Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Geology FAIL

I always have great things to say about Europe. For one thing, it's absolutely unthinkable in the German secondary school system to have someone graduate without taking at least Calculus. That's the kind of rigor we need in the United States: I do not believe these things are beyond the capacity of most students. If we raise expectations students will rise to meet them.

Whatever pluses the education system may have, tragically, the science journalists don't share in the plenty.

I do very much appreciate the efforts of the press to bring to light some interesting elements of science for interested laypeople, but...c'mon. They're presenting as a totally new development that the Alps are growing, something that Geophysics has known about, and provided an explanation for, since the 1850s. In other, closely related news, Abraham Lincoln is still dead.

In short, the Alps were created by the collision of the African plate into the European plate. Despite the fact the two plates are separated, the Alps are actually growing. Why?

A force called isostatic equilibrium. The crust is actually "floating" in an extremely plastic, dense mantle. When you remove weight from something that's floating, it bobs up fast, as the pressure holding the weight down causes the force of buoyancy to compensate. Isostatic equilibrium is actually one of the elements of geology that is left relatively unchanged by plate tectonics.

My German is really, really terrible, but what's doofy is that they're presenting this as news, as a confirmed theory, when it's something most geophysicists have known for 160 years.

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