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 Published by the American Geological Institute
November 2000
Newsmagazine of the Earth Sciences


Geotimes now offers each month's book reviews, list of new books,  book ordering information and software column on the Web.  Look for new maps in the print edition. This site is in development. Please send any suggestions to

Book reviews:

  • The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet
  • Visions of Paradise: Glimpses of our Landscape’s Legacy



    On the shelf
    Where to order
    On the Web

    Book reviews
    The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet, edited by Jill S. Schneiderman. W. H. Freeman and Co. (2000). 441 p. ISBN 0-7167-3397-8. Hardcover, $27.95.

    Allsion R. (Pete) Palmer

    A sustainable future for humanity is one of the major challenges we face in the 21st century. Many of the decisions we will need to make are rooted in geological understandings that most people don’t appreciate. The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet is ideal for an undergraduate seminar that should be a core requirement in every college and university curriculum in the country. A creative faculty member with a solid base in the geological sciences can use most parts of this book to provide the kind of guidance that will shape the way future leaders in politics, business and education look at the Earth around us. What better time for such guidance than now, as we come to grips with the challenges created by the human impact on Earth and its environment.

    Jill Schneiderman, an associate professor of geology at Vassar College, has enlisted a fine group of authors to focus public attention on the importance of understanding Earth’s history and its processes when considering a sustainable future for humanity. This book is not an anthology. Except for well written and pertinent chapters previously published — John McPhee’s story of James Hutton’s discovery of deep time and Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Golden Rule: A proper scale for our environmental crisis” — the essays were commissioned for this book. The writers include two former presidents of the Geological Society of America, two MacArthur Foundation fellows, three former Congressional Science Fellows and a former director of the U. S. Geological Survey.

    It is difficult to choose which ones to highlight. I was attracted most to those providing fresh insights into ways of looking at and thinking about Earth. In the introductory section, “Records of Time and History,” Sue Kieffer, a geologist and MacArthur Foundation fellow, asks what we mean by “rare” when we describe geologic events that affect humanity. Lauret Savoy, an associate professor of geology and geography at Mount Holyoke College, offers a new perspective on how we perceive the landscape. She suggests that the words we use to describe the landscape subtly influence land-use decisions. She sees a connection with history’s  alterations of much of the American West. And Paul Bierman, who teaches geology at the University of Vermont, weaves a good bit of hydrogeology into a delightfully written essay about a New England farmer and the story of his land. Today’s landscape, he shows, is often not that of even the recent past.

    The book’s middle sections provide real-world examples of how society has dealt, or attempted to deal, with both human-caused environmental problems and the inexorability of earth system processes. The essays illustrate the complexity of policy issues that emerge when dealing with human impacts on Earth. David Applegate, director of government affairs for the American Geological Institute and editor of Geotimes, opens this section with a good overview of policy issues and the conflicts involved in managing public land. One message from these sections is that, in human attempts to control Nature, apparent solutions may become the sources of new problems.

    In the section on “Whole Earth Perturbations,” Steve Stanley discusses the potential impact of global warming on the present interglacial period. Stanley teaches at The Johns Hopkins University and recently authored a textbook on earth systems. His message is reinforced by Tamara Nameroff’s “Lessons from the Past for Future Climate.” Nameroff is an oceanographer who recently served as climate task force coordinator for the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. She asserts that climate policy must be designed to adapt to inevitable change if we are to build a sustainable future. Robin Hornung and Thomas Downham II, dermatologists specializing in the biologic effects of ultraviolet radiation, provide a medical perspective on how atmospheric ozone depletion could affect the health of the total biosphere.

    The book finishes on a high note with “Let Earth Speak,” by Victor Baker, a hydrology professor at Arizona State University who was president of the Geological Society of America in 1998. Baker eloquently develops the important distinction between the perspectives of the “hard” sciences and the geological sciences regarding the problems of human relationships to the Earth. Ed Buchwald, an environmental studies professor at Carleton College in Minnesota, finishes with an excellent essay that provides a clear layman’s explanation of the mathematics of doubling time as it affects human population, along with the unavoidable consequences of the laws of thermodynamics as applied to the human enterprise and the need to perceive the human impact on Earth as a new force of geological dimensions.

    This compilation can educate the current generation of undergraduates about key geological perspectives that should be in the public domain. The Earth Around Us is a book that any geoscientist should own in order to share appropriate sections with friends and neighbors as they join the growing chorus calling to maintain a livable planet.

    Palmer works with the Institute for Cambrian Studies in Boulder, Colo. He is chairman of the Critical Issues Committee for the Geological Society of America.

    Visions of Paradise: Glimpses of our Landscape’s Legacy by John Warfield Simpson. University of California Press (1999). 387 p. ISBN 0-520-21364-5. Hardcover, $35.

    Cary W. de Wit

    It is not without its shortcoming, but Visions of Paradise is the first work I have seen that brings between two covers the many disparate threads of thought, influence, public opinion and public policy that have converged to give us the modern American landscape.

    It offers the lay reader many insights into common landscapes that most of us take for granted, such as square farm fields, suburbs, curvilinear streets and decrepit inner cities. It is a biography of the American landscape and the people who shaped it. It examines the influences that shaped the landscape, from Native American and European land-use concepts to railroad land frauds to barbed-wire and windmills to the birth of the conservation movement. Especially interesting is the lineage of the American suburban home and its manicured lawn, an excellent example of the book’s illumination of commonplace landscapes. Just the same, a geographer very familiar with this subject matter will discover shortcomings. Although the individual topics are significant, they fail to form a cohesive narration.

    Most chapters seem like independent essays, and the term “landscape,” as it is used, is not an adequate organizing theme for the entire book. The first 14 chapters (three quarters of the text) seem to have little to do with landscape, and more to do with United States land acquisition, settlement processes, concepts of “Nature,” the rise of environmental concerns, and early philosophies of national expansion and settlement. These are important precursors to later ideas that influenced our visual landscape, but only in the last five chapters do the actual forms of American landscapes, rather than ideas about land and Nature, become central.

    The writing is clear, appropriate for educated lay readers, and blessedly free of academic jargon, but could be improved with prudent editing. A shorter, leaner book would more effectively make his point and be a more appealing read.

    A significant omission is a critical examination of the societal implications of America’s landscape development. Our territorial expansion is largely a story of the rich getting richer, and the common people getting stiffed. Simpson’s depiction of the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush, for instance, as an “outrageous, optimistic, wild and wonderful” settlement of “vacant land” (p. 113) should sicken anyone who knows how rapacious that event was from an American Indian perspective.

    Suburbanization is about the spatial separation of the haves and the have-nots, and the subsequent ascension of suburbanites with the simultaneous decline of the urban poor left behind.  I am no fan of viewing every event through the lens of social inequity, but such inequity is obvious enough in the history of American urban development that some mention of it necessary.

    Simpson also exhibits a bias in favor of suburbs and suburban life. He admirably admits in the acknowledgments that suburbs are his home turf, but underlying his entire narrative is a tacit assumption that suburbs are, indeed, the ideal landscape for happy and healthy family life.

    From a geographer’s standpoint, this work also suffers a deficiency that plagues far too many history books: No maps. The story Simpson tells is fundamentally about place, space and movement. Finally, though its topics have always been of interest to me, I found the book a chore to read. The stories behind our modern landscapes are full of intrigue, but this work, though packed with useful information, seems to lack the passion and inspiration that might bring the narrative to life.

    Overall, I applaud the spirit of Simpson’s effort to bring American landscape history to a wider public, but believe that he and his editors have missed an opportunity to create a balanced, engagingly written and popular book.

    de Wit teaches in the Department of Geography at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. E-mail:


    By Arthur Busbey

    ScienceProf is a new company, descended from Earthn’Ware, that produces educational geological software (most of its products are cross platform). The company offers a variety of excellent software bundles and sets of high-resolution images for the classroom.

    The high-resolution images are available on a Zip disk that contains JPEG images linked to HTML notes. All five software bundles now have Mac, Windows and Web content. The latter runs on either platform and consists of animated GIFs, Flash animations and Quicktime movies that professors and teachers can cut and paste into their own online teaching materials. Call it “clip science” for Web-based teaching.

    Visit the Web site for detailed demonstrations and readings on the myriad of products. The sketches below give you some idea of what is available.

    Structure Lab 1: Explains relationship between dip & strike on a stereonet and strike lines on a map. The strike lines change color as they pass through the topography. Includes a utility for converting your own BMP or PICT files into the type of file in which Structure Lab recognizes altitudes (allowing one to port additional problem maps to the Mac or PC).

    Kinematic Terms: Animation compares translation, rotation, dilation, compaction, pure shear, simple shear, and general shear. (Win / Mac / Web)

    Brittle vs. Ductile: Simple animation of brittle deformation and ductile deformation.

    Listric Fault: An interactive demonstration of listric faulting. Students drag the mouse to apply displacement and see the resultant heterogeneous simple shear deformation of the hanging wall block. Any bitmap image may be imported.

    Plane Fault: An interactive demonstration of plane faulting. Students drag the mouse to change the dip of a fault and the location of a borehole. The computer illustrates the omission or repetition of strata and the apparent fault offset in map view.

    Failure Modes: A graphical explanation of type I, II and III failure modes.

    Fault Blocks: An interactive demonstration of the effect of faulting and erosion on inclined strata. Students control the relative amount of dip slip and strike slip displacement and the erosion on either side of the fault.

    Longitudinal strain: A simple, interactive demonstration of the meanings of terms, such as stretch and extension.

    Stylolite: Animation of dissolution creep.

    Web Animations: Gif and Flash animations of stress, strain, kinematics, vorticity, mohr circles, fractures, faults, veins, folds, cleavage and foliation.

    For $39, individuals can become ScienceProf members and download free software. ScienceProf: P.O. Box 0641, Hull, MA 02045. Phone: (781)925-0264. Fax: (781)925-4248. E-mail: Visit

    Busbey teaches at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.

    On the shelf

    Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, edited by Raymond Jeanloz, Arden L. Albee and Kevin C. Burke. Annual Reviews (2000). 759 p. ISBN 0-8243-2028-X. Illus. Cloth, $148.

    Chemical Processes in Marine Environments, edited by Antonio Gianguzza, Ezio Pelizzetti and Silvio Sammartano. Springer (2000). 441 p. ISBN 3-540-66618-4. Illus. Cloth, $135.

    Faulting in Brittle Rocks: An Introduction to the Mechanics of Tectonic Faults by Georg Mandl.  Springer (1999).  ISBN 3-540-66436-X.  Illus. Cloth, $105.

    Geologic Framework of the Capitan Reef, edited by A.H. Saller, P.M. Harris, B.L. Kirkland and S.J. Mazzullo. Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM) (1999). SEPM Special Publication 65. 224 p. ISBN 1-56576-063-8. Illus. Cloth, $122.

    Large Meteorite Impacts and Planetary Evolution II, edited by B.O. Dressler and V.L. Sharpton. Geological Society of America (2000). Special Paper 339. 464 p. ISBN
    0-8137-2339-6. Illus. Paperback, $112.

    The Mountain Reader, edited by John A. Murray. The Lyons Press (2000). 312 p. ISBN 1-58574-065-9. Paperback, $17.95.

    The Natural Arches of the Big South Fork: A Guide to Selected Landforms by Arthur McDade. University of Tennessee Press (2000). 144 p. ISBN 1-57233-074-0. Illus. Paperback, $12.95.

    Numerical Experiments in Stratigraphy: Recent Advances in Stratigraphic and Sedimentological Computer Simulations, edited by John W. Harbaugh, W. Lynn Watney, Eugene C. Rankey, Rudy Slingerland, Robert H. Goldstein and Evan K. Franseen. SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology) (1999). Special Publication 62. 362 p. ISBN 1-56576-061-1. Illus. Cloth, $170.

    Surfactants: Fundamentals and Applications in the Petroleum Industry, edited by Laurier L. Schramm. Cambridge University Press (2000). 621 p. ISBN 0-521-64067-9. Illus. Cloth, $140.

    Where to order

    Also visit AGI's Earth Science Bookstore to search

    Annual Reviews, Inc., 4139 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, Calif. 94303-0139. Phone: (800)523-8635. Fax: (650)855-9815. WWW:

    Cambridge University Press, 110 Midland Ave., Port Chester, N.Y. 10573-4390. Phone: (800)872-7423. Fax: (914)937-4712. WWW:

    Geological Society of America, P.O. Box 9140, Boulder, Colo. 80301-9140. Phone: (800)472-1988. Fax: (303)447-1133. WWW:

    Society for Sedimentary Geology, P.O. Box 4756, Tulsa, Okla. 74159-0756. Phone: (918)493-3361. Fax: (918)493-2093.

    Springer-Verlag, 333 Meadowlands Parkway, Secaucus, N.J. 07094. Phone: (800)777-4643 ext. 599.

    University of Tennessee Press, Chicago Distribution Center, 11030 S. Langley Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628. Phone: (800)621-2736. Fax: (312)660-2235.

    On the Web

    We’ve all heard of PBS and its educational NOVA programs, but it may not be common knowledge that PBS offers an interactive Web site to accompany many of their productions. The Web site follows the adventures of the scientists featured in the NOVA productions, offers access to daily dispatches from the scientists, lists further reading and houses a forum through which visitors can ask questions via e-mail, get responses from the scientists, and comment on questions from others. On Nov. 28, “Garden of Eden” will take viewers to the Seychelles Archipelago in the Indian Ocean — an isolated remnant of Pangea with an eclectic community of flora and fauna that rivals the better-known Galapagos. The Web version accompanying this production will go online Nov. 24. Teachers can use the NOVA site to find and share new ideas and to subscribe to the Teacher’s Mailing List and receive weekly updates about NOVA productions.

    Believe it or not, there is a fun way to take a look at your energy consumption habits and find ways to slash your energy bills. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority maintains a Web site that provides useful information for anyone interested in using energy more efficiently. Some features apply only to New York state residents, but most are universal. Perhaps the most enjoyable applies to anyone, anywhere. The Energy Smart University may be a virtual school, but it does provide an education. Take a few “classes” and try out a few “labs” — all will provide a few tips about smart energy consumption. From the “campus map,” enter the “Science and Technology” building (all that takes is a mouse click on the picture of the building). “Lab 2” features a house with two floors, several rooms and lots of appliances. Turn the appliances off and on and watch the energy bill soar and plummet over seconds, minutes, hours, days, months or years to see how to save money on your energy bill.

    The National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program has launched a new Web site that provides public access to USGS water-quality data collected across the United States. In 1991, NAWQA began collecting water-quality information on 60 river basins and aquifers across the country that comprise 60 to 70 percent of the total water use in the United States. Nutrient and pesticide levels have been a primary concern for the NAWQA program and the data available on the Web includes about 15,000 pesticide and volatile organic compound samples, as well as 26,000 nutrient samples collected from the water column. Trace elements and organic compounds were collected from sediment and animal tissue. Daily streamflow and temperature data are available, as well as chemical concentrations in water, sediment and aquatic organisms. Users can customize their search by choosing a particular geographic area, including a state, group of states, counties, basins or NAWQA study units, to then search for a particular chemical of interest that might, for example, exceed water-quality standards.  Data can be exported to an Excel document or in several other formats.

     Laura Wright compiles Geomedia.

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