Jess and the guys, field expedition 1999. From left: Lou Sang, Paul, Mike, Jess, Doje, Zhou.
I am a geologist.
A person who studies the Earth. I use the scientific method to uncover past geological happenings from the scale of the formation of mountain ranges down to the growth of the tiniest microscopic crystal. I know that ice sheets hold secrets about past climate within their layers, trapped inside small bubbles of air most people don’t even know exist. I can coax a multi-million-dollar analytical machine into liberating billions of years of radiogenic isotope accumulation from a grain of sand, then use that information to calculate how old the grain is. I can look at a chemical analysis of an igneous rock and tell you if the magma it solidified from came from the Earth’s crust, or deep within its mantle, or a combination of both. I can predict the nature of a volcanic eruption based on nothing more than the location of that volcano on Earth. Then, I can tell you what color the rocks that come out of that volcano will be when they cool, what their density will be, whether or not they will have vesicles, and if they will have big, chunky crystals or fine grains invisible to the naked eye. I can tell you fascinating stories about the formation of our planet over four and a half billion years ago, or the rocks at the top of the 29,028-foot-tall Mount Everest, and how they came from the bottom of a now disappeared ocean. I can tell you why that ocean disappeared. I can explain the cause and effects of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and tell you why it is possible it will happen again. I can probably convince you that it is not safe to live in San Francisco, and why scientists have sound scientific reason to worry about “the big one.” I understand that solid rock can bend and flow under the right conditions, and that the Earth is constantly losing its primordial heat in the form of infrared radiation. I get how greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, can absorb infrared radiation and re-radiate it back toward Earth’s surface, holding it in our lower atmosphere instead of letting it escape back into space, thereby warming our planet. I know that climate change is real.
I am a geologist, something I never in a million years thought I could be. And I owe it all to the death of my father.