Archive for April 27, 2013


Professor Gladstone’s Office
Precisely at four, Wade knocked on Professor Gladstone’s office door. Through the door Wade heard Gladstone yell, “Come in.”
He knew it! There sat Gladstone behind his desk, his head wreathed in pipe smoke, the scent enhanced the mellowness of the small office. The overhead fluorescent panels were off and a lamp brightened the huge desk with its incandescent light. Overflowing bookcases occupied most of the wall space—floor to ceiling. The floor was strewn with boxes of rocks and minerals, and in one corner, lay a stack of rolled charts.
“Have a seat Wade. I’ve set aside an hour for our discussion. I hope this talk further stirs your interest in the study of what I consider a fascinating subject and profound mystery.”
Wade thanked the professor for his time and sat down in an overstuffed chair before the professor’s desk. He had anticipated this meeting all day and had a feeling that what was said in the next hour could have a dramatic impact on the course of his life. He set his backpack on the floor, opened a zipper, and retrieved a spiral notebook and pen.
This pleased Gladstone. With this act he knew Wade was serious about this meeting and about the subject matter they were about to discuss. Gladstone was a born teacher and he found these meetings such as this the most rewarding aspect of his profession. One on one, he could fire the imagination of a gifted student.
With them both settled in their chairs, Gladstone lit a freshly stuffed pipe and continued, “What I find most interesting about the Ring of Fire is that the Earth is covered by tectonic plates in constant motion, yet the Ring is such a solitary occurrence. This phenomenon is duplicated nowhere else on Earth—nowhere. In class, we did not have an opportunity to cover all the unusual characteristics of this fascinating subject. You see Wade, along with the volcanoes that compose the Ring, there are a series of deep trenches, eight to ten kilometers deep, forming some of the deepest areas of the ocean floor. During class, I discussed the volcanoes, but these trenches are also an intricate aspect of the Ring. The volcanoes appear in arcs along the boundary of the Ring and always exist between the trenches I mentioned and the nearest landmass. These trenches run parallel to the volcanic arcs for hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometers. There are well-developed theories as to why these trenches exist but their singular occurrence on the Earth’s surface has always fascinated me.
Another aspect of the Ring’s geology that I find curious is its fracture zones. Fracture zones are cracks in the Pacific Plate radiating from the trenches to the plates center. As you can see, the Ring is a dynamic and mysterious feature of the Earth’s surface, the study of which lends itself to an understanding of the Earth’s geology.”
Wade was caught up in the professor’s enthusiasm for the subject. “Professor,” Wade asked, “if so much is already known about the Ring of Fire, what is left to study?”
Gladstone chuckled. “Wade, you missed the one word I said during our discussion of the Ring that answers your question—dynamic. The Ring is ever changing, slowly revealing its secrets. Another change that is just as dynamic, even more so than the Ring itself, is the technology used to study it. Beginning in the 1970’s, a new area in the study of geology was born. That area is called space geodesy. This branch of research involves satellites taking precise and repeated measurements of selected points on the Earth’s surface. A whole new field has grown around space technology and the science of geology. Of all the space-geodetic techniques used, the three most popular are very long baseline interferometry, satellite laser ranging and the Global Positioning System, a complex of satellites orbiting 20’000 kilometers above the Earth as part of the Department of Defense’s NavStar system. The vast array of satellites making up the GPS, constantly transmit singles back to Earth determining longitude, latitude and elevation. Geologists use this system to measure the movement of the Earth’s Plates. You see Wade, knowledge grows as technology grows, and in both, there is no end of growth in sight. So do not worry about everything being known in any branch of science. That will never happen.”
The professor then reached for a folder on his cluttered desk. “I have assembled a reading list and collection of web sites I hope you find interesting. I have given you general information about the Ring, now it’s up to you to fill in the details and go as far as your mind and curiosity will take you.”
Rising from his chair, Gladstone extended his hand to Wade. “I envy your youth and enthusiasm. Let your curiosity lead you down that road of discovery that makes a scientist’s life worthwhile.”

April 27, 2013 at 6:53 pm Leave a comment


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