Catastrophic Volcanism at Shoshone Falls, Idaho: Existential Issues through the Lens of Geology
Professor of Geology
April 24, 2012
The earth is dynamic: mountains are built and eroded away, life evolves, and oceans rise and recede. Nineteenth-century geologists hotly debated the fundamental nature of such earth processes, asking if spatially and temporally immense transformations were built of innumerable small steps accumulating over the expanse of geologic time, or if they had been virtually instantaneous and cataclysmic, unlike anything humans have witnessed. While most adhered to the former “uniformitarian” paradigm, Clarence King, geologist and leading intellect of his day, concluded a “catastrophist’s” model of the earth—and the very nature of creation—through his observations of the geology of Shoshone Falls in the 1860s.
Often called the “Niagara of the West,” Shoshone Falls provides the best vantage point of the Columbia Flood Basalts, a 3.5-kilometer-thick layer of volcanic rock that covers about half the state of Washington and adjacent parts of Oregon and Idaho. This volume of lava would cover the US to a depth of 12 meters—and most of it accumulated in only 1.5 million years, about 15 million years ago.
Listen to the audio or view the audio slideshow as Professor Harms explores the following questions:
• What do we know today about the origin of the Shoshone Falls and the Columbia Flood Basalts?
• What does that knowledge tell us about the way our earth works?
• How can we best understand the human context on such an earth?
Listen to the audio of Prof. Harms's lecture below or download the mp3
. View Prof. Harms's powerpoint slides that she references in her lecture.
Watch the audio slideshow of the lecture only.