Aerial Geology, by Mary Caperton Morton (2017)

Aerial Geology by Mary Caperton MortonI think it was the great Allan Fotheringham who wrote the Rockies are always a spectacular sight, no matter how many times one sees them. Ain’t it the truth, Dr. Foth. Geologist and science writer Mary Caperton Morton takes us on an aerial tour of our continent, serving as a guide to the spectacular formations that, Rockies aside, likely mystify us as we look out the window on our cross-country flights. What is that canyon/lake/river? Morton expertly guides us through what she calls 100 geological wonders, using photos and satellite images to show us, as the subtitle promises, “A High-Altitude Tour of North America’s Spectacular Volcanoes, Canyons, Glaciers, Lakes, Craters, and Peaks.” The photos themselves are beautiful, and Morton explains how each formation developed using accessible language and clear diagrams to help readers understand the science. This is a full-colour coffee table book, but it is fascinating reading. Morton opens with a short introduction of the geologic forces that are creating pressure on the tectonic plates beneath and next to our continent. That pressure results in earthquakes and eruptions as well as slower changes that shape our landscape and create the wide range of rocks we see around us, from pretty quartz and solid granite peaks to eroding sandstone stacks. The book spans the full continent, from Alaskan glaciers to the craters of Mexico, but a full two-thirds is devoted to the West, the best part, of course! Each entry typically opens with an aerial shot of the area, what you would likely see from an airplane seat on a clear day. Most are from NASA’s image bank and Morton includes URLs to this primary source. She provides an easy-to understand explanation of the geological formation with additional photos and graphics providing further clarification or detail. I like that she lists the province and or state where the formation is found, and includes a locator map. It is so fascinating to explore familiar formations such as the fossil beds of Yoho National Park or Mount St. Helens’ still visible blast zone, and come to see the big continental picture through a geologist’s eyes. The full-colour photos are spectacular, and are sure to inspire readers to build on their travel bucket list. It’s back to Utah for me to explore Goosenecks State Park and that awesome San Rafael Swell – how did I miss that? I also enjoyed learning interesting facts – thanks to the tectonic pressure, our mountains are still growing, but not at the same rate. Alaska’s Mount Denali will gain about a metre in height over the average North American’s lifespan, compared to Mount Whitney in California which will rise about eight centimetres in the same period. Captivating as well as beautiful. My thanks to Timber Press for the advance reading copy provided in exchange for my honest review.
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