Somersaults in the Sand: Adventures in the geological mapping of Australia
Author: Alastair Stewart
Reviewer: Adrian Hitchman
Today, with the advent of national pre-competitive datasets delivered to our desktops via online portals, it can be easy to overlook the time, effort and commitment it has taken to produce them. The ease with which variable-resolution datasets that have been isostatically corrected, reduced to the pole, stitched together, filtered, inverted, modelled and interpreted can be added to or removed from our specialist software platforms at the click of a button often does not give us pause to reflect on the years, the careers and sometimes the lives that have gone into acquiring them. It’s an ongoing process in which many in government, industry and academia are still engaged.
From its inception, the BMR was at the forefront of the national effort to understand Australia’s geology and what it means for our mineral, energy and water resources. It’d be fair to assume that many tall tales and true underlie these now spit-and-polished datasets – some of them lost in time and others increasingly vaguely remembered by those who were there.
Geoscience Australia’s Alastair Stewart is one of those who was there. He joined the BMR in 1962 as a new graduate and spent much of the next forty or so years mapping Australia’s geology until his retirement in 2000. What’s more, Alastair has written about his career, his love of the Outback, fascination with its geology, life in remote field parties and the interesting characters they tended to attract, in his absorbing memoir Somersaults in the Sand: Adventures in the geological mapping of Australia.
It tells of Alastair’s beginning as a green but enthusiastic young geologist and his progression to seasoned party leader and teacher of university students over the course of his career. We learn of party leaders, other geologists and field hands Alastair worked with, the challenges of navigating overloaded vehicles designed for more-genteel British countryside through the harsh Australian Outback, and the ups and downs of life in remote field camps for months on end. Some of the young guns Alastair mentions are now themselves distinguished experts in their fields.
Told in Alastair’s succinct and understated style, often with ample dashes of dry humour, the 150 pages – comprising 12 chapters, 2 appendices and a glossary – transport the reader to distant field sites allowing them to enjoy vicariously adventures in the Australian bush from the comfort of their armchair. It contains many evocative photos of parties, places and people captioned in such detail as requires a photographic memory or extremely detailed field notes.
Somersaults in the Sand was published in 2014, so it has been out a little while. Alastair still has a good number of copies which he is more than happy to share with interested readers at no cost. Notwithstanding his retirement in 2000, Alastair has continued his long association with Geoscience Australia. Please get in touch with him on email@example.com to request a copy.
Previous Book Reviews
Australian Backyard Earth Scientist
Author: Peter Macinnis
Reviewer: Lara Sharp
"Rocks are great: they don't need to be fed or watered, they don't run away and most of them tell a story."
Never a truer word spoken. These words set the tone for the rest of the book. Peter Macinnis is an avid traveller and passionate communicator which shines through in his writing style. The book has an air of 'This is stuff I know and stuff I think you will enjoy knowing, too', and so lacks a strong narrative. Having said this, it is beautifully illustrated with stunning photography and quirky anecdotes. The topics covered include plate tectonics, rocks, water, weather and the oceans and climate change. Every topic is accompanied by 'Did you knows', clear diagrams, and my favourite inclusion, an 'ologist'. Lithologist, vulcanologist, orologist…no-one is left out.
Historical perspective is regularly added, and sometimes a seemingly random walk through a topic, while remaining entertaining and informative.
From the title one might think the book has a local focus, but, amusingly, the 'Australian' refers to the nationality of the author.
The most attractive features are the projects using easy-to-find materials and clearly explained instructions. Who would've thought of making humus in your bedroom?
Suitable for a GA geologist wanting to teach budding geologists; useful as an extra resource for GA scientists when they get asked to do outreach; or even useful for GA parents wanting to get their kids interested in Earth science. This book is easy to read and attractively presented – and Australian!
Celebrating Australia's Indigenous Peoples
As a contribution to NAIDOC Week 2020, Discovery & Engagement is pleased to present a range of items from the Library collection on many aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life and culture.
Several of the Library's Books of the Month earlier this year have featured relevant books, particularly Munya Andrews' short guide to appreciating Aboriginal spirituality, philosophy and connection to land, Journey into Dreamtime (June) and Patrick Nunn's latest work on how knowledge of some ancient geological events has been preserved in the oral histories retold by generations of First Nations people around the world, The Edge of Memory (October).
Rather than review another single book this month, however, we thought it would be better to demonstrate that the Doc Fisher Library holds a discrete but diverse range of books on Australia's First Peoples. A small subset of these, selected and arranged by GA's Cataloguing Librarian and IP Manager, Elizabeth Fredericks, are now on display in the Library.
Central to the display is the highly acclaimed two-volume Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture published by the Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in 1994, and a later version of the stunning wall map of Aboriginal Australia which accompanied it (produced with the assistance of GA). Davis & Prescott's Aboriginal Frontiers and Boundaries in Australia helps to understand how the territories shown on this map were defined by traditional ceremonies of song and dance cycles.
Some works are (in whole or part) histories of Aboriginal people in specific places (The Aboriginal Tasmanians, by Lyndall Ryan; and Kakadu & Nitmiluk, by Dean Hoatson, et al.) Several are dictionaries or thesauri of Aboriginal words, or in Aboriginal languages. Many of the other works focus on specific aspects of the strong connection to land indigenous peoples have and issues arising since European settlement: reconciliation, land and coastal zone rights, relations with the mining industry, and more (in items on the shelves).
Staff and visitors are welcome to view the items on display this week, or after - they will remain in place until the end of November. Anyone interested in borrowing any of the books after then, please see any member of the Library staff to place a reservation.
The Edge of Memory
Author: Patrick Nunn
Reviewer: Leigh Franks
In his latest literary work, Professor Patrick Nunn celebrates un-written histories of societies past and present in a single volume reviewing the emerging science of geomythology. Modern scholars are only now agreeing that some stories that have been handed down through hundreds of generations, are undoubtedly the oldest stories of actual events ever recounted. Oral traditions have been the only form of transferring knowledge for most of the eternity of human existence.
As we turn the pages of this book, we embark on a journey that spans more than 10,000 years with Nunn as our guide. We are led through the unfamiliar and complex world of human oral history. As you read these pages you are using one of humanities greatest innovations: the written word. We have been writing for only five or six thousand years but have been busy communicating as we roamed this planet, perhaps arriving at least 65,000 years ago in Australia. Nunn leads us to 'The Edge of Memory' in seven enthralling chapters with the first chapter setting the scene as the colourful narrative follows a mid-19th century gold prospector in the northwest of the Unites States who stumbles across the vast Crater Lake on the Mt Mazama volcano in the Cascades. This first European sighting of a sacred indigenous place is part of the recent pattern that defines the aggressive expansion of Western 'pioneers' into territory already occupied.
The second chapter describes the geological formation of Australia, and the factors that define the island-continent as being uniquely isolated, along with its earliest inhabitants. The cyclic climatic changes that baffled European settlers and rendered early pioneering farms desolate, dictated the mobile nature of the First Australians, as they followed the rains being 'conservative rather than innovative'.
For the next three chapters this book focuses on the impact of sea level change in Australia, and its impact on ancient Aboriginal society. This book will surely be remembered for a land-mark study that brilliantly tied sea-bed bathymetry (mapping), global patterns of sea level change and the disappearance of 'country' as experienced (sometimes catastrophically) by Australian Aboriginals. The oral traditions recounting Australian stories of ancient 'drowning' of familiar country in antiquity, gauge the age of these ancient stories, that span hundreds of generations. Nunn uses science to inform us when peninsulas became islands and wetlands became bays defining the age range of stories that spoke about a different country, now under the waves.
Professor Nunn continues guiding us, revealing the oceanic science on a global scale that underlies our understanding of our unwritten histories, knowing no bounds in unravelling this story. The penultimate chapter is a smorgasbord of fascinating geological, oceanic and cosmic occurrences that truly inform us of the restless planet we occupy: mega-tsunamis, meteor impacts, earthquakes and disappearing islands that seem at first incomprehensible, but are masterfully explained. Our ability as humans to remember these awe-inspiring or terrifying events is well illustrated. Could you imagine an island, perhaps occupied by humans for millennia, inhabited by plants and animals for millions of years, suddenly slip beneath the waves without warning as if it never existed? Nunn explains the reality of this phenomenon and its implications in a staggeringly descriptive narrative.
The final chapter arrives at our destination with enlightening insights into myths and looks back at the vast span of time when all we had as humans was our voices and our memory; no literature to record in indelible detail all of our thoughts and memories.
Some have said they couldn't put this book down. So profound are some of the concepts and insights, that these words need savouring, appreciating. Nunn is helping extend our awareness of the true scale of our retention as intellectual beings, as it were, to the edge of memory.
Lying for the Admiralty
Author: Margaret Cameron-Ash
Reviewer: Chris Nelson
Hundreds of books and articles have been published about Captain James Cook, and the approach of the 250th anniversary of his first voyage (1768-1771) naturally led to more being written over the past few years. Margaret Cameron-Ash's Lying for the Admiralty is a rarity among them, for it demonstrates original research into Cook and the events of this first voyage. Specifically, it addresses long-standing questions about apparent errors in his journal and charts, which Cameron-Ash argues were not errors at all, but deliberate fabrications.
That's a strong claim to make against a figure so central to Australian history, but Cameron-Ash is an experienced lawyer and her book exhibits the meticulous preparatory work that must precede any court case. Her goal is not to reduce nor embellish Cook's record, but to show that he was politically astute and patriotic to the extent of risking his own reputation to protect strategic interests of Britain against its maritime rivals in the late 18th century. She presents evidence drawn from a thorough re-examination of all extant versions of Cook's journal and charts and those of his contemporaries, as well as the insights of previous historians and her own deductive reasoning.
Early chapters set the geopolitical scene, review previous European exploration in the Pacific and introduce key figures in Cook's life. The central chapters then follow Cook's early years, his experiences in the merchant marine and Royal Navy (including his acquisition of survey and cartographic skills in North America), and how he came to the attention of Admiralty Secretary Philip Stephens, who ensured Cook was given command of the Endeavour in 1768. Most of the later chapters then detail how Cook planned and completed his first voyage; it is in these chapters that she reveals her analysis of Cook's perplexing "errors". These included:
- Failing to understand the insular nature of both Rakiura/Stewart Island in New Zealand and Van Diemen's Land. Cameron-Ash shows that Cook deduced that both were islands, but chose to hide this on his charts, having learned that islands were dangerous during service in Newfoundland (they could threaten British territories by providing bases for rival nations).
- 'Missing' Sydney Harbour despite anchoring in Kamay/Botany Bay for a week. The author quotes a private memo of Arthur Phillip to the Home Office, written before he departed with the First Fleet in 1787, which refers to "a good Harbour, and several Islands" just north of Botany Bay. She points out that no one sailing past the harbour entrance can have seen islands within as they are hidden by South Head. However, Cook had written 17 years earlier of making a few "inland excursions" from the north shore of Botany Bay. She speculates that on one or more of these Cook led small parties along indigenous tracks, to the highest vantage points he could find. (He did so often throughout his life and it would also have been good practice, particularly for his surveying work.) From high points they would have had spectacular views of Sydney Harbour, which, "inexplicably" he did not explore by sea (allowing him to disguise its full extent on his chart of the coast). Swearing the parties to secrecy and keeping the rest of the crew in the dark, he effectively hid the harbour from competing powers.
- Claiming the east coast of New Holland on an island off the west coast of Cape York. It would have been highly unusual for Cook to claim the east coast from an island to the west of Cape York, let alone an island which Europeans considered as nominally Dutch. (The entire north coast of New Holland up to the Cape had been mapped by Dutch ships over a century before.) Cameron-Ash looks closely at this and finds many inconsistencies in accounts of Cook's claiming "posession of the whole Eastern Coast" for Britain on 22 August 1770. She concludes that this never happened. When the Endeavour reached Batavia, in October, Cook learned of Bougainville's passage through the South Seas over a year before. Could the French have landed on and claimed the east coast of New Holland before him? He had no way of knowing and thus had to invent a counter-claim to the east coast to have any chance of protecting his "discoveries". So he rewrote a page of his journal, to transform a signalling event atop a barren island off Cape York into a possession ceremony, and changed "Passage Island" to "Posession Island" on his chart. (On maps drawn to promote the First Fleet's departure years later, Possesion Island was relocated to east of Cape York.)
The final chapter of Lying for the Admiralty traces the publication of Cook's journal and other works describing the Endeavour's voyage, many of which the author scrutinised to write her book. Most useful to her was the 'Holograph' version of Cook's journal - his personal manuscript copy - which is the only version which preserves all of his own alterations. This was acquired by the National Library of Australia in 1923, and is now freely available in a digital version, along with a full transcription.
Cameron-Ash's book challenges a number of long-accepted historical "truths" and readers will vary in their willingness to accept some of her conclusions. Palimpsests, secret instructions and unstated decisions are, by their very nature, more difficult to prove, but her calm and forensic approach to the task is praiseworthy. Few could argue that she has made a unique and intriguing contribution to the national conversation about the legacy of Cook and the voyage of the Endeavour.
Declaration: Margaret Cameron-Ash's acknowledgements for this book include thanks to the staff of many libraries, including that of Geoscience Australia.
Author: Caroline Criado Perez
Reviewer: Kaya Wilson
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez explores how data bias affects our daily lives, and the world unearthed in it is best summarised by her chapter 'One size fits men'. Perez describes a world designed for the default male, which is blind to sex differences that affect half the population. These differences range from the inconvenience of shivering in a cold office designed for male body temperatures to the deadly, whereby seatbelts are tested on 'male' dummies, leading to poor effectiveness on women who are 17% more likely to die in car accidents. The book is comprehensive with all spheres life covered from the workplace, to the home, to warzones. It is data-heavy, with statistics littering most pages and citations taking up a fifth of the book, but the writing has an entertaining clarity that keeps the density at bay. Perez's scientific merit was rewarded when Invisible Women won the UK's Royal Society science book prize in 2019.
It is a damning read, that lays bare the neglect of our society towards half the population, as well as the unjust expectations placed on women. Even regions with admirable gender equity show the disparity of care responsibilities in studies such as that on the recovery outcomes of heart surgery in Scandinavia: Single women recover faster than women partnered with men, as their care responsibilities deny them rest. Men partnered with women recover fastest of all. These are the divisions of care that have become so apparent during the COVID pandemic are just an amplification of the experiences of women during Ebola or other SARS outbreaks described in Invisible Women, whereby women shouldered the majority of care of the sick, thereby falling ill at increased rates.
The book is relevant and undeniable to all and makes a hefty, overdue case for re-addressing the problems of the world through a targeted lens of sex-disaggregated data.
Journey Into Dreamtime
Author: Munya Andrews
Reviewer: Kriton Glenn
Ever find yourself nodding – indicating that you understand the question but not really having an inkling what the answer is, particularly when topics like Dreamtime, scar trees, Totems, song lines, skin groups or the Rainbow serpent are mentioned? Well the book, 'Journey into Dreamtime' by Aunty Munya Andrews will help you with this.
This book is really an introductory guide to understanding connection to land, Aboriginal spirituality and philosophy. Aunty Munya is a Bardi lady (Dampier Peninsular WA) with an extensive education from both the traditional Aboriginal elders and Australian universities. While being a solicitor and barrister, she is sensitive to cultural rituals, including bush medicine, and she encourages the readers to observe and immerse themselves in nature's cycles.
We are invited to go on a journey to walk in the footsteps of Ancestors and to build an awareness of the interrelationships in nature respectful conduct in cultural lands and discover what it truly means to belong.
The distinct packages of information in the book make it easy to pick up and capture a slice of living culture, learn the difference between Lore and Law, and the similarities in symbology and historical structure. At the end of each chapter the reader is asked to dig deep and reflect, to see if the information presented affects our thinking and adds to our existing knowledge.
This is a gentle yet powerful book, easy to read and creates an enjoyable learning atmosphere. The reader is given opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of the practical implications of working on the land and the spiritual aspects that help govern Aboriginal life.
A Memory of Ice
Author: Elizabeth Truswell
Reviewer: Alix Post
"The ship left Fremantle in a warm dusk. I grew up mostly in Perth, so the local landscape was a familiar one. It was strange, and exciting, to feel the throb of the ship as it moved down the harbour, past the rocky groynes, and then turned hard left.
There was nothing in front of us then but a huge expanse of ocean, and the coast of Antarctica."
And so begins Elizabeth Truswell's account of her experience aboard the Glomar Challenger, embarking on the first ever Deep Sea Drilling Program expedition to the Antarctic margin. We can already sense the wonder and excitement as Truswell, then a young scientist, sets sail for 69 days of discovery. Their brief included determining the age and pace of seafloor spreading along the Southeast Indian Ridge and unravelling the climatic, ecological and oceanographic history of the Antarctic. So just a few small tasks to focus their days! Prior to this voyage it was generally accepted that the Antarctic had first grown an extensive ice cap approximately 3-5 million years ago. The findings during this voyage helped to rewrite the history of the Antarctic ice sheet.
Truswell presents the science throughout this book with a general audience in mind, but the narrative is so much richer than the scientific discoveries made during this particular voyage. The story is framed around Truswell's personal diary entries recording her experiences of the voyage, and is woven together with the history of previous voyages as their voyages 'cross paths'. This creates a rich history of exploration, scientific understanding and discovery. The Glomar Challenger sets sail from Fremantle 100 years (minus one day) after its namesake vessel, the HMS Challenger, left Portsmouth, England. The HMS Challenger was embarking on a four year journey undertaking the world's first ever voyage dedicated wholly to science, and focussed on dredging and sampling the deep oceans. One hundred years later, the equipment is far more advanced, but there is still much to discover from the deep sea. During investigation of the Southeast Indian Ridge to the south, the Glomar Challenger crosses the path of the HMS Resolution commanded by James Cook just over 200 years earlier. The Resolution was circumnavigating the Southern Ocean in search of the Great South Land. As the Glomar Challenger nears the coast of Antarctica, the geographic names provide the context for segues into the stories and discoveries of the early Antarctic explorers, naturalists and artists.
One story of particular significance is that of Joseph Hooker. He was a young botanist on the voyages led by James Clark Ross to the Ross Sea during 1839 – 1843. It was his work on the surrounding southern continents and islands that first suggested that there were common elements among plants growing at high southern latitudes that could be best explained by the previous existence of a single landmass near the pole, forming a common source for the plants. The key piece in the jigsaw puzzle connecting the botanic history of India, Australia, South America and South Africa was only discovered in 1914 when leaf fragments collected during Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition were identified as Glossopteris, providing the first tangible evidence of a supercontinent across the south polar regions. The rich botanical history of Antarctica becomes central to Truswell's work on the Glomar Challenger, providing new understanding of the climatic evolution of Antarctica, and the growth of the Antarctic ice sheet. The drill cores collected during this voyage ultimately pushed back the accepted timing for the growth of the Antarctic ice sheet by more than 20 million years.
Elizabeth Truswell will be familiar to many at GA and within the Geoscience community. A pioneering scientist and accomplished artist, one of her paintings hangs in the GA lobby and depicts her personal response to the 2003 Canberra bushfires. She also has the honour of having a GA WIFI network named after her! This book provides a glimpse into her early scientific career, before she rose to eminence as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, before she was GA's Chief Research Scientist for seven years during the 1990s, before she became a world leader in Antarctic palynology and before she gained a degree in visual arts, working at the interface between science and art. It's a privilege to be taken on part of her journey with her through A Memory of Ice.
When Peace Comes
Author: Sir Herbert Gepp
Reviewer: Chris Nelson
This book was a lucky find at the last Lifeline Booksale. In a long row of Australiana, I recognised the surname on its spine, and decided to take a closer look. I was delighted to find that it was inscribed on the front flyleaf, to Sir Thomas Gordon, a Director in the same wartime government department as the Mineral Resources Survey led by Harold Raggatt. (After the war the Survey would become the Bureau of Mineral Resources.) The inscription tells us a little of Gepp, too – he had been knighted five years before Gordon, but was too modest to use 'Sir' as part of his own signature.
So, who was Herbert Gepp and why is this book of interest? Gepp was born into an impoverished family in Adelaide in 1877. He earned a scholarship to finish college but could not afford university until he had worked a while as a junior chemist in a Melbourne explosives factory. A remarkable career followed, as an innovative metallurgist and industrial manager (with enlightened views on the welfare of workers), President of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, a public servant and member (or head) of several Royal Commissions, and an influential promoter of the role of science in industry and agriculture. When Peace Comes was his second collection of public addresses and published essays, after Democracy's Danger (1939). It must have been popular, as the second edition was released just a month after the first.
Given this background and the time of writing, it is not surprising that When Peace Comes is divided into two related themes: War and Reconstruction. The breadth of specific topics, however, is wider than one might expect: national defence, industry, industrial relations, post-war planning, certainly, but also education, migration, nutrition, natural resources, and public relations. Yes, some of the chapters are dry and some phrases reflect now dated societal norms (eg. "no population can thrive unless the men have their women with them", p.126*); but other passages resonate just as strongly today, in the context of the current global situation, as they must have during the war:
"If the people of Australia are to be asked to face an entire reorganization of their everyday lives and liberty and a drastic rearrangement of their purses, they should also be given an opportunity to rearrange their minds beforehand… It is necessary to warn the whole of this democracy that the actions being taken and projected are for the benefit of the whole community."(From "The Defence of Australia", first published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 1938.)
The longest chapter of the book will likely hold the greatest interest to any readers at Geoscience Australia. "Exploring the Wealth of the Far North" highlights the work of the Aerial Geological and Geophysical Survey of North Australia, the first large-scale collaboration between Commonwealth and State governments (W.A. and Queensland). Conceived and led by Gepp, the aim of AGGSNA was to determine the mineral potential of the continent above 22°S by utilising aerial mapping and the new science of geophysics.
Gepp's writing and public relations skills explain the survey's goals, operations and long-term benefits very well. Adopting first-person, he also enlivens sections of this chapter with an account of how a party flying between Tennant Creek and The Granites wound up having to risk a landing in spinifex grass near Lake Mackay. He goes on to explains how their technical knowledge and skills of improvisation allowed them to build a distillery to collect fresh water, erect a radio mast to stay in touch with the world, and generally stay alive and comfortable until rescue trucks arrived 10 days later. It is an engaging way to complete the chapter, and was a clever way to demonstrate the value of science and resilience in times of great threat.
Physiography of Victoria: An Introduction to Geomorphology
Author: E. Sherbon Hills
Reviewer: Steve Hill
It's an exciting privilege to be able to step back in time, into the scientific era of geographical discovery and early scientific connection to a new land. This drives my romance with Hills' Physiography of Victoria.
In many ways, there is no better person than Hills to lead us on that journey through his benchmark book (with its remarkable – for such a parochial scientific publication - five editions between 1940 and 1975). Hills has an impeccable scientific background and pedigree that included leading Australia's quest for better geographical information during and immediately after WW2. This included the construction of the plaster relief model of Australia, that effectively became a proto-DEM of our continent (part of this model is shown on p.277, but it is also on display on the wall of the Fritz Loewe Theatre in the Earth Sciences Building at the University of Melbourne). Construction of this relief model commenced while Hills was performing military service with the North Australia Observer Unit, in recognition of the lack of topographic data and the key strategic need for it at that time. It shows his deep appreciation for topography, landform and landscape, at detailed, continental and planetary scales. In this book he combines that background with his insights on geology, biota, climate and people, particularly for the state of Victoria. I wonder what Hills would make of the data and technology that we now have available to us in Geoscience Australia, and how this may have enhanced his account (I feel he covers this a bit in the book's preface where he explains the value of "competent authorities" providing distilled accounts of the already voluminous literature and data).
"Physiography", even in the 1975 author's preface, was acknowledged as an outdated term, but was retained in the book's title largely because it encapsulates a greater Earth System definition than geomorphology, which tends to have its foundations more in geology. His approach was truly multi-disciplinary, rather than what he describes as the "over-narrow conceptual limits assigned to scientific disciplines", and in many ways aligns well with Geoscience Australia's concept of "geoscience" in its broadest sense.
The book takes a traditional journey through the subject of geomorphology ranging from: Earth structure; weathering and soil development and into process-driven themes such as streams, arid landforms, glaciation, faulting, volcanoes, coasts. What makes this book most appealing is that it is largely parochial, with an emphasis on local Victorian or Australian examples. A map, block diagram, photo or text description therefore inspires an investigatory trip into the local countryside or the next camping adventure. The summary chapter on Victorian physiography caps off this approach, with the final chapter perhaps the most inspiring and ahead of its time, with its recognition of the importance of humans on landscape development.
The book has been a constant companion of mine since I first studied geology, physical geography and botany at the University of Melbourne. I confess to having a bit of a (now not so secret) passion for collecting previous editions of this book from secondhand book shops, as well as trying to reconstruct many of the book's photographs to allow for comparisons with contemporary times. Every time I pick up this book I find something different and engaging, even if it's just some of the author's quirkiness, such as the final photo by University of Melbourne geology professor, E.W. Skeats, with the caption, "So passes worldly glory". I have undoubtedly spent too long staring at the eye-bending upside down Figure IX-39, on p. 229. I thoroughly recommend at least a look at this book, particularly if you are planning travels in Victoria or have some familiarity with its landscapes.
Quaternary Sea-Level Changes: A Global Perspective
Author: Colin V. Murray-Wallace and Colin D. Woodroffe
Reviewer: Tony Nicholas
One of the big scientific topics at the moment is the potential for sea level rise, and there are a number of sub-topics to this subject, including for example what happens when coastal areas become permanently inundated with the sea. I spent my first 18 years of life growing up on the beaches of two northern hemisphere ports, and on the sea between them. The question of what happens when the sea rises has always been on my mind. At the boots on the ground scale we do not really have detailed answers to many of the questions associated with sea level rise, but from the sedimentary record, particularly that of the Quaternary – the interval of recent ice ages, we know that sea level has oscillated many times over the past 2.6 million years and we are able to learn from questioning this record what happens when the sea rises.
Quaternary Sea-Level Changes is authored by two eminent Australian scientists who have dedicated their careers to finding and sharing the knowledge of sea level change, and to passing on this knowledge by teaching a very large cohort of students, of which I am one. A number of scientists working at GA have in the past and continue to collaborate with these experts of the marine geological realm. I recommend the book because it is a key guide that I use in my endeavours to understand the science of past and potential sea-levels, and the sedimentary record.
Quaternary Sea-Level Changes summarises the knowledge of the science of sea level change and the associated climate changes that have occurred during the past 2.6 million years, examines the global drivers of these events, and puts new objectivity on this topic as it is written from a southern hemisphere perspective. I heartily recommend it to any and every one with an interest in beaches, the sea and the sedimentary record of our world.
Author: Marcia Bjornerud
Reviewer: Chris Nelson
Marcia Bjornerud is Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. The title of her book is in part intentional counterpoint to mindfulness, the ability to focus our awareness entirely on the present. “This may be good practice for individuals in times of stress,” she has said in an interview, “but not so good for society.” By timefulness, she means the ability to develop “a clear-eyed view of our place in Time, both the past that came long before us and the future that will elapse without us.”
Given her profession, her view of time past is, naturally, very long indeed – the entire history of the Earth. However, Bjornerud's aim with Timefulness is to address a present-day "pervasive, stubborn and dangerous temporal illiteracy in our society." Dangerous? Very. It even gave her the subtitle of her book: How thinking like a geologist can help save the world.
In the first of just six chapters, Bjornerud discusses her motivation for writing the book, and gives examples of temporal illiteracy and its consequences. The next four chapters give concise accounts of how the geological timescale has been developed (from the fossil record through to isotope geochemistry); the durations, rates and recurrence intervals of geologic processes (tectonics, erosion, etc.); the evolution of Earth's atmosphere (particularly, the rates of change of its composition during dramatic environmental changes and mass extinctions); and climate change considered across the Pleistocene (Ice Age), Holocene (when human civilizations began) and the current Anthropocene (when human activities have had significant impacts on Earth's ecosystems).
This may sound like a difficult read for those who haven't studied geology, but Bjornerud's target is a lay audience and she keeps her readers' interest by her enthusiasm for her subject, a regular use of metaphors from everyday life, and scattered anecdotes illustrating personal epiphanies (eg., pp.126-128), or her inclusive approach. (In one instance, she notes "that one person almost single-handedly created the first maps of two-thirds of the planet" before introducing Marie Tharp, the only female in a post-war team of graduate students using sonar to determine the depth of the oceans. By creating three-dimensional relief maps of their soundings, Tharp revealed the ocean basins to the world and recognised seafloor spreading a decade before the first published paper on the topic.)
In her final chapter, "Timefulness: Utopian and scientific" Bjornerud takes a different tack as she "looks to the geologic future and outlines ideas for building a more robust, enlightened, time-literate society that is able to make decisions on intergenerational timescales". Given the era of highly polarised views and alternate truths we find ourselves in today, this is an ambitious goal. How well Bjornerud achieves it, I leave as an exercise for the reader.
The Science of Communicating Science
Author: Craig Cormick
Reviewer: Rachel Przeslawski
According to this book, storytelling is a sharp hook to get people interested in what you've got to say (so are metaphors). Here it goes…
During my undergraduate years, I took courses in both the humanities and sciences with the aim of getting a double major. This was America in the 90s, and a liberal arts education was stock standard for many universities. When it seemed I might actually pull this off, my academic supervisor called me into his office to have a candid chat about being taken seriously as a scientist. He recommended that I stop working on my English course and instead just complete the Biology one. This would show everyone that I was committed to science and not distracted by communication and 'softer' skills. I felt deflated. To me, the combination of science and communication seemed natural, even ideal. However, as I progressed in my career, there was a shift in which scientists were expected to be able communicate outside their own bubbles. Fast forward 20+ years, and we now have a world where science and communication go hand-in-hand (this book also recommends subtle but logical transitions).
Craig Cormick launched his new book The Science of Communicating Science at the ANU in November. Written from an Australian perspective (with the associated Australian irreverence), the book synthesises hundreds of academic research papers on science communication in a really digestible and engaging manner. This is an evidence-based book that every scientist and communicator should read… it doesn't just explain how to do something; it explains why we should do it. The normal communication commandments are certainly in here (tell a story, keep it simple, know your audience, define your purpose), but there's also science-specific advice too. Things like finding the balance between framing your story but still maintaining trust and credibility, communicating your science to policymakers, understanding how beliefs affect a person's engagement with evidence, and accounting for risk and uncertainty. And of course, there's a chapter on social media… always social media (@GeoAusLibrary, #LibrariesAreAwesome).
Ultimately, this is a book about how to influence people and make an impact with your science, complete with daggy dad jokes and poorly-drawn cartoons. Isn't that what we all want?
We welcome reviews from outside of GA on books related to Earth Science and related subjects to firstname.lastname@example.org.