Laying the Foundation

By the late 18th century, scientists knew very precisely the dimensions of the Earth and its distance from the sun and planets. You might think that determining the age of the Earth would be relatively straightforward. However, humans would split the atom and invent television, nylon, and instant coffee before they could figure out the age of their own planet. Why? One reason is simply because no one was interested in geology. James Hutton, who is given credit for creating the science of geology in 1795, wrote about the slow processes that shaped Earth. His landmark writing did little good in advancing geology because it was so boring no one could understand it. Hutton did, in fact, ask one important question:

Why are ancient clamshells and other marine fossils so often found on mountaintops?

Charles Darwin asked this same question after he noticed marine fossils in the Andes Mountains of South America.

Yellowstone National Park is an uphill climb in all directions. It actually sits on a plateau with an average elevation around 8,000 feet above sea level. Why is this piece of land pushed upwards? This answer may help us answer Hutton’s question.

What’s the connection?

Yellowstone map from Google Earth


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