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Author: Chris and Jesse

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Welcome to PlanetGeo, where we are excited about the Earth! Join Chris, a nationally-recognized high school teacher, and Jesse, a geoscience professor, in discussing the amazing features of our planet and the impact on your everyday life. No prior knowledge required. New episodes coming at you every week. Listen, subscribe, share with someone you know!
26 Episodes
Join us in a wide-ranging discussion with Professor Steve Mattox!  Dr. Mattox is a professor at Grand Valley State University, where he has taught for many years.  Dr. Mattox had a very diverse career before going the faculty at Grand Valley, and we discuss his career path, how he became interested in the Geosciences, and what he thinks of the future of geoscience. Dr. Mattox has led several very interesting research projects surrounding geoscience and society.  These include quantifying the number of news articles that relate to the geosciences, studying the tools that teachers used, and developing what is effectively an Advanced Placement Geology course for high schools in Michigan. Teaching is very familiar for Dr. Mattox and he has won numerous awards for his teaching acumen.  Most notable among them are the Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year Award in 2020 and the Michigan Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award in 2012. See below for a summary of Dr. Mattox's experience and a link to his personal website! TEACHING EXPERIENCEAssociate Professor, Department of Geology, GVSU, 2003 to present.Assistant Professor, GVSU, 1998 to 2003.Lecturer, 2001, University of the Philippines College Baguio, Baguio City, Luzon, Philippines.Post-doctoral Research Volcanologist, University of North Dakota, 1995-1996.Lecturer, University of Hawaii at Hilo, 1991-1996.Visiting Lecturer, School of the Art Institute, Chicago, Illinois, 1991.WORK EXPERIENCEExploration Geologist (east Java, Indonesia), Golden Valley Mines NL, West Perth, WA, 1997.Exploration Geologist (Kimberley), Precious Metals of Australia, West Perth, WA., 1996-1997.Consulting Geologist, Belt Collins & Associates, Honolulu, HI, 1993.Geologic Investigation Contractor, Utah Geological Survey, 1989-1990.Geologic Mapping Contractor, Utah Geological Survey, 1984-1989.AWARDS, HONORS, AND GRANTSGVSU Alumni Association Outstanding Educator Award, 2009.Michigan Science Teachers Association, College Teacher of the Year, 2008.Pew Teaching Excellence Award for the Science and Mathematics Division, 2002.National Science Foundation, co-PI, Volcanology for Earth Science Teachers, 1994-1996, $315,000.National Park Foundation, to write "A Teacher's Guide to the Geology of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park", 1993-1994, $21,000.TEACHING AND RESEARCH INTERESTSCollaborating with undergraduate students in writing/presenting innovative teaching materials.Establishing a state-wide "AP" geology exam in Michigan.Completing "Geology Underfoot in Michigan" for Mountain Press.Learning paleomagnetism as a research method. ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
In this GeoShort, we take a snippet from our discussion with Dr. Steve Mattox from GVSU.  He has an interesting career path that started out in the economic geology sector working for a mining company looking for base metals (copper, zinc, gold, silver).  This took him to some interesting places such as Australia and rural Indonesia.  Steve talks about the interesting skill set that geologists have to make sense of an area.  For example, Steve talks about finding gold in a sand and gravel deposit ( a placer), and following the deposits up the watershed to find the source rock, and higher concentrations, of gold.Tune in next week to hear the full interview with Dr. Mattox!  ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
In this episode we discuss the many ways in which we determine the ages of rocks.  This is a really common and important question that many people have.  Here, we cover some of the basics.  Basically, the methods used to date rocks range from simple intuition that anyone can do if you just spend some time looking at outcrops, to really advanced techniques involving laser and plasma instruments!  We introduce this topic by describing the differences between relative dating, where we put events in order, and absolute dating where we assign numerical ages to specific events.  As you might tell from the discussion, the techniques geoscientists use vary widely!  We highlight a few of the key principles established by the OG geologists like Charles Lyell, such as the principle of original horizontality, or the law of cross cutting relations.  We also discuss the most memorable places that we have seen where these principles are clearly shown! We then move into discussing how radiometric dating works, and how radioactive decay is very important to our understanding of the age of events on Earth.  We highlight specifically the techniques that Jesse uses in the lab he is building at Penn State to date individual parts of tiny mineral grains that are the size of a human hair!  Amazingly, these tiny mineral grains can record events billions of years apart from one another!  The techniques we use to get actual ages out of these minerals include blasting them with a laser and injecting that material into a plasma so that we can measure the uranium and lead compositions of the mineral.  All fancy stuff that doesn't require a white lab coat!   ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: @planetgeocastEmail: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
Have you seen the viral "cookie monster agate"?  If not, check it out via the link below (or our instagram: @planetgeocast)! Both Chris and Jesse have had this viral agate image shared with them, and today we discuss how agates are formed, and how the represent a really cool and important geologic process; fluid flow!  Agate is a form of microcrystalline silica (like quartz) that often forms from super-saturated fluid.  These fluids flow through many parts of the Earth's crust, including through small gaps or cavities in volcanic or sedimentary rocks.  The super saturated fluids will deposit agate (or calcite or other minerals) within cavities and they are deposited in concentric rings that grew much like tree rings grow! The different rings can have slightly different colors due to small impurities in the minerals that are being deposited.  However, beware!  Agate is a porous material so synthetic dyes can be easily applied to natural agates, turning them to very showing, but artificial, colors.  In fact, most pink or bright blue agates are actually dyed.  Listen to our GeoShort to learn about the Cookie Monster Agate! rockhounds- rock collecting- geology in the field- agates and geodes ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
In this episode, we answer a series of really excellent listener questions.   Mrs. White, a high school teacher, assigned our plate tectonics  episode to one of her A.P. classes and they came back with some great questions.  Here they are:1- how far have we drilled into the Earth and is there any hope of reading the mantle?  We have drilled about 12 km which is a tiny amount.  This took about 20 years to accomplish and the high temperatures inhibited drilling deeper.2- what instruments to we use to determine the thickness and structure of the core and mantle since we don't have any direct samples?  We study seismic waves traveling through the interior of the Earth.  3- what happens to the asthenosphere as a result of loss of magma during volcanic eruptions?  In answering this question, we discuss the misconceptions of what a magma chamber actually looks like.  It's a very complicated question that requires a complicated answer.Join us as we discuss the answers to these questions (we have drilled >12km deep into the Earth, which isn't very far!), discuss how the relate to recent scientific discoveries (what is a magma chamber anyways???), and talk about how we image the interior of the Earth using seismic waves!  Listener questions are always welcomed at PlanetGeo and they usually drive us to think about things more deeply, and sometimes end up with long answers!   ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
In this GeoShort we tell a few stories that highlight how identifying rocks can be sort of difficult, even for those of us with Geology degrees!  Chris likes to call limestone the "Katy Perry" of rocks and Jesse got a question about pumice wrong, one of the easiest rocks to identify on the planet!  So, if you are an amateur rock collector and don't always know what the rocks you find are called, never fear!  It can be hard.  If you want to know more about limestone, listen to Episode 5: Hard Water and What Makes the Ocean Salty!   ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
Today we interview Dr. Jackie Faherty of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City!  Our conversation runs wild (and a bit longer than normal!) where we cover everything from Jackie's favorite rock, the overlap between geoscience and astronomy, to the BackYard World Citizen Science project that Dr. Faherty launched several years ago. Dr. Faherty is an observational astronomer, meaning that she uses telescopes to study our universe, and she specializes in studying brown dwarfs, which she describes as misfits!  Brown dwarfs are somewhere between a planet and a star, and they provide important information about how solar systems ultimately form!  Jackie also tells the incredible story of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing with Neil Armstrong piloting the Lunar Lander safely down to the moon's surface, and she tells us that her favorite rock is in fact a sample from Apollo 17!  Jackie and Chris also have a great discussion of astronomy education and how best to convey the inherent interest in astronomy to students.  Check it out to learn more!  ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
In this GeoShort, we give you a short preview to our full interview Dr. Jackie Faherty (coming out next week Thursday).  Dr. Faherty is an astronomer who now works at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.  Dr. Faherty is a prominent astronomer who has published and presented over 100 papers and has a really unique perspective on the Geosciences!  We were absolutely honored that she agreed to talk about astronomy, geoscience, and generally interesting topics on PlanetGeo!  In this GeoShort, she discusses Jupiter and why she calls it the "bouncer" of our solar system.  She believes that if another planet in some other solar system will be found to harbor life,  a Jupiter like planet must also exist in that solar system.Jackie also gives us a glimpse into space time and why it's so difficult for humans to comprehend.  This GeoShort is informative and entertaining - Just a short glimpse into the full episode next week. ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
In this episode we guessed it, dams!  Dams are incredible manmade features that can not only dominate the landscape but also dominate the river system and fundamentally change how the rivers operate. We discuss everything from the amount of dams in the United States to major dam failures in the recent past, and highlight some of the basics of how dams fundamentally affect streams when they are installed. Here are some highlights of the statistics we cover! There are roughly 91,000 Dams in the USThey Impound over 600,000 miles of river or 17% of riversThe average age is 59 yearsThe number of high-hazard potential dams is over 15,000 and increasingIt is estimated that over 70 billion dollars is needed to properly upgrade these dams.  For perspective, 425 billion dollars are spent each year on Road Infrastructure.  About 75% of that comes from state and local governments.  25% comes from Federal.Dam regulation is largely up to each state and each person is responsible for about 200 dams.All too many are suffering from a neglected investment in infrastructure.Dams are this interesting intersection between geology, engineering, government oversight, and humanity.So why do we build them?  So many reasons: hydroelectric, irrigation, flood mitigation, recreation, municipal water ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
In this GeoShort, we briefly discuss how people measure groundwater, from the fairly rudimentary (stick a measuring tape down a well) to the highly sophisticated (satellites and conductivity!).  We highlight the GRACE satellites that have been used for decades to monitor and predict groundwater levels around the world. And we also briefly discuss work by future Penn State Professor Dr. Chloe Gustafson, who uses electromagnetism to measure groundwater underneath the Atlantic Ocean (see her publications here:  In summary, groundwater is awesome and measuring it can be both simple and very difficult!   ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
Have you ever heard of obsidian?  Mostly likely you have; it is the rock that was commonly used by early humans to make arrowheads and other weapons.  Obsidian is a very beautiful rock types, but it's formation is often misunderstood.  In this GeoShort, we briefly highlight how obsidian is formed and discuss how unique it is.  Obsidian is actually a glass, meaning it has no crystals in it!  In fact, obsidian is naturally very unstable at Earth's surface so it breaks down quickly.  This means that obsidian is usually a very young rock; no ancient obsidian occurs on Earth! Obsidian has been used for thousands of years by humans.  However, obsidian formation is usually misunderstood by people!  In this GeoShort we discuss how obsidian forms, which has more to do with the composition of the magma than the cooling rate.  The felsic (silica-rich) magma type that obsidian forms from is very thick and sticky.  This means that it cannot flow very quickly (a term called viscosity, or the resistance to flow) which also inhibits elements from diffusing within the molten rock.  The lack of diffusion means that crystals cannot form quickly, and the magma cools before mineral grains can form.  This creates a glass! Obsidian is often used in lapidary work as well as it polishes well and often occurs in beautiful colors!  ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
In this episode we had the great pleasure of interviewing Dr. Diana Roman, a volcanologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC!  Diana is not only a spectacular and prolific researcher, but she is an excellent communicator of all things volcanoes!  In this interview we talk to Dr. Roman about a wide range of topics including her career trajectory and former life as an economist and venture capitalist!  Now, Dr. Roman is a leading researcher into volcano seismicity, or the earthquakes associated with volcanoes and volcanic eruptions.  Diana draws an analogy to volcanoes and famous vocalists, in that the pitch of a volcano's earthquakes changes through time!  We also discuss Dr. Roman's path to geoscience, what her career path looked like, and what it is like being a high-profile woman in the sciences!  She also discusses the future of volcano research, and how the field can go from pattern recognition to a deeper understanding of the processes of volcanism on Earth. Give this interview a listen; we think you'll learn something interesting!  As always, if you enjoyed this episode we simply ask that you share it with someone who you think will get something from it too!  ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:
In this episode, we answer a listener question!  Thanks to Tom for the excellent question which is, Why Don't Beaches Erode Quickly?  Basically our answers are the same, that beaches do erode quickly both in storms and in every day wave action.  But, we answer them in two different parts.  Tom also wondered what was our favorite beer to drink while looking at the Grand Tetons.  Another excellent question!  Chris enjoys a hazy IPA from the Snake River Brewing Company (Earned It) or any beer from Grand Teton Brewing Company and Jesse would choose a nice cold Narragansett after a long day of hiking (though Chris judges him for it). Thanks for the questions Tom and keep them coming! ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocast                                                            Twitter: @planetgeocast                                                            Facebook: @planetgeocast                                                                                           Email:                                                            Website:                                                            
In this episode, Jesse and Chris talk about water.  That's right - water.  Where is the worlds water?  We begin by lumping all of the worlds water into 6 geological basins: oceans, glaciers, groundwater, lakes, atmosphere, and rivers.  We then assign relative percentages to each reservoir and then demonstrate how much water each would hold if all of the worlds water were scaled down to 5 gallons (19 Liters).What comes to light is that less than 1% of all the worlds water is useable for human consumption - less than a half of a cup on a 5 gallon scale!  That "1/2 cup of water" is enough to keep 9 billion people alive, but it is not evenly distributed over the planet. We use the Great Lakes in the Mid-West United States to illustrate the "haves and have nots".  The Great Lakes contain 21% of all the standing fresh surface water on Earth.  Despite having this incredible amount of water, the Great Lakes Basin is already dealing with water issues.  Our groundwater is being depleted and our standing water is being diverted.  We use the Chicago River diversion to illustrate some of the issues and concerns about moving Great Lakes water out of the Basin.  We also use Waukesha, Wisconsin as an example of an area that has a poor groundwater source but has been granted access to Great Lakes water to avert their needs.Although we talk a lot about the Great Lakes region in this episode, the issues here are an analogy for the entire planet.  World population might reach 9 billion in 20 years.  Fresh water is finite and we need to be aware of the issues we will face - and are already facing while we still have time! ——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocast Youtube: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite:                               
Welcome to PlanetGeo - a short episode.  Today, we have a bonus story from our interview with longtime Yellowstone Park ranger - Harlan Kredit.  We were asking him about some of his most memorable experiences during his 48 year tenure.  Late one night, Harlan got a call about a baby that was lost at Lewis Lake in the Southern part of the park.  He talks about the grueling task of working a gird search in rough terrain.  Buried in this story, is a powerful life lesson as he made a crucial decision that resulted in rescuing the baby.  This is worth the listen.——————————————————                                                            Instagram: @planetgeocast                                                            Twitter: @planetgeocast                                                            Facebook: @planetgeocast                                                                                           Email:                                                            Website:                                                            
In this episode, we interview a real gem - Yellowstone Park Ranger Harlan Kredit.  At 81 years old, Harlan has taught high school biology and earth science for 58 years and worked as an interpretive ranger for 48 years in Yellowstone.  Don't be fooled by his age; Harlan hasn't lost a step; Chris' high school students have a hard time keeping up with him on hikes!  Arguably, Harlan has more of an intimate knowledge of Yellowstone than anyone other human - past or present.  He is also the best teacher we've had the privilege to watch and he has won almost every teaching award possible, including the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellency in Mathematics and Science Teaching.  Harlan as has his own Wikipedia page; not something many people can say! Today, Harlan talks about a wide range of topics regarding Yellowstone National Park, including funny stories and problems facing the park in the future. Throughout the interview, our discussion spans many different topics such as:- Reintroduction of the wolves - Harlan participated in releasing one of the packs.- Yellowstone usage and the problems the park faces.- Why he chose to stay at one park for so long.- The threat that invasive species pose to Yellowstone.- The impact Covid-19 has had on Yellowtstone.- The fascinating impact of social media in the park.- Climate change and forest fires.- The intersection between geoscience and biology.- In the opinion of Harlan, the most interesting geoscience feature in the park.- Interesting stories someone who has worked for 48 years in the park might tell.——————————————————                                                            Instagram: @planetgeocast                                                            Twitter: @planetgeocast                                                            Facebook: @planetgeocast                                                                                           Email:                                                            Website:                                                            
In this GeoShort Episode we answer the listener question: Can human induced earthquakes damage Earth?  The short answer  Human seismic noise is actually really really small, but everywhere.  Much like static in the radio signal, it creates a little background buzz in many place.  In this episode, we talk about how small the human background seismicity is and also the misconception that earthquakes are rare events.  Earthquakes are actually quite common; it's the big earthquakes that are rare.  Small earthquakes are occurring all the time except that they just cannot be felt by humans.  Our really sensitive instruments do pick up these vibrations though!  Millions occur every year all over the planet but they don't have a major impact on our lives. ——————————————————                                                            Instagram: @planetgeocast                                                            Twitter: @planetgeocast                                                            Facebook: @planetgeocast                                                                                           Email:                                                            Website:                                                            
In this GeoShort Chris gives recommendations for several hikes to do in the Grand Teton National Park!  These recommendations range from short day hikes to see cool geoscience within the Park, to full-on weeklong backpacking trip suggestions if you need to get away from it all for awhile.  Backpacking: Teton Crest Trail.  Unrivaled beauty along this well-defined trail.  Four to six days depending on what you want to do.Day Hikes: Amphitheater Lake.  This well defined trail takes you up to a cirque and tarn.  It's a large area at the destination which enables the hiker to get away from people if you want.Black Tail Butte: Short day hike (maybe 4 miles) that offers great views of the Eastern slopes of the Tetons.Best Geology Hike: I was only allowed one so I picked Paintbrush Canyon.  It's amazing and if you're feeling adventurous, you can hike over the divide and down to Lake Solitude.——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocastEmail: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite: 
Join us as we discuss the science behind the greenhouse effect and how it all works.In this episode, we talk about the forgotten history of the greenhouse gases.  The science behind greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and water is 200 years old.   What we began to understand two centuries ago came long before humans had any impact on the composition of our atmosphere and it certainly never occurred to Joseph Fourier and John Tyndall that humans could ever influence the greenhouse effect.  The discussion then turns to what scientists know about the greenhouse effect and, more precisely, how it works.  This natural phenomenon is a good thing as it makes our planet habitable by keeping it warm and preventing the oceans from freezing.  We then turn our attention to the chemistry of burning fossil fuels using coal, natural gas, and gasoline as examples.  The main gases produced by burning fossil fuels are carbon dioxide and water.  We use this knowledge to talk about the carbon cycle.  By following Carbon atoms as they make their way through the atmosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere, we can clearly identify a Carbon cycle.  Specifically, we discuss a long carbon cycle (can take 100,000's of years for this cycle) and a fast Carbon cycle (years or even seasons).  Through this part of our discussion, we have only discussed what science has established as fact.  The greenhouse effect, the gases involved, and the ways Earth regulates Carbon in cycles is a good thing for our planet.  We can't help but point out that through continued Carbon emissions, humans will upset this balance.  In fact, we have a nearby example in Venus as a case study of a runaway greenhouse effect.  We hope you enjoy this episode.  We sure had fun making it.  Cheers.——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocastEmail: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite: 
Check out this photo of Grand Teton National Park to visualize what we discuss in this Episode! us this episode as we take you through a tour of the geoscience history of Grand Teton National Park and discuss why the Grand Tetons are such an amazing place to explore geoscience questions. Grand Teton National Park is a totally dynamic place, where there are two competing forces.  First, tectonic uplift works to build the mountains up to high elevations while weathering and erosion works to knock these mountains back down to sea level.  These competing forces make for a very active and restless mountain range. We discuss the full range of the geologic history of the Grand Teton National Park, which spans from very ancient metamorphic gneisses that are 2.7 billion years old, to glacial features forming beautiful U-shaped valleys and cirques.  In between there are many dramatic events, including a large mafic dike, very clearly exposed on the face of Mount Moran, that intruded 800 million years ago when North America began to split away from Australia and Asia.  The reason that the Grand Tetons are so spectacular is a massive normal fault, which is a location where rocks are actively being broken during seismic disasters.  These seismic disasters have moved the Tetons up for the past 15 million years, while dropping the valley floor lower and lower.  Jackson Hole will keep sinking with each future fault movement! We also talk about some of the hikes in and around the Tetons that can gain you access to some of the features and events we discuss.  Below is a list of some examples:1- hike up Cascade Canyon and then the North Fork to Lake Solitude to visit a cirque, tarn, and some of the gneiss2- hike up Cascade Canyon and then the South Fork to Schoolroom Glacier3- hike up to Amphitheater Lake to a spectacular cirque, tarn, and horn4- on the West side of the Tetons - in Idaho, hike into Alaska Basin to see the vast accumulation of sedimentary rocks5- hike up Death Canyon where you can see the gneiss and the lighter colored halos around garnets and magnetite.——————————————————Instagram: @planetgeocastTwitter: @planetgeocastFacebook: @planetgeocastEmail: planetgeocast@gmail.comWebsite: 
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