Posted on July 27, 2014
So...if you learn a lot about something while having fun doing your hobby, you too might end up with a university job teaching that something, a Wikipedia article about yourself, and a lake in Antarctica named after you!
Born on this date in 1833, the English geologist Thomas George Bonney was a math teacher who loved to hike around alpine (high mountain) regions, studying the rocks there.
He got so knowledgeable about alpine geology, he became a geology lecturer at a college and later a professor of geology at a university. He also became the president of the Alpine Club.
Bonney also wrote a biography of geologist Charles Lyell, who was the most important geologist of his time. Lyell came up with the concept of uniformitarianism, which is the idea that the Earth was shaped by the same forces and processes that we see happening today. Rather than assuming that the Earth's landforms were created very suddenly by short-term, violent events like a catastrophic global flood, Lyell suggested that they were created slowly and gradually by processes such as erosion, which we see occur now. Lyell was one of the first geologists to realize that the Earth was older than 300 million years.
Lyell was a friend of and important influence on biologist Charles Darwin.
The word alpine comes from the Alps
When we talk about alpine animals, alpine plants, and alpine geology being the animals, plants, and rocks found on high mountains, we are using a word coined by Europeans for the highest mountains in Europe: the Alps.
The Alps are a mountain range that stretch from Austria and Slovenia, in the east, through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, Monaco, Germany and France, in the west.
Like many mountain ranges, the Alps were created when two tectonic plates collided. Remember, geology has a lot of very slow (yet unstoppable) processes, and the collision of two plates is one of them. It's not a dramatic SMASH! BANG! collision -- but it goes on and on year after year after year after thousands and millions of years.
In the case of the Alps, the African plate and the Eurasian plate moved slowly toward one another, probably at about the rate of fingernail growth. They collided while traveling toward one another at a rate of less than an inch to a few inches PER YEAR.
(Of course, once in a while tectonic plates move quickly, slipping past each other in a juddery, skittery event called an earthquake. But that's generally when plates are moving alongside each other.)
In the case of colliding plates, it's hard to see any change within a human lifetime. But as they collide, the plates push upwards in a series of folds, forming mountains over millions of years.
Here is what is special about the Alps:
The Alps are middle aged mountains. (For comparison, the Rockies and Himalayas are considered young – at 10 to 25 million years of age. The Urals and Appalachians are old, at more than 200 million years of age. The Alps began to form about 40 million years ago.)
About 11 million people live in the Alps, making their living through forestry, pasturing sheep, cattle, and other animals, and of course tourism. Ski resorts and other winter tourism is especially popular, but in the summer the Alps are filled with hikers and walkers, cable-car riders, and para-gliders.
Because of the huge numbers of tourists and the large all-year population, the Alps is considered the most threatened mountain chain in the world.
I am thrilled to inform you that, although I have only ever been to the Alps in the summer, I was up high enough during a storm that it snowed on us! I never thought I would get to say that I was snowed on in the Alps!
|The world-famous Matterhorn|
|Tourists can even enjoy the INSIDES|
of the Alps. This tunnel was carved
into a glacier. I visited tunnels and under-
ground caves of a salt mine in the Alps.
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