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kjhFilm review: Into the Inferno

The intrepid, even daredevil, German film director Werner Herzog has long had an interest in volcanoes.  In 1977, he made a documentary about the La Soufrière volcano in Guadeloupe, and in 2007, another documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, about Antarctica, where he filmed volcanologists at work on Mount Erebus.  One of them was Clive Oppenheimer from Cambridge University, with whom Herzog struck up a rapport. 

Now, inspired by Oppenheimer’s 2011 book Eruptions that Shook the World, they have collaborated to make Into the Inferno, a film directed by Herzog but focused upon Oppenheimer.  It explores active volcanoes and their impact on local societies—ranging from Iceland and Ethiopia to Indonesia and Mount Paektu, on the border between China and Korea, a volcano sanctified to the memory of North Korea’s ‘great leader’ Kim Il-sung—with a mixture of churning red lava, high-tech monitoring, dubious politics and tribal religion that is variously awe-inspiring, scientific, unfamiliar and borderline hilarious.

Introducing their relationship, Herzog cuts between footage of an early conversation in Antarctica and a present-day one.  Perched in cold-weather hats at the edge of the crater of Erebus, Oppenheimer confesses to Herzog that he initially feared the director would invite the volcanologists to risk their lives in descending by rope to the lava.  “Instead, you were interested in what we were doing, and why we were doing it.” Herzog replies: “For me there’s no personal excitement to go down there.  Out of curiosity, yes, I would love to see it from close up.  But since it is too dangerous it would be silly.” Today, he tells Oppenheimer: “I am the only one in film-making who is clinically sane, taking all precautions.” Oppenheimer replies: “Absolutely.  You wouldn’t still be here, if you were insane.  You would have been consumed long ago by a pyroclastic current, or a gas flare, or a grizzly bear, or whatever.  So it’s quite clear that you’re sane.  I never doubted that for a moment on our first encounter.”

Even so, despite Oppenheimer’s engaging love of all things volcanic, an apocalyptic note is never far away.  A tribal chief in Vanuatu, on the Pacific Ring of Fire, begins the film by talking about his intimacy with the lava lake that threatens their community.  It concludes with the chief’s sombre reflection that “the volcano will destroy everything—everything will melt.” Despite the lava’s mesmerising beauty, “This boiling mass is just monumentally indifferent to scurrying roaches, retarded reptiles and vapid humans alike,” remarks Herzog’s closing commentary, with his trademark Teutonic relish.

Reviewed by Andrew Robinson (author of Earth-Shattering Events: Earthquakes, Nations and Civilization, Thames & Hudson, 2016.)

INTO THE INFERNO A film by WERNER HERZOG & CLIVE OPPENHEIMER 2016.   Directed by Werner Herzog. Produced by Spring Films and Werner Herzog Film Produktion.  A Netflix Production, 110 minutes.


jklhMesozoic Biotas of Scandinavia and its Arctic Territories

This Geological Society Special Publication presents a number of papers encapsulating the latest research surrounding our understanding of the Mesozoic of Scandinavia.   It is a fascinating read, covering such a wide variety of topics from the pioneering work of Carl Wiman to papers looking at specific fossil bearing localities.   The collection of 18 papers has something for everyone and provides an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the Mesozoic in general, or the specifics of the Mesozoic in this area. 

Each paper complements the others and provides readers with the opportunity to recognise the many different methods that are now used in studying past palaeoenvironments.  It shows the importance of working together to develop our understanding of the world (or previous worlds) around us.  Any interdisciplinary book of this nature should have a wider readership, including as it does so many different papers on such a wide variety of subjects. 

The book builds on the excellent work of the previously published Geology of Svalbard (Harland 1998) and gives specific details of a number of fossil localities.   The book also gives the reader an excellent insight into the trials and tribulations of fieldwork in such challenging areas.  The quality of reproduction is as always from this publisher second-to-none, with good quality diagrams and images that enhance the well-written papers.  Indeed, the use of colour in so many of the maps and diagrams considerably enhances their usefulness, and thankfully they are reproduced at a size that makes them easily accessible.   

The quality of all of the papers is high, so to single any one paper out is not really possible and is, in truth, down to the personal interests of the reader.   For me the standout paper was on the Slottsmøya marine reptile lagerstätte, which details so well the need for multidisciplinary approaches for the study of palaeoenvironments.  The papers certainly whet the appetite and I hope that we will see further investigations in an area which is rich in potential if the sheer variety of papers in this volume is anything to go by.

It is interesting that in the 175 years since the naming of the dinosauria, that we have still got so much to learn about life in the Mesozoic period and this book makes a welcome contribution to the subject.  As such it is an ideal starting point for those wishing to find out more about the Mesozoic world and it should gain a wide readership for those wishing to study the subject in greater depth.


Harland, W B (1998) The Geology of Svalbard, Geological Society of London Memoir 17 (ISBN: 978-1-897799-93-2)

Reviewed by Gordon Neighbour

MESOZOIC BIOTAS OF SCANDANAVIA AND ITS ARCTIC TERRITORIES Edited by: B P KEAR, J LINDGREN, J H HURUM, J MILÀN AND V VAJDA 2016 Geological Society Special Publication #434 ISBN: 978–1–86239–748-4 List Price: £100.00 Fellows price: £50.00.


jkhArsenic: Environmental Geochemistry, Mineralogy, and Microbiology

The comprehensive Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry series of volumes published by the Mineralogical Society of America and the Geochemical Society provides researchers and students in a wide range of Earth science disciplines with a huge amount of vital information on a range of key mineralogical and geochemical topics.  Volume 79 in this series is no exception, providing a comprehensive overview of the low temperature and environmental geochemistry and mineralogy of arsenic. 

The book is based around a short course given at the 2014 Goldschmidt conference in California, but provides much more than slightly expanded short course-notes.  The first few chapters of the volume focus on an overview of arsenic geochemistry and mineralogy, including sampling and analytical techniques, before delving into certain aspects of the environmental geochemistry of arsenic in more detail.  The final five chapters provide a good overview of the nature and management of arsenic in mine waste, finishing on case studies of two gold mining districts and the unique Tsumeb deposit in Namibia.

Each chapter cites a comprehensive list of references, enabling the reader to delve deeper into the literature as needed, although the amount of information presented by the volume means that this may not often be the case.  The volume is very much focused on low temperature processes, especially those that relate to arsenic contamination issues, although there is still a considerable amount of information that will be useful for higher temperature geochemists and geologists.  In addition, while the hardcopy version of the book is devoid of colour (barring 22 somewhat spectacular plates provided in the centre of the book) the PDF version contains numerous colour images that are often easier to understand and interpret than in hard copy. 

However, this is my only gripe.  In every other way this volume should provide senior undergraduate and postgraduate students and researchers working on almost every aspect of arsenic geochemistry and mineralogy with a comprehensive handbook that will be very useful in their research.  The pricing of series also means that this excellent volume should be readily available to all Earth scientists who work in this field, as well as to university libraries and environmental and mining company geologists and geochemists, all of whom will find something of use in here.  In other words, if you work on any aspect of arsenic geochemistry or mineralogy, this book is for you.

Reviewed by Simon Jowitt



hjklA Revised Correlation of Tertiary Rocks in the British Isles and adjacent areas of NW Europe

The first edition of this publication issued in 1978 was just 72 pages; this revision is 10 times longer.  This reflects the amount of research that has taken place on the Tertiary of the British Isles and adjacent areas in the last 40 years, the greatest change being in the exploration of the offshore basins. 

The initial chapters place Tertiary sediments and igneous rocks in their respective settings and cover general stratigraphic issues.  While the emphasis is on chrono- and biostratigraphy, non-biological correlation techniques are not neglected, with discussion of magnetostratigraphy, isotope stratigraphy and tephrostratigraphy.  The various stratigraphic problems are discussed, in particular the difficulty of correlating non-marine, part-marine and fully marine sequences.  Conflicting arguments are set out and possible solutions suggested.

It is the bulk of the book, however, that will undoubtedly interest most readers.  It describes the lithostratigraphic successions and their correlation in 13 onshore and offshore continental shelf areas.  There are inevitable variations in the level of lithostratigraphic detail provided simply because of differences in classifications applied in different countries and the fact that in some areas no formal classification is currently available.  While some offshore data remain restricted due to commercial considerations, a synthesis of the available information is presented. 

Furthermore, most valuably, some of the author’s previously unpublished personal studies are incorporated in the text.  Some might be disappointed by the limited discussion of sequence stratigraphy, which is only used as a key framework where there is general agreement on its validity.  In many areas, much more research will be necessary to provide the data required to develop sequence stratigraphic schemes.  Under these circumstances, this cautious approach seems reasonable.

While entitled a ‘revision’, this volume covers several geographical areas not covered in the original book.  An immense amount of data is presented and analysed.  In so doing, this book delivers a potent stimulus for new lines of research.  This is not a volume that will be read from cover to cover, but one that will be a primary source of information for many years.  It is an essential book for everyone interested in the Tertiary of northwest Europe and adjacent offshore areas. 

The publication is a fitting memorial to Chris King and the editors must be congratulated for their hard work in bringing the work to fruition after Chris’s untimely death.

Reviewed by Alan Falk

A REVISED CORRELATION OF TERTIARY ROCKS IN THE BRITISH ISLES AND ADJACENT AREAS OF NW EUROPE by KING C, GALE A S AND BARRY T L.  Geological Society Publishing House Special Report #27, 2016.  ISBN 978-1-86239-728-6, sbk.  724pp.   List Price: £120.00.  Fellows: £60.00.  W:


kjhThe Shock of the Anthropocene

More and more books are appearing about the Anthropocene: whether it is a useful term, how it should be defined, and what we might learn from it.  This one is written by two French historians, and as such it offers an interesting and different perspective from many of those presently available.   

The Anthropocene is the age of man, in that the human imprint on the global environment now rivals natural forces.  This book sets out to comprehend the Anthropocene through the narratives that can be made of it.  It argues that the Anthropocene is not a crisis, in the sense that it is not a transitory state; rather it is a point of no return.  It is not about being able to detect human influence in stratigraphy - it reflects a change in the Earth system. 

At the core of the book is the argument that the Anthropocene has not come about unexpectedly, many of the consequences of changes, from deforestation in the late 18th Century to the atomic bomb, were discussed at the time.  It argues that there is a grand narrative in which we all became geological agents without knowing it, and then élite scientists revealed to us the dramatic and uncertain future of the planet.   

In such a narrative scientists are thought to be in command, and serious solutions can come only from experiments and above, not from below.  Yet the case is made that we entered the Anthropocene despite very consistent warnings and knowledge, and that sustainable change happens from below, not above. 

The notion that nature was always there and there was little we could do in our short human timescale to disturb it, separates the two views in the 19th Century.   The history of Earth and life was the domain of natural scientists, and the history of man that of historians and social scientists.  This constructed a great ‘external nature’ - slow, immense and undaunted - that made invisible the limits of the planet and the unequal socio-economic relations of nascent fossil-based capitalism.   

The rise of geology reinforced this gap between the temporality of the Earth and the temporality of human history.  It marked a shift from an understanding of the energy available on the surface (four hectares to make a ton of iron for example) to underground fossil energy that was sufficiently poorly constrained that it could be regarded as infinite.  Geology had in a few decades transformed Malthus’ ‘dismal science’ into grounds for limitless growth.

The Anthropocene reverses this separation between nature and society that had widened in the 19th and 20th Centuries.  Nature is no longer viewed as the static scene of our exploits.  The authors encourage us to take the measure of the forces of industrialisation and commodification, to challenge the unifying grand narrative of an errant human species, and to abandon the hope of emerging from a temporary environmental crisis.   This is our new condition.  What histories must we write as we learn to inhabit the Anthropocene? This book offers an excellent starting place.   

Reviewed by Chris Hawkesworth

THE SHOCK OF THE ANTHROPOCENE by CHRISTOPHE BONNEUIL & JEAN-BAPISTE FRESSOZ, Trans.  David Fernbach.  Verso (2016) ISBN-13: 978-1-78478-079-1 (pbk).   List price: £16.99


jkhStructural Geology

The importance of textbooks is quite often understated.   A crucial tool for lecturers and students, a good textbook remains valuable well beyond graduation - a memory-tool that reminds us of equations half-forgotten; and quality images and diagrams so often sorely lacking in online resources.   

Fossen’s Structural Geology is one such book.   Ideal for learning, each chapter builds upon the one before into a coherent and comprehensive course.   However each is also self-contained, allowing a reader to delve into and explore any area in detail, perhaps for last-minute revision for an impending examination the following morning!  Above all, a textbook must deliver information clearly, and Fossen fulfils this requirement admirably.   There is no hint of verbose jargonese here.   

The book’s quality shines best through its diagrams and images.   Geology is a visual and physical science by nature, structural geology perhaps especially so; and to fully understand it requires good-quality illustrations and colour diagrams.   Structural Geology is full of them - not just pictures of structural formations, but also diagrams and graphs describing the processes so much more lucidly than can be achieved by even the most elegant prose or set of equations.   

Fossen also maintains a website with a plethora of extra images, animated diagrams, and questions and answers that support the book (see reference below).   Recent advances in structural geology have been made largely thanks to advances in imaging, and Fossen’s website highlights free programs that best make use of these developments in imaging and data-processing.

The difference between the 1st and 2nd editions is not major.   Minor errors have been corrected, improvements made in formatting, and as you would expect, new advances incorporated.   One unexpected change is that many of the original images have been exchanged for new, allowing even better preparation for fieldwork.

Although, by definition, a textbook is bound to be didactic, the lightness of Fossen’s prose means that it wears its intentions lightly – managing to entertain even the student in the midst of heavy revision.   In short, when it comes to a set textbook for structural geology, Structural Geology will not fail you.

Reviewed by Gabriel D’Arce

STRUCTURAL GEOLOGY (2nd Edn.) by HAAKON FOSSEN, 2016.   Published by Cambridge University Press.  524pp (hbk) ISBN-13: 978-1107057647 List Price: £50.   W: