We have plenty of time. We can shrink it or stretch it out just by our actions. Think back to when you are doing something that really interest you, everything else shrinks to the background. When you have completed what you wanted to do so desperately, you look and realise that a lot of time has passed without you realising. In the flow they call it. But wait, do we really have plenty of time. There is plenty of time, about 13.8 billion years has passed since the universe was born but we do not have access to all of it. Once we were born we are allowed perhaps 100 years. That is not a large fraction of the time that this universe has been around. In fact 100 divided by 13.8 billion is about 7.246376812 x 10-8so we are but a pinprick in the overwhelming space time of the universe. Einstein then worked out that time can be varied by the speed at which you move – time dilation effect. Don’t ask me to explain it, just look it up.
Take the white cliffs of Dover as an example. They are made of the coccolith calcite plates that are formed by coccolithophores, which are aquatic, single-celled algae. They are marine and live as phytoplankton in the photic zone of the open ocean, where they are a major source of food and a significant producer of oxygen. They are very small, about 2-5 micron in diameter. These plates form the majority of the chalk.
Now some simple maths.
The chalk cliffs of Dover are some 80M high. The chalk was laid down during the Cretaceous period which lasted 80 million years. A simple calculation shows that, on average it took one thousand years to deposit 1 mm of chalk.
So, if you lived in the Cretaceous, you wouldn’t even notice that chalk was being deposited. In fact the household dust that builds up and needs removing every week or so – depends how house proud you are – is deposited at a much faster rate than the chalk cliffs of South England. I’ll leave you to do the maths on this one. It goes to show one of the principles of geology – most processes happen very slowly and so require a great deal of time – luckily, there is plenty.
So we now have some idea of the time we are dealing with, even if we cannot directly relate to them. One of the problems with geology and dealing with these scales is that it makes you realise how insignificant humans are.
Here are some facts that might bring this home to you.
Modern humans – Homo Sapiens – have existed on Earth for a short time – about 200,000 years. Dinosaurs existed on Earth for a little longer time – about 135 million years
This means that dinosaurs lived on the Earth some 675 times as long as modern humans have. Do you think humans will be around 135 million years in the future? No, me neither!
So, in spite of “dinosaur” being used as an insult for an out of date person, they did quite well and have been some of the most successful species on Earth.
A small diversion. I once went to a working quarry a few years ago in Gloucestershire, for a look around. Quarries are fascinating to geologists as they open a 3D window in the rock under our feet. I went to the mine manager’s office, as he was going to show me around. It was a warm day so the office door was propped open by a flat piece of rock. I looked at the rock – as you do – and saw that there were markings on the surface. As a conversation starter I asked him about them. ‘Oh those are dinosaur footprints, we come across a lot of those. They are a nuisance because they are really damage to the surface of the flat laminations so it is just a piece of waste rock to us’. I had a closer look and saw that it was as he said – it had the three toed foot. I realised after I had left the quarry that I should have asked him if I could have one of his scrap rocks with the foot print.
Another problem when you are dealing with geology is that you can become a little blasé about these scales. In the area where I live there are several limestone ridges that were deposited in the Carboniferous ( 359 – 297 million years ). It is simple to find fossils in these rocks so when you break a lump open and see a fossil coral there you realise that this fossil has been waiting there for over 300 million years – just waiting for you. Then you might come across some Triassic ( 250 – 201 million years ) and you start thinking that these rocks are fairly young. But when you see an archeologist on TV going on about “very old Roman finds that are two thousand years old”, you start to realise what deep time is.
Then you might go to North West Scotland and place your hand on some Lewisean Gneiss and realise that it is over 3 Billion years old – two thirds of the age of the Earth. What a privilege to be able to see and touch these ancient rocks!
Geology is an international science so there are some lovely words to play with. Here are a few of my favourites.
As a writer, I often use some of these words in stories, sometimes as the names of characters. Slickensides sounds like a hairstyle. I remember writing about Solly Fluction who was an author who wrote detective novels. I think my favourite is still Paleoproterozoic – it just rolls off the tongue.
© Richard Kefford 2020 Eorðdraca
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