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)