Thursday, February 23, 2012

Accretionary Wedge #43 - The Art of Geology

This edition of the Accretionary Wedge concerns geologic illustrations and art.

"All types of geological illustrations qualify -- drawings, paintings, maps, charts, graphs, cross-sections, diagrams, etc., but not photographs." 

Honestly I am not much of an artist. I have never taken an art class, and when I draw people you had better believe they are the stick variety. However, this morning I had a slight art epiphany. The epiphany was precipitated by watching a video showing how we have been able to map out debris from Fukushima using a model generated by data from satellites using sea surface height and wind data. 
International Pacific Research Centre
I really think that there is something artistic about the way the purple (representing debris) moves across the ocean in a pattern of swirls and undulations, expanding outward at the whim of the ocean's currents, wind and waves. Of course, as with any good art there is also a deeper message to be drawn from watching this. Think about what the purple represents as it flow across the ocean. The debris is composed of the objects we all collect and surround ourselves with and it is a testament to the havoc wrought by the tsunami and the loss of life and livelihood it caused by the power of the nature and the Earth. This is also a reminder of the materialism of our society as this mass of garbage spreads outward covering the ocean and causing untold damage to the delicate ecosystems and organisms it encounters. Honestly, I find this video nice looking, intellectually stimulating, tragic, and humbling all at the same time. It is truly a powerful piece of art.

So what about other interesting geology art? Well, some of what I do for my research involves using a model of wind patterns over time. The model is called HYSPLIT (HYbrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory) and is operated online by the National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration (NOAA). The model computes air parcel trajectories and dispersion of airborne chemicals and particles  using meteorological data. Luckily for me the tool is available for free online. All you have to do is input your start parameters and it gives a nice output like the one below. It can also output to GIS or Google Earth.

Air parcel trajectories for Ottawa, ON for Feb 21-22, 2012.
I think that the outputs from HYSPLIT are another great form of science art. They are attractive, and are intellectually stimulating. Here is another one that incoporates two weeks of data that I have then overlain onto Google Earth. 

A two week back trajectory analysis from HYSPLIT.
So what do you think of my efforts as an artist?? Not bad for about 40 mins of work. The interpretation of this is potentially even more interesting than the picture though. This diagram allows us to see and understand the patterns of natural world in simple and attractive manner. It allows to us to envision things that occur over long time frames and make conclusions about them. I think that this is one of the coolest kinds of art because it instills in the viewer a sense of the belonging to the larger world around them and what natural processes are at play without us even realizing it. 

So those are my thoughts on the art of geology and the natural sciences. Feel free to leave comments and suggestions...or other ideas for geology art. 



Draxler, R.R. and Rolph, G.D., 2012. HYSPLIT (HYbrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory) Model access via NOAA ARL READY Website ( NOAA Air Resources Laboratory, Silver Spring, MD. 

Rolph, G.D., 2012. Real-time Environmental Applications and Display sYstem (READY) Website ( NOAA Air Resources Laboratory, Silver Spring, MD.


  1. Replies
    1. This is amazing!!!! Thanks for opening up these worlds and informaton to us.