Check out this month's On the Web links, your connection to earth science friendly Web sites. The popular Geomedia feature now available by topic.
Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Arctic
On the Shelf:
Plate Tectonics: An Insiders History of the Modern Theory of the Earth
Upheaval from the Abyss: Ocean Floor Mapping and the Earth Science Revolution
Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammals from Montana to Mongolia
The Age of the Earth: From 4004 BC to AD 2002
Geoquotes -- our newest Geomedia feature!
|Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds
in the North American Arctic by
Kevin Krajick. W.H. Freeman and Co. (2001). ISBN 0716740265. Hardback, $26.
What is it that drives uncommon men and women to unusual success? What is the
cost of such a prize? Documenting the story about discovering diamonds in northern
Canada, Barren Lands author Kevin Krajick answers these questions through a
tapestry woven with historical perspective and strands of modern exploration,
competition and intrigue.
Krajick, a science journalist, takes the reader back 450 years to the beginning of diamond hunting in North America. He has documented the early explorers and paints a picture of an industry fraught with hoaxes, misidentifications, glacially transported stones from unknown locations, and low-grade primary deposits. Early explorers crossed the Barren Lands: men such as Samuel Hearne in the 1770s and Warburton Pike in 1889, who walked across northern Canadas fields of diamonds, then undiscovered. But until relatively recently, diamond hunting in North America was mainly a pursuit by hobbyists, save for a few driven people.
Krajick tells of the search for diamonds in the United States by renowned mineralogist and diamond enthusiast George Frederick Kunz in the late 1800s. The backdrop is the growing industry controlled by DeBeers in South Africa. In 1906, a true diamondiferous kimberlite was discovered in Murfeesboro, Ark. This discovery sparked a diamond rush, but after many false starts the mine finally failed; some pointed a finger at DeBeers. But in about 1970, a select company of men from South Africa, Canada and the United States began a long but variable association that ultimately resulted in the discovery of diamondiferous kimberlites in the Canadian tundra. These men operated outside the confines of the diamond giant DeBeers. Their success resulted in the phenomenal growth of Dia Met Minerals Ltd., and in the involvement of international mining giants such as BHP from Australia.
The Barren Lands Krajick writes about are within the Northwest Territory province in northern Canada. This arctic environment is harsh, and the reader is given a glimpse of the people who have struggled through it. The early explorers and Native Americans learned to survive or die as they crossed the region looking for gold, copper and diamonds, or following game. Krajick presents the First Peoples perspective through historical accounts, and later in the book through brief visits and interviews. These insights are important, although not in-depth.
Upon this historical foundation is built the story of the modern diamond rush. Krajick of course pays a lot of attention to the man known as Captain Chaos, Chuck Fipke, and his colorful and often tragic life. Fipke, through his company Dia Met, triggered the diamond rush in 1992 despite his desire for secrecy. Fipkes obsession for diamonds overran his concerns for or even awareness of the safety and well being of family, friends and employees. Krajick portrays Fipkes maniacal drive accurately, and develops Fipkes contrast with his long-time partner Stew Blusson, and with others who became part of the Dia Met group. The portrayal of Marlene Fipke Chucks wife, who was often his in-town expeditor and accountant is important and compassionate and begins to touch on how the business of exploration affects families, especially in the company of those as driven as Fipke. Today, Chuck and Marlene Fipke are divorced.
There are many other players in the diamond search, from the inspired leaders to the tagalongs, and these people were variably cooperative or competitive, often fiercely, as they strove toward a common goal. Two names rise above the rest: Hugo Dummett and John Gurney. Without these men doggedly pursuing their life-long quests for understanding and discovery, the Fipke-Blusson partnership in Dia Met would never have succeeded. Krajick does not hammer this point home as well as he might. Without Professor Gurneys astute academic observations and accurate interpretations about the association of pathfinder minerals and ore-grade diamond deposits; and without Dummetts global vision, remarkable geologic insights and intuition, the likes of Fipke would still be wandering the Barren Lands. It was Dummett who pointed Fipke north to the Barren Lands in 1981. Krajick underscores this fact by describing DeBeers unsuccessful efforts. With all their resources, the DeBeers explorers were unable to solve the puzzle Gurney had cracked of what diamond-associated indicator minerals and their chemical compositions were really important. DeBeers was on the wrong track until they adopted Gurneys methodologies. Even then, DeBeers explorers didnt have a full grasp of glacial transport directions in northern Canada, and this too slowed them down.
In fact, the diamond discoveries in the Barren Lands represent one of the most remarkable high-technology success stories in mineral exploration, and represent a triumph as great as any physical challenge the exploration crews ever faced.
Krajick does not clearly state this fact in his book. He does, however present a good geologic picture for the reader. He has captured the personalities of both the explorers and diamond industry characters; particularly of Fipke and Dummett, who combined science, insight, stubbornness, endurance and opportunity to win the ultimate exploration prize: a diamond mine.
Krajick also captures the points of view of key players in the diamond rush. As a result, those readers who did not experience the diamond rush can better understand the intense competition and sometimes equally intense distrust of certain individuals or companies. Worries over tapped phones, stolen maps and lip readers from a distance are the stuff of spy stories and, as Krajick writes, the diamond business.
Barren Lands is a good book; it is very well referenced and smoothly written. It represents an important chapter in the global diamond saga and in Canadian mining history. Krajick has developed an affinity for the subject of diamonds, and perhaps even more so for the land within which they were born. His book is a great yarn that draws to a fitting conclusion in the only natural place such a story could end.
Tectonics: An Insiders History of the Modern Theory of the Earth,
edited by Naomi Oreskes.
Press (2001). ISBN 0-8133-3981-2.
Geoscientist and science historian Naomi Oreskes has assembled an unprecedented collection of accounts by the scientists who made the revolution. The authors of the 17 essays are a Whos Who of names from classic papers: Vine, Oliver, McKenzie, Atwater and many more.
from the Abyss: Ocean Floor Mapping and the Earth Science Revolution
by David M. Lawrence. Rutgers
University Press (2002). ISBN 0-8135-3028-8.
This book focuses on one important aspect of the plate tectonics revolution, chronicling the massive effort, which continues today, to understand the two-thirds of Earths surface covered by water. The author is a freelance journalist and contributing writer for Geotimes.
Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammals from Montana to Mongolia
by Michael Novacek. Farrar, Straus and
Giroux (2002). ISBN 0-374-27880-6.
Written by a noted paleontologist and author, this book is described as part
memoir, part adventure story, part natural history. Novacek, the senior
vice president and provost of science at the American Museum of Natural History
in New York, recounts how boyhood fascination with the La Brea Tar Pits in Los
Angeles turned into a career spent scouring the world for evidence of past life.
Age of the Earth: From 4004 BC to AD 2002, edited by Cherry L. E. Lewis
and Simon J. Knell. The Geological Society
of London (2001). ISBN 1-86239-093-2
This special publication emerged from a millennial conference held by the
Geological Society of London. Nineteen papers address the evolution of age dating
from, early estimating techniques through the development of modern geochronologic
U.S. Geological Survey
MF-2327A. NEVADA. Geologic map of part of the southern Toquima Range and adjacent areas, Nye County, Nevada by D.R. Shawe. 2002. Scale 1:48,000. One color sheet accompanied by 16 pages of text. Available free, or for $20 as print-on-demand.
MF-2361. COLORADO. Geologic map of the Eagle quadrangle, Eagle County, Colorado by D.J. Lidke. 2002. Scale 1:24,000. One color sheet accompanied by 18 pages of text. Available free
MF-2369. COLORADO. Geologic map of the Vail West quadrangle, Eagle County, Colorado by R.B. Scott, D.J. Lidke and D.J. Grunwald. 2002. Scale 1:24,000. One color sheet accompanied by 18 pages of text. Available free
MF-2385. CALIFORNIA. Map and map database of susceptibility to slope failure by sliding and earthflow in the Oakland area, California by R.J. Pike, R.W. Graymer, Sebastian Roberts, N.B. Kalman and Steven Sobieszczyk. 2002. Scale 1:50,000. One color sheet accompanied by 37 pages of text. 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). Maps identified as print-on-demand maps may be downloaded from the Internet, but if you prefer the USGS to run off a copy for you there is a charge as noted above.
One verse that Aldrich cites as an example:
Volcanoes be in Sicily
And South America
I judge from my Geography.
Volcanoes nearer here
A Lava step, at any time
Am I inclined to climb
A Crater I may contemplate
Vesuvius at Home.
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