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Wednesday
Feb292012

The map that changed the man

This is my contribution to the Accretionary Wedge geoblogfest, number 43: My Favourite Geological Illustration. You can read all about it, and see the full list of entries, at In the Company of Plants and Rocks. To quote Hollis:

All types of geological illustrations qualify — drawings, paintings, maps, charts, graphs, cross-sections, diagrams, etc., but not photographs.  You might choose something because of its impact, its beauty, its humor, its clear message or perhaps because of a special role it played in your life.  Let us know the reasons for your choice!

The map that changed the man

In 1987, at the age of 16, I became a geologist wannabe. A week on Rùm (called Rhum at the time) with volcanologist Steve Sparks convinced me that it was the most complete science of nature, being a satisfying stew of physics, chemistry, geomorphology, cosmology, fluid dynamics, and single malt whisky. One afternoon, he showed me cross-beds in the Torridonian sandstones on the shore of Loch Scresort, and identical cross-beds in the world-famous layered gabbros in the magma chamber of a Palaeogene volcano. 

View of Rum image by Southside Images, see below for credit.

But I was just a wannabe. So I studied hard at school and went off to the University of Durham. The usual studying and non-studying ensued, during which I discovered which parts of the science drew me in. There were awesome field trips, boring crystallography lectures, and tough structural geology labs. And at the end of the second year, there was the 6-week independent mapping project

As far as I know, independent mapping projects sensu stricto are a British phenomenon. I hope they still exist. Two groups decided the UK, while offering incredible basemaps and rich geological literature, was too soggy. One group went to the French Alps, where carbonates legend Maurice Tucker would be vacationing and available for advice, the other group decided that was too easy and went off to the wild mountains of northern Spain and the thrust front of the Pyrenees, where no-one was vacationing and no-one would be available for anything. Guess which group I was in. 

To say we were green would be like saying geologists think beer is OK. I hitchhiked there (but only had one creepy ride). We lived in tents (but in a peach orchard). It was July, and 35 degrees Celsius on a cool day (but there was a lake). We had no money (but lots of coloured pencils). It wasn't so bad. We all fell in love with Spain. 

Anyway, long story short, I made this map. It's no good, but that's not the point. It's my map. It's the map that turned me from wannabe into actual (if poor). It doesn't really need any commentary. It took hours and hours of scratching with Rotring Rapidographs on drawing film, then colouring the Diazo print by hand. This sounds like ancient history, but the methods I used to create it were already on the verge of extinction—the following year I started using Adobe Illustrator for draughting, and now I use Inkscape. And while some field tools have changed (of course we were not armed with laptops, Google Earth, GPS, or digital cameras), others are pure and true and timeless. Whack, whack,...

The ring of my hammer on Late Cretaceous limestones is still echoing through the Pyrenees. 

Geological map of the Embaase de Santa Ana, Alfarras, Spain; click to enlarge.

My map of the geology around the Embalse de Santa Ana. Hand-drawn by me in 1992, though I admit it looks like it's from 1892. Click for a larger view. View of Rùm by flickr user Southside Images, licensed CC-BY-NC-SA.

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Reader Comments (5)

Hi Matt

I really enjoyed reading this post and the story of how you became a geologist.
I also think it is so great you had the opportunity to go to Spain. I did my indipendent mapping in Marsia on the appennines, a mere 1 h 45' drive from Rome.

But then I went to the Yukon for a summer job and that's the one that changed the man in my case. Another story, perhaps you just inspired me to post it on my blog.

By the way, your map looks great, and you are right, it does not matter if it's not right. More often than not it isn't.
Great post.
Matteo

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatteo

Love the post!
I was doing the same thing in Ireland only 2 years earlier so this really resonates with me.
You've inspired me to come up with something (not too) similar.

March 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Wellings

@Matteo: I can imagine the Yukon changing a person! Should make a good story.

@Simon: Thanks for reading — looking forward to your Irish tale. I've been there for family visits, but never for the geology. One day... (Nice picture of the Ross sandstone on the AAPG Explorer out today)

March 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatt Hall

Great post!

The coloring with colour pencils, the drawings, being in nature... Connecting back to childhood gesture so "Most important: you will be a geologist, my son!" . It is so fun to have a job that you as a ten year old self can think it's cool...

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEric

@Eric: I don't have my coloured pencils any more, but I do still have my pencil case :) It even has my O-level student number etched into it.

March 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatt Hall

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