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"The Mountains Of Saint Francis" - Italy's Geologic History

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Author Topic: "The Mountains Of Saint Francis" - Italy's Geologic History  (Read 59 times)
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« on: January 09, 2009, 09:02:46 am »

"What makes rocks so wonderful is the fact that they barely change at all, and as a result, they... preserve the way they formed, whether a million years ago or a thousand million years ago," he said "We simply wouldn't know anything about what happened beyond human memory or writing if it wasn't for having things recorded in rocks. They are history books, and quarries are like libraries."

Raised in Berkeley, Alvarez earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1967, worked for oil companies in the Netherlands and Libya, applied his geological knowledge to uncovering the archeology of ancient Rome, and later worked at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York before landing at UC Berkeley in 1977. While he has studied the mountain belts of Central Asia and the Colorado Plateau, he inevitably returns to Italy, especially the Apennines.

"I always knew that some day I wanted to write a book about the Apennines, and it just simply took a long time to learn enough about the mountains. Geologists didn't understand the mountain range well enough either, so I couldn't have written the book in the '70s or '80s or probably even the '90s," he said. "There is a lot we don't yet understand, but the story has come together enough that I thought I could tell a reasonable geological story."

Still curious about the geology of Italy, he currently is working with graduate student David Shimabukuro to determine the relationship between the island of Sardinia and Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot, which has moved southeastward over the millennia to open up the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Just as his book displays a deep interest in the connection between human and geologic history, he has developed a course at UC Berkeley called "Big History" that explores the commonalities in the evolution of the cosmos, Earth, life and humanity and the chance events underlying historical change.

"It is fun to think about contingency in history," he said, that is, when some unforeseen event - a comet impact, for example - comes along and "completely derails things so that tomorrow's history is nothing at all like last year. I think I can make a contribution here because of my work on the impact that did in the dinosaurs, which ... was an outrageously unlikely event that, had it not occurred, the dinosaurs would still be around and there wouldn't have been any human beings."

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