The Naked Elements

A tale of two men and geology on the roof of the world

by Miles Traer

Still from John Noel’s 1924 film “The Epic of Everest” (copyright John Noel) showing the tiny figures of George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine’s team as they prepared for the summit attempt.

Part I – Onto the Mountain

I’m sitting in a warm room wearing flannel pajamas with a hot meal in my belly when the title card on the movie fades and the 90-year-old film begins to flicker.  The circular aperture is neatly divided along a diagonal line: the top featureless white, the bottom textured rough and grey – both ghostly.  Darker striations run across the grey, further broken by white snow that looks like a child’s finger painting flecked with white and black dots.  It’s only after several seconds that I notice that a few flecks of black are moving along the border between the white and grey, moving higher along the diagonal.  Another title card appears and informs me that these tiny flecks are men, and the striated and speckled grey is Mount Everest as she appeared in 1924, on the eve of one of the most famous disappearances in mountaineering history. Continue reading

[ESSAY] Four geologists that nature just couldn’t kill

Most of the epic survival stories you’ve read probably involve crazy mountain climbers, adventurous cave divers, or bearded and grizzled desert hikers.  Scientists aren’t typically mentioned in this company.  But sometimes, geologists find themselves enduring nature’s worst in the pursuit of that must-have dataset… or at least, a dataset that seemed really important at the time.  Here are three stories about four geologists who found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time when nature removed her flowery veil and donned her murder hat.  But before I get into those, it needs to be said that people perished during the events of some of these stories.  Given that, please consider this a celebration of the perseverance, luck, good fortune, and bad-assery of those who survived. Continue reading

[ESSAY] The crazy history of 3 ridiculous geological theories

Science is constantly reinventing itself, revising past theories and proposing new ideas that hopefully further our understanding of the world.  Copernicus proposed the heliocentric solar system, Newton had gravity, and Einstein gave us relativity.  But every once in a while, a theory gets proposed that’s downright nutty.  Not only that, some of these theories can persist for decades or even centuries.  As these ridiculous theories hang around, sometimes they find themselves intersecting with strange moments in history.  Here, I present the crazy history you’ve never heard of behind 3 ridiculous geological theories. Continue reading

Are you an environmentalist or do you work for a living?

We revisit one of our first interviews with environmental historian Richard White. He addresses the (mis)perceptions of the natural world, the ambiguities surrounding the Anthropocene boundary, and explains what he meant when he wrote the provocative essay “Are you an environmentalist or do you work for a living.”

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