State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Geology with a Taste of Safari

South African oranges are plentiful and tasty.

We started the morning with breakfast and shopping for lunch provisions. We bought a large bag of oranges grown in the groves that surround this region for the equivalent of $1.50, along with cheese and, of course, biltong. The butcher offered many kinds of biltong, from the shaved, proscuitto-like variety to the serious cowboy jerky type. We stocked up on two varieties–chili bites and cabanossi–and headed for the road.

Dried meat comes in a bewildering number of flavors.

The lava flows we are studying are more than two billion years old yet some of their structures are still intact. The lava in one, the Kwaggasnek formation, is full of frozen air bubbles.

Air trapped in this lava left tiny holes, or vessicles.

Another, the Schrikkloof, shows how the lava once flowed. Geologists named these lavas in the 1990s. In Afrikaans, a “kwagga” is a cross between a donkey and zebra, now extinct while “nek” implies a valley. “Schrik” is Afrikaans for fright while “kloof” means cliff. The geologists who mapped this area were apparently chased by a rhino while doing their work.

Rock striations show the direction that lava once flowed.
We swapped our flat tire for a spare and drove to the closest town.

On our third day, traveling down a deserted, gravel road we got a flat. Fortunately, we had a spare which we used to drive to the next town to repair the original. It’s a good thing we did. By the time we reached our destination, our spare was also flat. After fixing both tires, we were back on the road to collect more samples.

Heading home to our lodge, we saw several animals through the fence: an ostrich with skinny white legs, a small herd of impala – smallish antelope – and springbok, similar to impala but with short pointy horns on their heads. Close to the road were kudu, which are twice the size of deer with white stripes on their side, curly horns and white tails. We also saw warthogs and wildebeests. Apparently dusk is the time to observe wildlife. Maybe they enjoy the sunset as much as we do?

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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