Geology of the National Parks

Main Topics, Unit 1


Unit 1: Science!

  • is a human activity—it isn’t Truth, but it works;
  • is the best way we have to answer many questions (How does something work? How can we use that information to cure disease or find clean water or otherwise help us?);
  • cannot answer many questions (What should we do? Why are we here?).

Scientific Method:

  • Get a new idea (hypothesis) from somewhere (genius?).
  • See if new idea beats old idea in predicting what will happen (experiment).
  • If yes (after many tests), use the new idea; if no, still use old one.
  • Repeat—there’s always more to learn.
  • Ideas that work better may be True, Close, or Lucky, so science never sure.
  • Science can prove ideas wrong, but cannot prove them correct.
  • But, if we act as if science finds truth, we succeed in doing many things...
  • IF we follow scientific method.

Why National Parks?

  • US idea, Yellowstone first (1870).
  • Take a quick visit to Yellowstone, and imagine it as a power plant or cola ad.
  • Problem: parks for “conservation unimpaired for future generations” but “enjoyment” for this generation.
  • Doing both is not easy.

Why Geology?

  • Find valuable things (oil, water, gems).
  • Avoid hazards (earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides).
  • Learn how Earth works to keep it and us happy and healthy.
  • Have fun (Why are the parks so pretty? What were dinosaurs like?).

Some Geological Background

  • We WILL cover evidence during semester, but we have to start somewhere.
  • Earth 4.6 billion years old, pieces from space fell together under gravity.
  • Heated as it formed (natural radioactivity, and the heat from stopping those falling pieces—think of hot-brake smell after stopping a truck on a steep hill).
  • Heating melted Earth and allowed it to separate into layers (think of car-bottom clump on a snowy day—ice and rocks and dead-squirrel parts all lumped together, but separate when they melt in garage).
  • Layers are: iron-rich core, iron-silica mantle, more-silica/less-iron crust (refer to Chemistry Sidebar in text if this seems unfamiliar).