The Earth Machine: The Science of a Dynamic Planet

The Earth Machine: The Science of a Dynamic Planet

The Earth Machine: The Science of a Dynamic Planet

The Earth Machine: The Science of a Dynamic Planet

Synopsis

From the scorching center of Earth's core to the outer limits of its atmosphere, from the gradual process of erosion that carved the Grand Canyon to the earth-shaking fury of volcanoes and earthquakes, this fascinating book -- inspired by the award-winning Hall of Planet Earth at New York City's American Museum of Natural History -- tells the story of the evolution of our planet and of the science that makes it work. With the same exuberance and expertise they brought to the creation of the Hall of Planet Earth, co-curators Edmond A. Mathez and James D. Webster offer a guided tour of Earth's dynamic, 4.6-billion-year history.

Including numerous full-color photographs of the innovative exhibit and helpful, easy-to-understand illustrations, the authors explore the major factors in our planet's evolution: how Earth emerged from the swirling dusts of a nascent solar system; how an oxygen-rich, life-sustaining atmosphere developed; how continents, mountain ranges, and oceans formed; and how earthquakes and volcanic eruptions alter Earth's surface. Traversing geologic time and delving into the depths of the planet- -- beginning with meteorites containing minuscule particles that are the solar system's oldest known objects, and concluding with the unusual microbial life that lives on the chemical and thermal energy produced by sulfide vents in the ocean floor -- The Earth Machine provides an up-to-date overview of the central theories and discoveries in earth science today. By incorporating stories of real-life fieldwork, Mathez and Webster explain how Earth is capable of supporting life, how even the smallest rocks can hold the key to explaining the formation of mountains, and how scientists have learned to read nature's subtle clues and interpret Earth's ever-evolving narrative.

Excerpt

In 1995, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) embarked on the creation of a permanent exhibit about Earth. The Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth (HOPE), named after its primary benefactors, Ruth and Sandy Gottesman, opened 4 years later, on June 12, 1999. This book is a more detailed version of the story told in HOPE; it grew out of a long manuscript that we wrote, originally just for ourselves, to tell Earth's story. Like the exhibit, this book is about how Earth “works.” In that sense, it is a synthesis of the science, neither inclusive nor systematic, but an attempt to grasp it in its entirety. This book is for the AMNH visitor inspired by HOPE to wonder and seek a deeper knowledge than that permitted by the physical constraints of an exhibit, and it is for others moved to contemplate how Earth works by great natural events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes. It is for the teacher needing a deeper insight into the science to explain more clearly its conceptual basis to students. It is also for the student seeking to view the science through a lens different from that of the textbook. This book, in fact, is for anyone whose imagination has been captured by the majesty of a mountain range or the expanse of an ocean and who wonders where they came from.

How does one go about conceptualizing an exhibit of Earth? From the beginning, we knew that we wanted to build the exhibit around rocks, because rocks, after all, provide most of our knowledge of Earth. They are the “evidence,” as Ralph Appelbaum, the exhibit designer, eloquently put it. We also knew that samples of sizes that would fit in our backpacks would not do—we had to have large and dramatic samples, ones that the visitors could touch, ones that would spur the imagination, just as rocks in the field move the imaginations of geologists. Beyond this notion, we had no clear idea of what the exhibit should be, so our first task was to frame the story in our own minds. It was easy enough to . . .

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