Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Geology In Action!!

You know, we have looked at a lot of rocks. Big rocks, shiny rocks, rocks that may or may not be trying to kill you, etc. We are at a point where if you can think of an adjective, chances are that we have covered a rock that has that quality in spades. This is a good place to be, and I’m proud of our little community that has grown out of our combined love of whatever it is that this blog contains. You are each important to me, even the follower named “indirectly" although they are only indirectly important to me.

Anyway, while we have looked at a lot of rocks, we haven’t really looked at geology in action. People love it when the things have an action, and geology is no exception. You can’t spell geology without “logo”, which is pretty close to “loco” which is short for “locomotion”. On that note, I propose we look at an example of geology in motion.

Now, nothing would give me more pleasure than showing you footage of a sudden and unpredictable earthquake, geology’s most feared weapon. Or perhaps of the eruption of a slumbering, majestic volcano, geology’s most feared weapon. Or even of the breath-taking glow of a meteor impact, truly geology’s most feared weapon. Sadly, I don’t have footage of any of the previously mentioned geologically-themed events. But dry your eyes! Not all is lost! We may not have the big stars of the geologic world attending our little electronic party, but we still have the B-listers! The Segals and the Gellars of the rock world! And in that spirit, I present for your consideration the geologic freak-show that is the Shoshoni Ice Caves!

Now, this adventure takes us outside the comforts of Utah (Idaho), but as junior internet geologists it is important that you learn the value of new experiences. And the Ice Caves are just that, an experience that should not be missed by anyone who values the unexpected. For example, how many places do you visit on regular bases that boast one of these?

If you can think of any other parking lot with one of those, then kudos. If like me you are mostly just confused as to what that is, don't feel bad. You are far from alone. Besides, it will make a little more sense latter on. Well, actually I can’t promise that. Anyway, if you still had doubts that you were embarking on a truly special journey, I propose that you consider this…

I've often been quoted (in several very reputable scientific-like magazines) that you can easily judge the learning potential of a location by the number of cavemen you can fit on the back of a giant green dinosaur. Also, where better to park your car than under the watchful stare of prehistoric man? They survived the Sabertooth Cat, they sure as hell can handle some two-bit thug with a crowbar. Anyway, the treats don’t stop there. Let’s take a look at some of the other surprises that stalk the parking lot like repressed memories of horrible events…

Uh-oh! Free museum!

It is important to also take every opportunity to learn something new, even if it is located in a museum surrounded by oversized novelty cave people. Perhaps it is even more important to visit these places, for these establishments are more likely to contain the gritty facts that regular museums are too scared/forbidden by law to present. For example….

Two antlers tangled in wire. If this isn’t a metaphor for life I don’t know what is. Oh how my contempt grows for these so-called “safe museums” that refuse to show us nature at its worst! This particular museum is filled with various heads. Some, like this one…

seem to still express emotion. Specifically, this one still seems confused as to why it was killed. It made me sad, but then I looked over and was reminded of the good times…

This is another rule of the internet geologist. Shoot, we have a lot of these things now. Let’s make a list.

1. Idaho is wierd.
2. Free museums will usually contain questionable material.
3. Cartoony dinosaurs are funnier than dead deer heads.

I suspect that this list will grow as we go on. Yes, while such museums may seem intimidating, it has proven to be a treasure trove of information. But there must be balance in all things. Truely, for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. And so it is with the museum. For every happy, confused deer head, there must be one of these....

For every colorfully painted, non-threatening dinosaur in the parking lot there must be one of these...

Alright, that is another rule we have to write down.

4. Scary things suck.

Oh, I promised to explain the statue from the beginning.

As you can see, this is a statue of Chief Washakie. The good Chief was born in 1804 and did some pretty amazing stuff in his lifetime. It’s surprising he had time to pose for this statue. That's all the explaining I can give you. I hope it is enough. Time for geology! Get your pick axes and sexually-explicit t-shirts!

That’s another rule of internet geology. The more cartoon skin your shirt shows the better prepared to deal with the rigors of virtual geology you will be. Add it to the list. Let’s walk along the trail to the Ice Caves and talk about what we are seeing.

The setting is simple. Approximately 12 to 17 million years ago much of the Pacific Northwest was covered by massive amounts of molten lava. A huge plume of super-heated melted rock-stuff is located right under Yellowstone National Park, and this hot-plume accounts for a good 99% of the bubbling you see there (burritos are the other 1%). But this hot spot wasn't always under Yellowstone. You see, continental drift has shoved the American Plate around like tubby foreign exchange student. The hot spot has stayed in the same place and has burned a trail of devastation through the plate as it has moved past. While it was under Idaho it pumped out significant volumes of basalt which exceeds 6,000 feet in thickness in places. It is this basalt that we see in the picture.

Much like we saw in the volcano picture previously posted on this blog, this basalt traveled in large tubes formed in the basalt of previous flows. As one flow cooled, tunnels formed that transported the hotter, more liquidy basalt to further, more erotic heights. The cave we are entering is a portion of one of these massive tubes. Not all tubes are so lucky though. Most collapse under their own weight, also much like a tubby foreign exchange student. All they leave for us is a mild depression in the ground. See?

Yes, it is a pretty bleak picture. This massive basalt flow is known as the Snake River Basalt Flows, and there is evidence that this event had global impacts. But how did it treat the people who called this land home? Don’t ask me, ask them yourselves.

No time to try to get some hot cavewoman action! Let’s see some geology! Down we go!

Oh no! It’s possibly some sort of carnivore!

Luckily the unidentified and questionably constructed beast doesn’t attack and allows us safe passage through its lands. Into the caves we go! Say goodbye to sweet mother sun.

You are entering the dusty womb of our other mother, the planet Earth. And we aren’t coming back out unless we survive the trip down the vaginal canal of knowledge. That may be a little intense for the younger readers. Sorry kids.

The first thing you notice upon entering the cave is that it is rightly named. It is very cold down here. Approximately -7 degrees C in places. It is so cold that a poorly painted penguin has taken up residence in the icy depths of this mighty pit.

At least I think it is a penguin. It could be any number of things with a penguin shape. Our tour guide was a bit vague on the details. As a bit of a surprise, we see the remains of an actual creature.

This was once the body of mighty ice-aged bear. Now it is just another carcass sitting in an icy cave. Makes you think. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m stilling thinking about that hot cavewoman sitting up there in the sun. Oh what fools we were to not ask her out! Ah well.
What is neat is that the floor of the cave is indeed entirely made of ice. Well, ice and currency.

Our journey through the caves takes along an elevated catwalk above the ice/change rich floor. A-like so….

So why is there ice in this cave year round? In general, the earth gets warmer the deeper you get so one would think we would be feeling warmth. So much warmth that no self-respecting, vaguely penguin-shaped creature would want to call this place home. And yet…

Here is proof that this cave houses such a creature!

Well, the answer is one of geology in action. Well, geology and physics. Mostly physics. You see, there was another hole in the cave located at the other end of the tunnel. A hole we never even saw. As the wind blows, the air enters Hole #2 at just the right speed where it cools due to all sorts of fancy science words. The ideal gas law, Bernoulli's principle, dark magic, however you can wrap your minds around it. Here it is in mathamagical form....

The cooled air rushes through this tunnel and freezes the water seeping in through the cracks in the basalt. This whole cave used to be completely filled with ice. In fact, the good people of Idaho used to mine the stuff to cool their potato drinks. If the ice held a caveman toe, then no worries. Just fish it out and finish your beverage. Then in the 1940's some douche blew up hole #2 and messed up the perfect wind pattern and made the whole cave melt. Then in the 70's some guy fixed it and made the ice come back. The whole story is very moving.

And so we see that with the help of geology, entire caves can be filled with pure, sweet ice. This post is already waaaay too long, so I'm going to cut it short with that. If you have any questions then perhaps you should consult the caveman wizard in your neighborhood.


ClintnBecca said...

We are coming back in a year. Clint graduates from residency next June but we will be in town the first part of August- in just a few weeks!! We would love to see you- Clint has been trying to reach you. Apparently the email that he has no longer works??? Email him- ankledoc at yahoo.

Dan said...

Geology in action blows my mind - loco. The ice caves are incredible. Seeing air cooling principle in action makes me glad I graduated from high school.