Tuesday, 1 March 2011

An excellent website.

My relationship with geology is fraught. I love maps, and few maps are as beautiful as geological maps, with their coloured bands and marks giving a faux-view of the surface and underground. Even the terms - Ordovician, Cambrian, Cenozoic - fill me with wonder. One of my uncles was a geology lecturer who appeared (often wearing the obligatory flares) in Open University programs during the 1970s and 1980s, meaning that such a fascination is possibly firmly engrained in my blood

Yet the subject conjures memories that still causes me to shiver. During my first year at university, my engineering course had five hours of geology on a Friday afternoon. We would study rock sample after rock sample, staring through eyeglasses at them to characterise and classify. One of the lecturers - an emeritus professor - was a genius, as witty and engaging as he was intelligent, and he would avail us of tales of his time in a Japanese PoW camp. The other lecturer, however, was quite the opposite. He turned those long hours into a drag, often choosing not to give us a break in the middle of the afternoon. Given that geology was just a small part of my course (I was much more interested in structural and material engineering), I came to hate the subject. It was a classic case of a bad teacher turning students off a subject.

Therefore I have found Ian West's excellent website, 'Geology of the Wessex Coast of Southern England', to be fascinating reading. The site contains a massive amount of information on the geology of the coastline between Southampton and Devon, a stretch of coast that I know well. The detail is amazing, but also surprisingly accessible. From the Burning Cliffs (oil shale that spontaneously combusts) to the history of storm surges, everything I could possibly want to know about the geology of this stretch of coast is here.

The world is full of experts on esoteric subjects, from lace-making to Roman concrete. Most of the time this information remains firmly embedded within inaccessible specialist literature. It is rare - and good - to have these experts putting their knowledge down for everyone to read.

Forget Facebook and Twitter: sites like Ian West's are exactly what the Internet was invented for.

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