Mountain Beltway has relocated

The blog’s new home is nestled into the cozy embrace of the American Geophysical Union. You can find it at this new URL:

There, Mountain Beltway joins six other independently-authored blogs in what is the first example (in geology, anyhow) of a professional organization hosting a series of blogs whose authors have editorial control of their content. I think the AGU deserves major kudos for this gutsy move, and major props should be given to Maria-Jose Viñas, the AGU public information officer who has pushed the organization to embrace new media. I was honored to be invited to be one of the inaugural group of AGU-hosted geobloggers, and I hope to see our community grow in the future.

The new RSS feed is

If you’ve commented here in the past week, you might find that your comments didn’t get packed up in the transition. I’d encourage you to copy and paste them into the new versions of the posts at the AGU site: I can’t do that for you.

See you in the blog’s new digs!

The word is out…

Others have started announcing our move to a new blog consortium hosted by the American Geophysical Union, so I suppose I will go ahead and reveal that I, too, am part of this scientific cabal…

Sometime before the end of the month, Mountain Beltway and six other top-notch earth and space science blogs will relocate to AGU servers and a new URL. I’ll leave directions here for folks to follow…

A new river graphic

I really appreciated the feedback everyone contributed regarding the river evolution graphic I posted a week and a half ago. The latest offering is from Kyle House, who linked to a couple of nice summary images derived from Stanley Schumm. Because the images were low-resolution, and black and white, I decided to do some re-drafting. Here’s one (click through twice for full size version):

And here’s the original:

Images like this (and the previous, obsolete “river evolution” image) are central to the way I teach — a nice summary picture that compares variables. This one is more complex than I consider ideal, but I think it will do the trick.

I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the discussion. I felt that this episode was a great example of how blogging benefits its practitioners. By putting my earlier graphic online, I got valuable feedback that corrected the erroneous and oversimplified way I was teaching about fluvial geomorphology. It was great to get critiques from both geomorphological and educational perspectives. That feedback has lead me to do some deeper thinking about that topic, and to change the way I teach it. Thanks — on behalf of myself and my future students!

Now for the new image… what would you critique here? (…either in terms of Schumm’s original ideas, or my redrawing of them…)

EDIT: Michael M. pointed out in the comments that several of the arrows were too low contrast to be legible. Funny, those colors totally aren’t what they looked like in the Corel Draw drafting stage! Anyhow, I’ve darkened them up a bit in this version:

Top Ten Park meme

Lockwood started it. He grabs two new lists from National GeographicOur Amazing Planet“: the Ten Most Visited National Parks and the Ten Least Visited National Parks. Says he: Bold the ones you have visited, and italicize the ones you’ve never heard of before.

Most visited:
10: Glacier
9: Acadia
8: Grand Teton
7: Cuyahoga Valley (what? the river that caught fire? that one?)
6: Rocky Mountain
5: Olympic
4: Yellowstone
3: Yosemite
2: Grand Canyon
1: Great Smoky Mountains

Least Visited:
10: City of Rocks NR, Idaho
9: Cumberland Island NS, Georgia
8: Florissant Fossil Beds NM, Colorado
7: Chiricahua NM, Arizona
6: Tonto NM, Arizona
5: Dry Tortugas NP, Florida (one of the coolest places I’ve ever been, and unfortunately, also one of the national parks most threatened by the Gulf oil spill)
4: Katmai NP & Preserve, Alaska
3: Kalaupapa NHP, Hawaii
2: Hagerman Fossil Beds NM, Idaho
1: Russell Cave NM, Alabama


World! …I have an announcement!

Three of my structural geology students from this past semester are now geoblogging… can’t say I had anything to do with that, but there it is.

They are:

Joe Maloney at Fossiliferous Weekly

Aaron Barth at Got The Time


“AlanP” at Not Necessarily Geology

Please check them out, and give them positive reinforcement. These are three bright young men with strong geological careers ahead of them.

The coming flood

In January, a large landslide occurred in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan’s Karakoram Range, near the village of Attabad. Like the Madison River landslide in Montana (1959), or the Gros Ventre landslide in Wyoming (1925), a river was dammed by the slide debris, and the impounded waters began to rise.

At Gros Ventre, the landslide-dammed lake overtopped the debris and caused a catastrophic flood which killed 6 people in Kelly, Wyoming. At the Madison River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers feared another Kelly-style flood, with Ennis, Montana being the (larger) vulnerable town downstream. They carved a spillway through the debris which accommodated the flow the Madison River, though a “Quake Lake” still remains upstream of the dam.

Dave Petley has been covering this growing threat at Attabad since the initial landslide on his blog, Dave’s Landslide Blog. I think Dave’s coverage has been absolutely superb — it represents the best of what geoblogging can be. He has been soberly reporting the facts and offering his considered interpretations for more than four months. He has tracked the continuing mass wasting in the area, the Pakistani government’s attempts to dig a spillway, and the growing seepage through the dam (with attendant erosion). On an almost daily basis, he has been posting graphs showing the rising lake levels and decreasing “freeboard” (distance between the lake’s surface and the lowermost point on the dam — the spillway mouth).

Now, the day has arrived when the rising lake is projected to finally overtop the dam. Dave’s prognosis is not a positive one: the spillway appears to be inadequate in size to handle the flow of the river even at normal rates of discharge (and certainly not during floods). The material composing the dam appears to be easily erodible, which raises the likelihood that the overtopping waters will rapidly incise downward, widening the spillway gorge rapidly into a lake-draining chasm. A flood is not guaranteed, nor is it guaranteed that if there is a flood, that it will happen today — but the situation offers little hope for optimism. We might get lucky and avoid a catastrophe — but there seems to be ample reason for grave concern.

Dave Petley seems to have been a lone western voice raising awareness of this growing hazard, and I feel he should be strongly commended for it. Dave  is accompanied by coverage from the Pamir Times, and a daily lake level dataset being gathered by an on-the-ground volunteer team called “Focus.” One can only hope that their collective efforts have not been in vain. The people downriver of the slide will need to move to higher ground until the threat has abated. It seems unrealistic to expect Dave, the Focus team, and the Pamir Times don’t convince them via blogging. I would venture to say that the Pakistani government should have called a mandatory evacuation of the area several days ago. It is their responsibility to be sufficiently on top of things and protect their citizens.

Good luck and best wishes to the people of the Hunza Valley.


For the twenty-fourth edition of the Accretionary Wedge, I selected “heroes” as the theme. For those of you new to the geoblogosphere, the Accretionary Wedge is a ~monthly geoblog “carnival,” wherein various and sundry geobloggers write posts on a common theme.

Broadly speaking, submissions to this edition fell into three categories: (1) professional heroes, (2) personal heroes, and (3) individuals who were both professional and personal heroes.

The ‘pros’:

Neil of Microecos was the first one to submit a tribute to three women paleontologists: Mary Anning, Annie Alexander, and Tilly Edinger. The three profiles he offers show conclusively that not all fossilists are old white men.

Ian Stimson of Hypo-theses also chose a woman as his hero: the woman who discovered in the inner core, Inge Lehmann. She made on of the most fundamental interpretations of the structure of our planet, using Ian’s favorite medium, seismic waveforms.

Above the core is the mantle, and plate tectonic theory suggested in the 1960s that the mantle might move around, dragging around lithospheric plates above. Chris Rowan of Highly Allochthonous reminds us that Arthur Holmes suggested something very similar in 1928. Chris explores Holmes’ ideas, style, and influence on geologic thinking at a critical time.

When the mantle partially melts, it makes basaltic magma. One spot where that liquid rock makes it to the surface is Hawaii, where Thomas Jaggar worked. Jess (a.k.a. ‘Tuff Cookie’) of the blog Magma Cum Laude says that the reason she finds Jaggar heroic is that he studied volcanoes in service to mankind. Jaggar valued the practical application of his ideas towards protecting people’s lives.

Chris M of Pools and Riffles wrote a post about one of his professional heroes, the pioneering fluvial geomorphologist Luna Leopold. Chris’s post dovetails nicely with a piece by Anne of Highly Allochthonous about Leopold’s collaborator Reds Wolman (see the “both” category below).

John Van Hoesen came out of the blogging deep-freeze with his thoughtful post about Louis Agassiz over at his rejuvenated blog Geological Musings in the Taconic Mountains. Agassiz, of course, is the reason that today we all think that the Pleistocene was a time of massive continental glaciation in the northern hemisphere. John’s understanding of his hometown is an Agassiz legacy.

Another John, this one the author of Karmasotra, opted for yet another John, John Wesley Powell, as his hero. Blogger John profiles Explorer John with a short biography and a sense of profound respect at how willingly Powell immersed himself in the unknown.

Finally, David Bressan of Cryology and Co. wrote an essay that discusses an important group of professionals: those who make us laugh. He discusses caricaturists and cartoonists, especially those who critiqued Victorian geologic thought.

The personal heroes:

Mel of Ripples In Sand came out of blogging semi-retirement to heap accolades on the geologically-aware individuals who forecast avalanche risk for skiers in the Rocky Mountain West.

I was the last person to submit an entry to this Wedge, and that was my tribute earlier today to Larry Wiseman, developmental biologist, artist, scholar, mentor, and connoisseur of life. His influence was instrumental in giving me my interests, enthusiasms, and priorities.

Larry was the one to put me onto the works of the author and philosopher (he hated being called a “nature writer”) Edward Abbey, and Abbey also happens to be the hero of Garry Hayes, a.k.a. Geotripper. Garry explores Abbey’s influential thinking and gorgeous prose, and relates it to issues like overpopulation and the climate crisis.

The “both” heroes:

Thinking along the same lines of Chris M (above), Anne Jefferson of Highly Allochthonous led the pack with a tribute to the fluvial geomorphologist Reds Wolman, who recently passed away. Reds taught Anne at Johns Hopkins when she was an undergraduate, and then she took up her doctoral study under an earlier Wolman PhD student, Gordon Grant, which meant that Reds became her “academic grandfather.” Anne’s tribute was penned before the Wedge was announced, but she followed up later with a supplementary tribute, including video of her hero.

‘Pascal,’ the author of Research at a Snail’s Pace, couldn’t choose a single hero, but some were clearly professional (Robert Bakker and Stephen Jay Gould) and others were clearly personal (parents and wife). See his many positive influences here.

Likewise, ‘Silver Fox’ of Looking for Detachment couldn’t pick just one, so she shared a collection of vignettes about why she finds Tanya Atwater and Tom Dibblee heroic, as well as her many advisors and mentors through life and geologic training.

Though the Sandglass‘s Michael Welland has both a professional and personal connection to his hero, thesis advisor Alan Smith. Michael relates the story of a day in the field, and how a thoughtful question from Alan revolutionized his thinking about field work.

Bill Normark was a marine geologist who produced work that was influential on the thinking of Brian Romans, author of Clastic Detritus. Brian describes how Bill’s work came off the printed page and into his life when Bill served on Brian’s PhD committee, and stimulated his interest in integrating modern sedimentation with the ancient sedimentological record. Apparently, he also made some tasty wine!

Some wine seems to be called for here: reviewing this stellar list of extraordinary individuals, I feel compelled to (virtually) pour each of you glass. Let’s raise this virtual wine aloft with a toast to these men and women who influenced our lives, our thinking, our science, and our goals.

May our heroes’ memories inspire us; may their legacies inspire others!
Long live the heroes; Cheers, everyone!

* < much clinking of glasses, shouts and huzzahs > *