A reflective prelude blog before I leave on this amazing adventure

Waiting in JFK for the flight……….

The flying portion of this journey will take me half around the Earth, into the southern hemisphere, past New Zealand and to ancient continent of Australia. The entire journey will consist of about 20 hours of flight time in total, with a stop over at LAX and then a 15-hour flight to Sydney, Australia. The first leg of the journey will take me to the non-exotic place of LAX, a mesh of terminals nestled in the land glamour and fame. The next part is a 15-hour flight will transport me south of the equator to Australia, the home of marsupial mammals (mammals with pouches) and flora that is reminiscent of a time long forgotten, which are completely foreign to most people living in the northern hemisphere.

I have always enjoyed flying. For humans, it is still such a novelty, as it has only been in the last hundred years or so that we can soar higher than mightiest birds and above the highest mountains. I never take for granted such unique opportunities for seeing Mother Nature at her best. Just imagine, just a hundred years ago, the mightiest king or most ruthless emperor could not give their kingdoms away for the sight that we behold every time we take a flight. For me it is a glorious opportunity to visually feast on our world and I never to take it for granted. In fact, the view from the plane allows me to look down on our planet from miles away, to spy her great majesty in a completely new way. So I always try to get a window seat as it provides a front row seat to the beauty of Mother Earth.

I also love to watch sunsets and sunrises as the “Little Prince” has long been a hero of mine and so I try to make sure that I sit on the correct side of the plane for viewing it. This is especially so when I am traveling west as the plane moving at over 500 miler per hour is just slightly slower than the sun’s journey across the sky, resulting in sunsets to last far longer than it normally would when watching it on the ground. I always thought that the Little Prince would be envious of such a glorious phenomena. It is up here that the sun’s path across the sky slows so a sunset or sunrise occurs in slow motion, allowing every detail, color and hue to be enjoyed at one’s leisure. In fact, I feel that such a spectacular burst of colors needs time to be thoroughly enjoyed. When I am on the flight to Australia, I will have a window seat on the left side of the plane. This for not only for the sunrise that will take many hours to transpire, but also for my first glimpses of the beautiful constellation called the Southern Cross. A set of brilliant diamonds set in a sea of black sky. It is not like our northern counterpart, the north star, which is exactly aligned with Earth Axis and so it appears not to move. The Southern Cross in contrast, is close but not perfectly aligned with earth’s axis, so it spins around like all of the stars in the sky, albeit quite close to the southern axis. I hope to somehow wake up for a few brief moments to spy it once again. Whenever I travel to the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross has been like a traveling companion, a familiar site in often strange and new lands.

While looking out of the window while the airplane is over land, the rock formations are far enough away so the patterns are more obvious. Rocks that are sometimes twisted and contorted or in other cases laid down as a layer cake, are telling a story about Mother Earth.


Learning to hear the story of Mother Earth

In fact, every mountain and valley has a story to tell. It is a rich story that can span millions to billions of years. Just thinking of the vastness of time when we talk about geologic processes, can both humble us while at the same time bring such awe and wonder about the beauty and power of the nature around us. Each and every story has a profound, sometimes dramatic and even catastrophic tale of how it came into being. Soaring mountains are transformed into what looks like beautiful sculptures crafted by Mother Nature’s hand built over millions to billions of years. They are laid out like a picture book that we can read to learn and understand about the history of our planet.

However, to read this book written by the forces of Mother Nature, we have to first learn to read the language of Mother Earth, which is ………. Geology.

From my vantage flying miles above our world, I will see the hills of Pennsylvania aligned in long lines and curves. They tell a story that these rocks were formed from crushing forces 300 million years ago when what is now Africa crashed into North America. The collision forced the rock layers to fold and fault in long lines of hills, as a piece of paper would fold when pushing the ends together. This resulted in the creation of tall mountains that have since been worn down by the never ending forces of erosion. Today, they are now just relatively modest in height. Traveling further out, I will catch a glimmer of the Great Lakes, which were formed when the climate was even cooling than today, allowing great multi kilometer thick ice sheets to form in Canada and slowly plowed southward carving deep into the softer rocks of this area, creating great hollows, which filled with water when the ice sheets melted and retreated. Further west lies the mighty gorge that reveals over a billion years of history: the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacle sites from either on the ground on in the air. This deep orifice has been carved only recently, geologically speaking, perhaps only 5 to 10 million years ago.   Within it, Mother Nature has a story that she wants to tell that is over a billion years. A story of continents into one another (i.e, the metamorphic and granitic rocks at the base), how Australia and Antarctica ripped away from what is now the southwest US (I will try to talk about this later).

So if we can learn the language of Mother Earth and listen carefully her words, we can appreciate and understand what the rocks say to us. When we do this, we are truly hearing Mother Earth speak to us about her wondrous history. It is only when equipped with the knowledge of geologic processes that we can fully appreciate the incredible majesty of how our own planet has evolved over the eons of time.

Stephen Pekar
Stephen Pekar, a geology professor at Queens College, has been investigating past climate and oceanographic changes during times (16- 45 million years ago) when CO2 was as high as what is predicted for this century (500-1000 ppm). As CO2 is rising rapidly today, which is predicted to be like putting our climate on a “hot plate”, exploring these times for him is like “Looking Back to Our Future”. To investigate climate change of the past, he looks at sediments, microfossil, and geochemical data obtained from cores obtained from near-shore to deep-sea locations ranging from the tropics to Antarctica. His research has taken him on expeditions around the world, including four to Antarctica, one of which he was project leader. Professor Pekar is a Queens native, growing up in the Rockaways and attending Queens College, first as a 20th century music composition major, but ended up studying Geology and getting his PhD at Rutgers University and doing a Post Doctoral Research at Columbia University. He is enthralled and in love with exploring and discovering new places, cultures, and ideas. He has traveled to all seven continents (soon to be eight!) and has explored over 50 countries, working in six of them ranging from archeology in France, grape picking in Germany, movie extra in China, to house pianist in a restaurant in Israel. His favorite place has been Antarctica, as it is the most remote place on Earth and for him going there to conduct research is like going to another planet and exploring undiscovered country.
More articles by: Stephen Pekar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *