This is the first of what I hope will be a series of discussions regarding earth sciences and particularly geology. I have been a lifelong student of the earth since I first found a few fossils in a gravel pile as a child of 5. I remember vividly the excitement of discovery of the unknown. It is no accident that I received a BS in GeoBiology from my undergraduate college years. This pursuit eventually culminated with my acquiring a masters degree in Geology from Miami University of Ohio. The exhilaration I experienced as a young child, still occurs every time I step onto a rocky outcrop.
I first moved to Wyoming (Jackson Hole) in 1991 after having been exposed to (and falling in love with) the the high plains while teaching field geology and paleontology to college students in 1980. Even though I made a living a the C.E.O. of several high technology corporations, I spent almost all of the 1990’s as the Secretary of the Board of the Geologists of Jackson Hole (A non-profit group of around 30 professional geologists from many disciplines.) In that capacity I organized multiple nationally attended geologic seminars, made numerous presentations to several Wyoming county commissions, city governments and various other groups regarding seismic hazards and other geologic concerns. I sold my businesses in 1999 and decided to move from Jackson Hole. By a carefully engineered choice, an accident of geography along with some serendipity, I purchased some ranch land and moved 1/2 mile from the southern border of Powder River County area back in the year 2000.
Geology surrounds all of us and few places have more obvious geology than here in Wyoming and Montana. Some of us are more aware of these down to earth matters than others however. Geology controls our daily lives as much as the weather. The course of the road or the taste of your water is just a small sampling of the many ways. It is those of you that are not paying full attention and appreciation to the wonders around you, that I address this discussion.
The first and very most important principle of the detective work of earth science is very simple. It is clearly understood by all who professionally work with rocks that: THE PRESENT IS THE KEY TO THE PAST. Let me rephrase that rule. Processes that produce rock, fossils and minerals today, acted the same in the past. In yet another way. If it takes 1000 years for an inch of limestone mud to accumulate in modern areas of rapid limestone deposition (like the Bahamas) today, it took a similar amount of time in the past. So from that, we can conclude that the 400 feet (4800 inches) of Ordovician age (400 million year old) Bighorn limestone in the Bighorn Mountains took 4800 times 1000 years to produce or 4.8 million years. That is just one rock unit in the thousands of feet of rock layers.
Stating it very, very simply, geologists adding up all the time necessary to accumulate all the different sections of rock, including information gained by several different types radioactive dating have concluded that the oldest rocks on earth are 3.8 billion years old. (give or take a few million!) This is a really big number of course compared to the 6000 years of written history that man has accumulated. (Some of the oldest trees are that old.) If you compare the time span of 3.8 billion years to a day, mankind has been writing things down much less than the last second of that 3.8 billion year long day.
It kind of makes one humble.