James Hutton – Founder of Modern Geology

Decided to update this 2014 post with a nice video I just found. Hope you enjoy it, too!

"If there is something you know, communicate it. If there is something you don't know, search for it."  This wasn't James Hutton's motto, but it might well have been.  Source

“If there is something you know, communicate it. If there is something you don’t know, search for it.” This wasn’t James Hutton’s motto, but it might as well have been. Source

Scotland’s James Hutton is called the founder of modern geology. How can that be? He was a chemist, after all.

Well, for starters, a lot of geology involves chemistry (as I found out to my sorrow as an undergraduate back in the 1980s).

More importantly, in Hutton’s day there just wasn’t the specialization in science that we see today.

There was science, of course, and lots of it, since it was the Age of Reason. The Scottish Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason, was in full swing.

People just hadn’t yet sorted out Nature all that much.

Science and the Bible

If you want to know what “geology” in the West was like before James Hutton, go into a garden or a field and look around.
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Guest Videos: Thomas Condon and the John Day Fossil Beds

I’m writing an ebook series on cats and how they evolved, and it’s tempting sometimes to take a break and head into Eastern Oregon, where sabertoothed cat-like apex predators called nimravids now sleep, along with their prey, in the John Day country.

I haven’t been there yet, but will visit the area as soon as possible (and get some photos, hopefully, that I can use in the third ebook, about sabertooths).

This place is gorgeous!

It’s badlands, but the residents of this late Eocene to Miocene world were preserved mainly by volcanic deposits (ashfall, lahars, and debris flows) rather than the much slower sedimentary processes that buried nimravids and other animals and plants east of the Rockies at what’s now Badlands National Park.

Erosional processes produce the rainbow hues of the hills in both places.

John Day was Continue reading

Guest Videos: Mikhail Lomonosov

You might run across the word “Lomonosov” in the news soon. A ridge of that name is a big part of Russia’s claim to the Arctic, and the UN committee that is responsible for deciding such territorial claims just began a new session.

This ridge is named after a famous 18th-century Russian polymath–Mikhail Lomonosov–who, among other things, discovered in 1761 that the planet Venus has an atmosphere.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much about him in English online other than Wikipedia and the usual science biography sites on YouTube.

However, Lomonosov is worth checking out today for two reasons.

First, during the 1970s, the Russians followed up spectacularly on that initial Venus discovery.

Second, tomorrow’s Sunday Morning Volcano sits very close to the Lomonosov Ridge.

To be continued . . .

Featured image: The 2012 transit of Venus, NASA/SDO, AIA via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.0/Portrait of M. Lomonosov, Russian Academy of Sciences via Wikimedia.


Lomonosov, M., and Shiltsev, V. 2018. Mikhail Lomonosov. Meditations on Solidity and Fluidity of Bodies (1760). English translation and commentary by V. Shiltsev. arXiv preprint arXiv:1801.00909 (PDF).

Marov, M. Y. 2004. Mikhail Lomonosov and the discovery of the atmosphere of Venus during the 1761 transit. Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union, 2004(IAUC196), 209-219.

Guest Video: Discoverers of Earth’s Deep Layering

At the end of June, researchers suggested adding some new details to the present scientific model of Earth’s outer central core; it’s rather arcane, but the news is a good reminder for us all to honor those who accurately imagined the Earth’s structure without the aid of supercomputers or other modern tools.

These thinkers were among those who first drew the correct images of our planet’s inner structure, using math, logic, basic seismological tools (in some cases), and physics:

Guest Videos: Friedrich Mohs

Although I love geoscience, I’m not a geologist, though I tried to become one. Mineralogy lab was tough – you had to identify rocks without using labels.

Sadly, YouTube and the Geology Kitchen weren’t around yet.

It’s even worse out in the field, of course. The Mohs hardness scale was a lifesaver. Where did it get that name? From its inventor, who expanded on earlier Classical work by Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder, per Dr. Wikipedia.

Here is Mohs in less than a minute:

Here is a slightly more in-depth biography. And this is his legacy to the world:

Featured image: Memorial plaque in Vienna, by Doris Antony, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia.

Guest Videos: Dinosaur Brains and Tilly Edinger

A “game-changing” early mammal fossil was reported in May 2018. To understand why paleontologists are excited about it, you first need to meet paleoneurologist Tilly Edinger.

Dino DNA and cloning are good movie topics, but real-world paleontologists are even more fascinated by how animal brains–particularly those of dinosaurs and mammals–have evolved. Unfortunately, soft tissue like that doesn’t fossilize very well.

Fortunately, evolution always molds bones to fit very closely around the brain and its blood and nerve vessels. It’s possible to make a 3D cast of a fossil brain, if you can find enough pieces of the braincase that fit together.

That’s a big “if,” but it works, thanks to the research of Johanna Gabrielle Ottilie “Tilly” Edinger, who pioneered the technique.

We now know, for instance, that Triceratops wasn’t the brightest dinosaur in the park.

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