Etheldred Benett – “Lady Geologist”

In the late 18th and early 19th century, men like James Hutton and Sir William Hamilton were widely respected earth scientists.

At the same time women were also contributing to the founding of the science of geology, but quietly. Today we know very little about them. For instance, meet T. Etheldred Benett, 1776-1845 – fossil collector, stratigrapher, and scientific correspondent:

"It makes me look at least ten years older than I am."  - Etheldred Barnett, 1835.  Image source

“It makes me look at least ten years older than I am.” – Etheldred Benett, 1837. Image source

That’s it – that’s all we have for an image of her.

However, this “lady of great talent and indefatigable research,” as Gideon Mantell described her:

  • Left behind a huge collection of Cretaceous and Jurassic fossils from south Wiltshire in England, including the first mollusc fossils ever found that contained preserved bits of the original soft anatomy
  • Corresponded with some of the foremost naturalists of the day
  • Wrote a publication, A catalogue of the organic remains of the county of Wiltshire (1831), that remains a classic work today

In a time when women weren’t admitted to centers of higher learning, Tsar Nicholas I gave her an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Petersburg…but only because he thought her first name was that of a man.

Library of Congress

In the late 19th century, Walter Shirlaw painted the spirit of geology as a woman for the Library of Congress.

Ever the sharp commentator, Miss Benett (she never married) said of the incident (link added):
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Guest Video: Preparedness Now, The Great California Shakeout

We took part in the Great ShakeOut here in Oregon this week. I didn’t do too well, so it was a terrific wake-up call. However, I was disappointed by the reaction of many people.

While scheduling some guest videos for you, in the unlikely event that my writing projects tie me up for part of next week, I came across this one, “Preparedness Now, The Great California ShakeOut.” It’s good enough to share today.

Remember, when the ground starts moving, duck, cover, and hold on! And as I learned this week, just thinking through your disaster plan doesn’t work too well – do a walk-through.

Guest video: USGS, “Volcano Hazards”

Time is a bit short this week, so today I am just sharing some USGS videos about volcanic hazards and Yellowstone volcano. (Be sure to check out the USGS website listing alert status of all US volcanoes.)

What’s that? Yellowstone?

Yes! Here is a three-part series of informative videos about the supervolcano by Jacob Lowenstern, scientist in charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.



Tolkien’s “Errantry”: Coral and Ivory

He made a shield and morion
of coral and of ivory…

— J. R. R. Tolkien, “Errantry”

Nowadays, we treasure living coral for its beauty and environmental role. We prefer to see ivory where it belongs – as part of living animals, particularly elephants. Artisans still work with precious coral, but ivory usage and trade are restricted in many countries.

People saw things differently back in 1933, when J. R. R. Tolkien wrote Errantry.
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Where in the Solar System Are We Today?


New Horizons sets off for Pluto.

New Horizons sets off for Pluto.

We’ve looked at the first scientist on the Moon, as well as at spaceports where the next step toward manned space flight is being prepared.

Meanwhile, in space…where are our unmanned Solar System exploration craft today?

Just about everywhere, it turns out.

The Planetary Society has the best one-stop website on space missions that I’ve found – you could get lost for hours there, checking it all out.

Below is an outline based on the Society’s information.

At the bottom of each section I have also posted the question that I’m most curious about. Over coming weeks, I’ll fill this outline out with posts on each Solar System member (as you’ll see, a few have already been covered).

The Sun

Stay tuned for a post about the Sun.

Planetary Society: Missions to study the sun

Ongoing missions:
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5 Major Ways Sodium Improves Your Life


Did you know that sodium is an alkali metal like lithium and potassium?

Is it also “evil,” i.e., explosive, like potassium in water?

Yes. Yes it is.

Like its companions on the periodic table, sodium is too reactive to exist by itself in nature. It forms compounds, some of which are incredibly useful to us.
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The 10 Worst Natural and Man-Made Firestorms



Firestorm-made thermal column. Fire (1) makes hot air (2) to rise forming storm-winds (3) towards the fires. A = Pyrocumulonimbus. Source

Wildfires are dangerous, but firestorms are downright terrifying.

They happen when conditions are right for the soaring air column over fire to develop its own momentum (PDF). This makes ground winds turbulentand they pour into the center of the conflagration, increasing its heat and spreading it around.

The process becomes self-sustaining. In fact, it will continue to grow as long as there is fuel available.

Firestorms occur naturally. As well – and this is heartbreaking – human beings sometimes start them, accidentally or on purpose.

Be aware that we’re going to look at representative World War II firestorms here – Stalingrad, Hamburg, and Hiroshima – as well as the deadly but, somehow, more humane natural or accidental ones. (I have set the Hamburg video, filmed by a local fireman, to stop before it gets to the bodies.)

Here, then, in chronological order, are ten of the worst natural and man-made firestorms over the last one hundred years.
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