Earth in Motion, Beneath Our Feet

“The Earth is God’s pinball machine and each quake, tidal wave, flash flood and volcanic eruption is the result of a TILT that occurs when God, cheating, tries to win free games.”
― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues 

One of my first posts was about collecting things as you travel. I can hardly qualify as even an amateur geologist, but I love the idea of traveling the world to see geological oddities first hand (and showing them to your children, of course).

More specifically, consider all the geothermal oddities there are in the world, and how amazing it is to observe any of them at work. And many times they really are “at work.” They might be rearranging the earth’s crust or just moving heat from deep under the surface out to where we can see it and be wowed by it.

Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa in IcelandPhoto by Gerd Kohimus

Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa in Iceland
Photo by Gerd Kohimus

At the less impressive end of the scale there are hot springs and bubbling mud pots which release heat and often sulfurous fumes from deep below the ground. These range from the “healthy waters” which made Bath, England, a retreat for Romans aching in the winter cold, to continental resorts such as Baden-Baden (literally “bath baths”) in Germany. In the US we have Hot Springs, Arkansas, and the amazing range of multi-colored hot pools and terraces in Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National ParkPhoto by Anthony Aneese Totah Jr

Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park
Photo by Anthony Aneese Totah Jr

Also in Yellowstone we have the more dramatic hot springs which boil over periodically to spew steam and hot water dozens of feet into the air. Geysers such as Old Faithful show off the mysteries (for me) and thermodynamics (for engineers) of what happens when hot water cannot move along to the extra space it needs. Outside the US, New Zealand and Iceland come to mind as notable geyser locations, but there are sizeable geyser fields in Chile and eastern Russia also.

But let’s look at the extreme end of what can happen when the heat deep in the earth really needs to break out in new ways. Volcanoes happen, mountains and islands occur where there were none, or existing mountains and islands get even bigger. I have watched the sunrise from the (dormant) crater of Haleakala on Maui. My next trip to Hawaii will have to include the much more active Volcanoes National Park. Other countries show off their “mountains in progress” to great advantage, most notably in Costa Rica and Iceland. Historical perspectives on volcanoes abound in the Mediterranean; consider Pompeii, Etna, Vesuvius, and Santorini for starts. Was there really an Atlantis, and how did it “fall”?

Lava flowing into the ocean from Hawaii's Big IslandPhoto by George Burba

Lava flowing into the ocean from Hawaii’s Big Island
Photo by George Burba

That brings up a close relative of all these dynamic wonders – the earthquake. Hot springs, volcanoes and earthquakes occur in close proximity to each other along the lines of action where tectonic plates move against each other.  Almost all of Yellowstone National Park lies within the original caldera of an ancient super volcano; the waterworks we see now are just the fizzling remains of the earlier giant.

This underscores what impresses me most about all these wonders. They are evidence that our earth is not static, and that we are NOT in control of it. The earth will do what it needs to do; this is physics, not intention. (I include the “pinball” quote above as humor. My actual thinking is more like the quote below.) We cannot successfully argue with physics. We mere creatures would be wise to observe, learn, stay out of the way, and act in everyone’s best interest!

“The fact that a cloud from a minor volcanic eruption in Iceland—a small disturbance in the complex mechanism of life on the Earth—can bring to a standstill the aerial traffic over an entire continent is a reminder of how, with all its power to transform nature, humankind remains just another species on the planet Earth.”
― Slavoj Žižek

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

11 April 2013

About Travel Unites

A travel agent since 1994, I want people to get together for greater understanding across boundaries.
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