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Book Review:
Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change

On the Shelf:
Smithsonian Institution Secretary, Charles Doolittle Walcott
Science into Policy: Global Lessons from Antarctica
Tsunami: An Underrated Hazard


Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change edited by Lee C. Gerhard, William E. Harrison and Bernold M. Hanson, American Association of Petroleum Geologists (2001). Number 47 in the Studies in Geology series. ISBN: 0891810544. 372 p.

Judith Totman Parrish

In the preface to his book, Lee Gerhard states that his purpose is “to bring into careful consideration the geologic parameters and measurements that illustrate the full range of past climate changes against which anthropogenic effects may be compared.” He is successful in accomplishing this goal. Indeed, other writings by Gerhard, as well as the care he takes to disavow industry bias in compiling this latest work, show that he is a skeptic in the global warming debate. Nevertheless, the book is balanced in presenting chapters and reviews of work showing evidence both suggesting and contradicting that global warming is a human-induced effect.
The book has 18 chapters divided into four parts: Climate Drivers; Methods of Estimating Ancient Temperature; Natural Variability and Studies of Past Temperature Changes; and Policy Drivers.
Overall, this book is nicely produced. It includes clear photographs and color illustrations. Although the line figures do not conform strictly to a particular style, they are consistently well crafted and coherent.
Apart from its high production quality, the strengths of this book lie in individual chapters, which are wide-ranging. Particularly interesting were the well-written and comprehensive reviews of solar forcing by Alfred H. Pekarek; the global carbon cycle by Fred T. Mackenzie et al.; fossil leaves as carbon dioxide indicators by Wolfram M. Kürschner et al.; an engaging narrative on global temperature changes by Sherwood B. Idso; dynamical systems theory and nonlinear prediction by Sergey R. Kotov; and policy issues of global change by David A.L. Jenkins. The book is such that different readers may find other chapters more interesting.
Although each chapter may have undergone rigorous review, as stated in the preface, it seems the book itself was not reviewed for consistency. The information presented in the chapters overlaps substantially, and in some cases the chapters don’t deliver what they promise. For example, while the last section is called Policy Drivers, two of its chapters fail to delve into this topic. The chapters are uneven in detail, leaving the reader either wanting more information or annoyed by too much. The chapters are also uneven in style, running the gamut from highly technical writing to folksy narrative. Moreover, no one chapter pulls all the disparate information together into a coherent whole. This void is unfortunate because the unevenness and lack of coherency dilutes the potential impact of the book as a whole.
A few examples illustrate some of the frustrations of reading this book. Pekarek’s chapter contained too many quotes that fall into the category of what my dissertation director called “appealing to a higher power”: if someone else said something that agrees with me, it must be true.
The chapter on the distribution of oceans and continents, written by Gerhard and William E. Harrison, does not capture the vast literature on the subject and the subject’s relationship to climate change.
And Wallace Broecker’s chapter, the title of which includes the provocative word “catastrophe,” is candid about problems and contradictions in the study of thermohaline circulation, but does not satisfactorily discuss them.
Quite a few chapters fail to distinguish clearly between observations and the results of modeling, a failing that will leave this book open to much criticism. The text at times also falls into the tendency to scatter tidbits related to humans, such as population numbers or birth rates, without revisiting them or connecting them with climate change. Indeed, this throwing out of ideas and observations without following them through is a characteristic of many of the chapters, and casts doubt on the editors’ claim that they rigorously reviewed each chapter.
In addition, a few of the chapters suffer an internal conflict: They communicate a tone of alarm about global warming, but this tone is juxtaposed with information suggesting the alarm is not warranted. A good example is Ashworth’s chapter on beetles, which makes strong cases for the difficulty of using beetles as paleoclimate indicators and the extreme rapidity of their evolution and extinction. But Ashworth then turns around and sounds the alarm about extinction due to anthropogenic habitat reduction. He illustrates this second point with a statement that, in fact, is a nice model for future diversification: “For many species, dispersal will mean abandoning the security of patches of natural habitat for disturbed areas where they will probably be more vulnerable to predators, to disease, and to being poisoned by pesticide residues in soils and by chemicals ingested from genetically altered crops.”
This chapter is actually very good, except that the scientific information Ashworth presents and  the apparent political stance he implies are in conflict.
This conflict reflects an undertone that runs throughout the book: The book gives the impression of having an agenda, but it’s not clear what that agenda is.
Also unclear is the intended audience. Although most chapters attempt to spell out the basics behind the concepts they address, some of these explanations themselves are highly technical. The writing of most chapters is clearly directed, intentionally or not, to a geologically literate audience. It is a valuable book to this audience only to the extent that chapters contain original research — as is claimed for the chapter on lime muds by Yates and Robbins, although this chapter reads more like a review; or with Hughes and Thayer’s proposal on the use the sclerosponges. Or this audience will find the book valuable in the information it presents that geologists do not commonly access: Pekarek’s chapter on solar forcing; or the chapter by Kürschner et al. on fossil leaves as indicators of carbon dioxide.
Otherwise, the book’s apparent message, that change happens, is preaching to the converted.
If Gerhard and his co-editors want to reach an audience literate in science but not necessarily trained in geology, then some of their chapters are written in a style that is too geological. Furthermore, the book is much too technical to contribute to the debate among lay people and legislators.
Thus all audiences are likely to merely sample the book and, depending on the part they sample, come away frustrated.
Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change does have something for everyone. But it will probably do little to change those whose ideas about the existence and impact of global warming are already well established. Those who have not made up their minds might find interesting gems, but will likely not come away from the book as a whole much more enlightened than they were before.

Parrish teaches paleoclimatology at the University of Arizona.

Smithsonian Institution Secretary, Charles Doolittle Walcott by Ellis Yochelson. The Kent State University Press (2001). ISBN 0-87338-680-9. Cloth, $55.

The first volume of Yochelson’s biography of Walcott took the reader up through Walcott’s successful tenure as director of the U.S. Geological Survey. This second volume covers the last 20 years of Walcott’s life, when he turned his attention to running the Smithsonian. His success at turning around that institution was matched by his discovery of and subsequent research on the Burgess Shale fossils, which have come to define the Cambrian explosion.

  Science into Policy: Global Lessons from Antarctica by Paul Arthur Berkman. Academic Press (2002). ISBN 0-12-091560-X. CaseBound, $59.95.

Patterned after a senior-level college course on Antarctica taught at Ohio State University, this book addresses all aspects of scientific research in this frozen land and also captures the unique international policy framework of conducting research there.

Tsunami: An Underrated Hazard by Edward Bryant. Cambridge University Press (2001). ISBN 0-521-77599-X. Paperback, $19.95.

As the title suggests, this book seeks to shed light on a seldom-considered natural hazard that poses a major threat to growing populations in low-lying coastal areas. Tsunamis can be triggered by earthquakes, volcanoes, coastal or underwater landslides, and even meteorites. Written by a geomorphologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia, the book includes technical descriptions of tsunami processes and reviews tsunami drivers and risks. Case studies, both real from the past and projected for the future, convey how dangerous these giant waves can be.


U.S. Geological Survey

MF-2378. CALIFORNIA. Seismic landslide hazard for the city of Berkeley, California by S.B. Miles and D.K. Keefer. 2001. Scale 1:24,000. One color sheet. Available free

The following maps were prepared in cooperation with the Department of Energy Office of Environmental Restoration and Waste Management:

MF-2370. NEVADA and CALIFORNIA. Interpretive geologic cross sections for the Death Valley regional flow system and surrounding areas, Nevada and California by D.S. Sweetkind, R.P. Dickerson, R.J. Blakely and P.D. Denning. Three color sheets at variable scales. Accompanied by 35 pages of text. Available free

MF-2381-C. NEVADA and CALIFORNIA. Isostatic gravity map of the Death Valley groundwater model area, Nevada and California by D.A. Ponce, R.J. Blakely, R.L. Morin, and E.A. Mankinen. 2001. Scale 1:250,000. One color sheet. Available free

MF-2381-D. NEVADA and CALIFORNIA. Aeromagnetic isostatic gravity map of the Death Valley ground-water model area, Nevada and California by D.A. Ponce and R.J. Blakely. 2001. Scale 1:250,000. One color sheet. Available free

MF-2381-E. NEVADA and CALIFORNIA. Map showing depth to Pre-Cenozoic basement in the Death Valley ground-water model area, Nevada and California by R.J. Blakely and D.A. Ponce. 2001. Scale 1:250,000. One color sheet. Available free

To order USGS maps: Contact USGS Information Services, P.O. Box 25286, Denver, Colo. 80225. Phone: 1-888-ASK-USGS (1-888-275-8747).

Delaware Geological Survey

Report of Investigation No. 59: Bedrock geology of the Piedmont of Delaware and adjacent Pennsylvania by Margaret O. Plank, William S. Schenck and LeeAnn Srogi. Also, 52 pages of text accompanied by Bedrock geologic map of the Piedmont of Delaware and Adjacent Pennsylvania (Geologic Map Series No. 10) by William S. Schenck, Margaret O. Plank and LeeAnn Srogi. 2000. Scale 1:30,000. Available free

To order Delaware Geological Survey maps, e-mail:

Oklahoma Geological Survey

Special Publication 2001-1. Springer Gas Play in Western Oklahoma. Parts I (Regional Overview of the Springer Gas Play), II (Lookeba Field), and III (Sickles North Field) by Richard D. Andrews.

Part IV (Springer-Chesterian relationships in the Anadarko Basin and Shelf of Northwestern Oklahoma and Texas Panhandle) by W.J. Hendrickson, J.V. Hogan, P.W. Smith, C.E. Willey and R.J. Woods.

Part V (Cedardale Area) by P.W. Smith, W.J. Hendrickson and R.J. Woods. Accompanied by 11 color and black and white plates. Resulting from a workshop co-sponsored by the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council. 2001. $20 plus $4 for postage and handling.

To order Oklahoma Geological Survey maps, e-mail:

Peter Lyttle compiles the maps section and is director of the USGS National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program.

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