Monday, May 10, 2010

Volcano Special

I have subscribed to National Geographic for many years, and it lives up to its reputation month after month; informative and delightful. Admittedly, it is at times a little “preachy,” but it gets that way on subjects that have my sympathy for the most part, so I don’t find that particularly jarring.

There is also a National Geographic channel on my cable television lineup and, while it uses the same logo, I find it hard to believe that it is the same organization. This one is notable, really, only for being just plain silly. They show ancient historical pieces featuring “reenactments” depicting a bunch of guys wearing leopard skins, grunting at each other and rather fecklessly throwing spears at saber toothed tigers. If those were accurate, Earth would be the planet of the apes today.

The National Geographic channel listed a feature on the Iceland volcano yesterday, so I tuned in because I have a fascination with volcanoes. Knowing the channel’s proclivities, I didn’t expect great depth, but I thought I might get to see some cool volcano pictures, and I love pictures of volcanoes erupting, especially the big ash cloud kind. At least I figured I wouldn’t have to watch ancients grunting and chucking spears.

Well, one-fourth of it wasn’t about the volcano at all; it was about the “team” trying to drive across the glacier to look at the volcano. They failed, of course; the idea was stupid to begin with, and they planned it so poorly that they almost got killed in the attempt. I found myself wondering why they would even admit to having conceived such an idiotic plan, let alone devote a quarter of the show to depicting their feckless attempts at executing it.

Later in the show the narrator intones, “The lee side of the island presents a serene picture of beauty, but the downwind side is a different matter.” Most of us know, of course, that the “the lee side” and “the downwind side” are the same side, so conjoining them with “but” tends to lend a certain incoherence to the thought. Actually, that was rather fitting, since the whole piece was pretty incoherent.

The same narrator also said that “contact with the cold of the glacier causes the magma to explode into a cloud of ash.” Um, no; that would leave Pinatubo and Mount Saint Helens, among others, unexplained. It explodes into ash because it is a different type of magma than the type that pours out as a liquid. The magma hitting the glacier affects the glacier quite a lot, of course, but the magma is already exploding into ash because that is what it does, not because it hit somebody’s oversized Martini.

There is a school of thought, not mentioned by the geniuses doing this piece, that major glaciers melting allows the Earth’s crust to lift slightly, and that such lifting may trigger the eruption of some volcanoes that were lurking where the glaciers melted. That, I suspect, is something that the people of Iceland prefer not to think about.

There were, however, a few very nice volcano pictures.

1 comment:

Arthur said...

While I will admit I "know, of course, that the “the lee side” and “the downwind side” are the same side...", as do most of the folks I hang out with, I am not so sure that "[m]ost of us know" that. I am trained as a geographer, and Jayhawk is an ex-sailor; both advantages when it comes to things like knowing that "lee" means "other side from where the wind is coming". I still hope that the producers of the magazine to know that; I long ago gave up any expectation that journalists in general and TV anchors/reporters in specific will (generally, there are blessed exceptions) know any thing about what the subjects the report on.

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