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Glorious. Mud.

TedViagraResized.jpgHoping perhaps to tap into some hitherto unsuspected public appetite for the stuff, Council has decided to designate 2015 the ‘Year of Mud’*.  London Lectures, Flagship meetings, and other activities will be themed accordingly.  And, to add our encouragement to this innovative – not to say courageous - initiative, Geoscientist may even run a feature in these pages.

Now – speaking as one who has actually lived the dream, and stared at mud down a microscope (for years) and got paid for it – I am reminded of something I had forgotten, or perhaps blotted out.  For those years taught me something important; something no amount of time in the Academy could have done. 

Students of rocks spend long hours staring down microscopes at thin sections.  We work our way through drawer after drawer of glass slides, describing what we see, identifying minerals, textures, cements, crystal morphology, fossil fragments, strained detrital quartz, inclusions, blebs, schillerized feldspars, reaction rims, pleochroic haloes, and much more. 

Such variety! And yet, there is one thing common to every single rock on every slide in every drawer of every cabinet in every lab.  For all were chosen because they beautifully illustrate something important, rare, fine, significant.  They are teaching specimens – either illustrative of some feature, or interestingly difficult to interpret, and therefore instructively mind-bending.  They represent all that is most fascinating, alluring, and beautiful about the stuff of the Earth. 

This has, however, an unfortunate side-effect.  Just as addiction to pornography can result in unreal expectations in life, students emerge with the impression that all rocks are as interesting as the ones they have pored over in the teaching lab beauty pageant. 

Once you employ your skills on rocks chosen for economic reasons – because they may contain oil, or because you wish to build a skyscraper on them for example - you get a rude awakening.  Most rocks are not that interesting.  Most limestones, for example, are not lovely grainstones with calcite pseudomorphing original acicular aragonite, from which one can construct fascinating diagenetic histories.  No.  In business what you spend your time looking at is thousands of feet of brown micrite - with a bit of neomorphic spar for variety and the odd agglutinated benthic foram.  Because most sediments, clastic or carbonate, are - mud. 

Mud may have been unjustly neglected and overlooked by the academy in the past; but its economic (and volumetric) importance cannot be overestimated, and arguably, people should be told.  I suppose. 

So, good news, you thwarted devotees of sediment’s finest grade.  Your Society is riding boldly to the rescue.  Let the wallowing commence!



@TedNield @geoscientistmag

*Other years are available.  2015 also marks the Smith Map’s 200th birthday, and the 25th anniversary of ‘CGeol’.