Kastens_et_al_2009_Eos

Kastens_et_al_2009_Eos - Eos, Vol. 90, No. 31, 4 August...

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VOLUME 90 NUMBER 31 4 AUGUST 2009 PAGES 265–272 Eos , Vol. 90, No. 31, 4 August 2009 EOS, TRANSACTIONS, AMERICAN GEOPHYSICAL UNION Decades ago, pioneering petroleum geol- ogist Wallace Pratt pointed out that oil is first found in the human mind. His insight remains true today: Across geoscience spe- cialties, the human mind is arguably the geoscientist’s most important tool. It is the mind that converts colors and textures of dirt, or blotches on a satellite image, or wig- gles on a seismogram, into explanatory nar- ratives about the formation and migration of oil, the rise and fall of mountain ranges, the opening and closing of oceans. Improved understanding of how humans think and learn about the Earth can help geoscientists and geoscience educators do their jobs bet- ter, and can highlight the strengths that geo- science expertise brings to interdisciplinary problem solving. To shed light on the nature of geoscience thinking and learning requires collabora- tion among those who study geosciences and those who study thinking and learn- ing. Such a collaborative group, comprising geoscientists, geoscience educators, a phi- losopher of science, an anthropologist, a developmental psychologist, and a cognitive psychologist, has synthesized what is known and articulated what is most in need of fur- ther research in four areas: thinking about time on geological timescales, understand- ing the Earth as a complex system, learning in the field, and spatial thinking as applied to geosciences (Figure 1). Documentation of references, sources, and methods used in this study can be found in the online supple- ment to this Eos issue (http:// www .agu .org/ eos _elec/) Taken together, this work shows that while geoscientists use a broad range of tools to study a diversity of problems, they share a distinctive set of approaches and perspectives that are particularly well suited to studying something as big, old, and complicated as the Earth system. Thinking About Time Two key features of geoscientists’ tempo- ral thinking distinguish them from the gen- eral population: They take a long view of time, and they expect low- frequency, high- impact events. Geoscientists have internal- ized the vastness of the age of the Earth and the relative brevity of human history. They can envision Earth in states drasti- cally different from the planet they have personally experienced: an Earth without humans, an Earth without life, a hothouse Earth, a snowball Earth. In the long view of time, exceedingly slow processes such as erosion or evolution can effect huge changes, such as the removal of a moun- tain or the establishment of new species. Infrequent but powerful processes, such as floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and asteroid impacts, are routine rather than aberrant when considered across the whole of Earth’s history.
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Kastens_et_al_2009_Eos - Eos, Vol. 90, No. 31, 4 August...

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