling, stationary satellites, ships at sea and aircraft can all predict the formation and track of cyclones.

Organisations such as the National Hurricane Centre in Florida track specific areas of the ocean that are susceptible to storm events to measure changes in pressure and seeing clusters of thunderclouds that could lead to tropical depressions. Once a storm system has been detected, computer modelling, synoptic forecasting and statistics can predict what the storm is going to do from studying previous storms. (Of course, you can’t control mother nature so predictions may not be completely accurate).

9. Could they occur in the UK?

In theory, they can’t as they are tropical features that occur in latitudes up to 20 degrees away from the equator. However, the UK can receive areas of low pressure that have originated as tropical cyclones but have moved to higher latitudes so are technically cyclones/hurricanes. It is very unlikely that the UK will receive extreme cyclones found in Central America as the sea surface temperatures are not warm enough and the area of depression is not low enough. This did not stop Storm Rachel in February 2018, Hurricane Ophelia in 2017 and Storm Rina in 2017.

 

ophelia.jpg
Photo of the strength of Storm Brian in the UK in 2017

 

10. Are they affected by climate change?

This is a million dollar question (quite literally) and is not yet fully understood. It is theoretically thought that a rise in temperature by 2.5 degrees C could double the amount of storms we receive as warmer temperatures cause warmer oceans which cause more evaporation and could cause more storms. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) thinks that the frequency of storms will stay the same (or even decrease) while their intensity goes up. It’s clear that it’s not yet fully understood and will need to be further researched in order to help to reduce the risks in association with them.

If you have any questions or points of interest, please feel free to comment below or send me a message on Instagram @_alicefowle_

Cover photo taken from here.

Climate Change doesn’t Exist.

I do apologise if you’re here as a climate skeptic, unfortunately, I do believe in climate change as I think that science is correct on this one. It has been a subject of interest since I can remember. The term ‘global warming’ was introduced to me when I was in primary school because we were told the polar bears were going to go extinct. As a child, this made me very upset and I couldn’t understand why anyone would let that happen. However, since then, I can understand what is actually going on and how awful it could get. Somehow, some people still think it’s a myth, so here are some arguments that people still hold on to that put them in denial.

 It’s getting Colder?

It is thought that if the winters get colder or if summer does not come around until July, that global warming has ‘stopped’. People could also get this idea by looking at the graph which only looks at extreme temperature anomalies. Clearly, there are years of extreme cold such as that between 1941 to around 1950 which people may think of as global warming ‘stopping’. However, it is clear that when looking at the 100-year climate trend, temperature anomalies have been rising in degrees over average periods of 15 years.

fullsizeoutput_1da9

How is 1 or 2 Degrees going to make a Difference?

So on a hot summers day, you may feel like the difference between 25 degrees C and 27 degrees C does not affect you that much. However, when you start talking about global average temperatures, it’s a completely different story. Around 27,000 years ago, the Earth was in the Last Glacial Maximum which meant that the sea levels were 100 metres lower than they are today as 32% of the land surface was covered in ice (compared to 10% today). At this time, the average temperature was only 5 degrees C lower than they are today. If temperatures were to increase only 2.7 degrees C, this could increase sea level from melting ice which reduces habitats of terrestrial or shelf organisms. Organisms such as crabs and mussels would have a reduced habitat area (or ecospace) and would suffer a potential extinction (such as the one in the Devonian) and affect food security for those who rely on shelf organisms in their diets. 

Sea level is just one aspect of what may change. All aspects of life could also change. This could include weather patterns, energy supplies, crop yields and pollution levels. However, this is such a major issue that this is a post all in itself. 

Climate Change is just a Natural Process

So on some levels, this is correct. For example, the position of the sun relative to the Earth or the axis of the Earth could affect how extreme seasons could be (also known as Milankovitch Cycles). However, as seen in point 1, climate trends have been over the last 200 years or so but Milankovitch Cycles occur over periods of over 10,000 years. The climate of the Earth can deal with gradual changes of the Milankovitch cyclicity but the current levels of atmospheric CO2 levels correlated with temperature rise should have occurred over a period of thousands of years.

Aren’t increased Carbon Emissions caused by Volcanos?

A very topical subject at the moment. Volcanoes emit greenhouse gases such as CO2 on what seems like a large scale. The U.S Geological Survey (USGS) reported that volcanoes emit 200 million tons of CO2 per year. Compare this to human activity which emits 24 billion tons of CO2 per year, volcanoes really do not add much to the damage we do. 

Trump, “ice caps are now setting records”

To quote Trump himself, “If the ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now.” Now, this is contrary to 97% of all scientific explanation. Michael Zemp who is the director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service said that glaciers are melting at an extreme rate. So basically Trump is correct in terms of ice caps setting records, but rather they, are setting records in terms of how fast they are melting.  

CO2 isn’t Rising that Fast

It might not seem like much is changing, but looking at this graph shows that since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 emissions have increased at an unprecedented rate due to the start of burning fossil fuels. Not only CO2 but other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide have also been increasing due to an increase in intensive farming practices. Prior to this, annual CO2 emissions from human activity did not significantly impact the environment as CO2 ppm was stable at around 280ppm but as of April 2018, atmospheric CO2 was 410 ppm which is the highest level since Pliocene (3.6 Mya) which had average summer temperatures that were 14 degrees C warmer than they are now. If this doesn’t imply what could come, I don’t know what could.

fullsizeoutput_1da8

Climate Models aren’t Accurate

When people criticise climate models, they tend to be criticising weather predictions. There is a large difference between the two. Weather models predict the current weather whereas climate models have accurately predicted weather trends since the 1960’s. 

If it’s so dire, what’s the point in trying to fix it?

It might seem like there’s nothing we can do, but you’re wrong. The Paris Agreement set out in 2015 is attempting to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and make renewable energy more accessible for developing countries, thus helping to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. It’s not only governments that can aid in reducing climate change, it’s also everyday changes people can make. For example, the nationwide scheme to charge for plastic bags had reduced Englands use for plastic bags by 85% since 2015. A reduced amount of plastic bags can prevent plastic in oceans and allows for marine ecosystems to recover. 

If our generation can start to fix the damage we have caused, then future generations can rebuild and regenerate the environment that was once here.

Again, if anyone has any other arguments or points to make, please write a comment and I will do my best to reply.

References:

Cover photo: NASA

First graph: Has Global Warming Stopped?

Second graph: CO₂ and other Greenhouse Gas Emissions