In honor of Earth Science Week, we asked Senior Associate Geologist Erick Staley about his work—what he loves about it, career advice, and (of course) his thoughts on the geological cinematic universe:
How did you become interested in the earth sciences?
I was always a scientist at heart, always trying to discover new things and how things worked. A fantastic high school teacher who taught earth science and geology (two years of it at high school level!) inspired me to pursue geology as a profession.
What’s your favorite thing about your work?
Geology is a study of history through science, really an unusual combination and fun perspective for scientific enterprise. Every time we put a hole in the ground, we are looking back in time at events that could be very different from what we see today. The idea that at the same spot on the earth there may have been an ocean bottom, a mountain range, an enormous lava flow, a glacier over a mile thick, and a river bed—just at different times in earth’s history—is mind boggling.
Any advice for someone thinking about your field as a career?
Be a student of science, all science. There are applications from physics, chemistry, botany… Understanding how those sciences interact in a natural setting will make you a better interpreter of geological data.
Favorite geology pun?
Geologists know their schist.
Favorite earth-science themed movie? AND/OR Least favorite earth-science themed movie (and why it stinks)?
Jurassic Park – This movie was made before computer animation was as ubiquitous as it is today. Seeing dinosaurs on the big screen, depicted in lifelike scenes and predator/prey action, was absolutely amazing. As it turns out, there should have been more feathers on some of the dinosaurs, but that is also a great point. Science is dynamic, under constant scrutiny and revision in light of new data.
Short List of Stinkers: There’s plenty to laugh at in each of these movies, and many other movies to choose from. I’ll pick just one forehead-slapping part from a few.
Dante’s Peak – You CANNOT drive on freshly cooled lava! Lava erupts at 1,300 to 2,500 degrees F. It’s still hundreds of degrees when it develops a crust and would quickly turn your air-inflated, rubber tires to goo… just before the heated air blows them apart.
Volcano – You CANNOT stop lava flows with a single row of concrete jersey barriers! Concrete is porous and contains a fair amount of water. The lava would cause the water to flash to steam, spalling the concrete. Also, there are metal-hydroxides that would react to oxides, releasing more water and hence more steam. The concrete would fall apart. If you used A LOT of concrete, it would eventually form a residual rubble, but that’s not what happened in the movie.
10.5 (NBC miniseries) – Seriously? Prevent plate movement by welding the fault using nuclear warheads? Could you prevent a head-on car crash by welding the front ends together at impact? May as well say Southern California is going to fall into the ocean. Oh, wait… Sadly, they made a sequel series called “10.5: Apocalypse.” It was not better.