On November 10, Keith Kaneda and I went on a field trip to Gettysburg with Professor Bruce Marsh of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department and two of his students. Keith and I are working with Bruce, trying to get his data, photos, field notes, etc. related to his fieldwork in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica into proper form, suitable for ingest into the Data Conservancy's archive. This field trip was a welcome change of pace for me and, in fact, was one of the highlights of my time (almost 12 years now) here at Johns Hopkins.
I myself know nothing about rocks, so being surrounded all day by geologists was a treat. (And if you don't think rocks are interesting please track down our own Keith Kaneda and just have him start talking. It's really as simple as that. Mark my words, within about 45 seconds you will feel the Pull of all things Geology. Really.)
Aside from the tangential lecture on the Battle of Gettysburg, I was interested to learn that the geologic structure of the Gettysburg area is really similar to that of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, that the great rift upon which Gettysburg sits is actually a geologic dividing line between the Appalachians and all that is to the East, and that all that is to the East was left behind when the continent of what is now Africa broke apart from what is now North America. I learned about geologic dykes, and about the red rock, iron-rich, I've always seen while traveling through the Maryland Catoctins. I learned that it's thought the Appalachians were once higher than the Himalayas are now. I learned that trying to calculate the how high a mountain on Earth could possibly be is a hard problem, yet observing mountains on Mars may help us out in this regard.
(I learned that sitting in the middle of the back seat of a Nissan Murano is more comfortable than where the other two guys at your elbows are sitting because you are perfectly balanced and are not constantly sliding toward the door.)
Keith pointed out various items of interest on a detailed geologic map of eastern Pennsylvania, while Bruce went to greet Professor Ben Edwards of Dickinson College and Professor Steve Sparks of the University of Bristol, U.K. Professor Sparks was visiting to give the 2010 Joseph Priestley Lecture at Dickinson that evening.
It was interesting to watch as these seasoned geologists interacted. We stopped in downtown Gettysburg to examine the rock foundation of a building there, they pulled out their loupes to more clearly see the crystalline structure. They spoke in a code I did not understand -- and yet I always felt on the verge.
This form of participant observation is, for me, one of the joys of working in higher education. I always feel like a small glitter of knowledge has somehow drifted down upon me, in this case it was a glitter red and iron-rich.
As we gassed up at the Kwik-i-Mart on our way out of town, I thought I might buy a bumper sticker there for my darling sixteen-year-old stepdaughter:
"My Step-Dad took a geologic tour of Gettyburg and all I got was a chunk of Dolerite."