As I write this, the Tour de France has reached its midway level, with the cyclists climbing the Alps. Or, to place it one other manner, the race has left Armorican continent and entered the folded relics of the Valais Ocean and the Briançonnais microcontinent.
For me, as an educational geologist and biking fanatic, this yr’s version of the world’s greatest cycle race is especially thrilling as colleagues and I launched the Geology of the Tour de France weblog and the @GeoTdF twitter account.
The undertaking first happened once we observed how a lot time the TV commentators needed to fill whereas the riders cycle by means of attention-grabbing landscapes. Although viewers look ahead to hours in anticipation of the motion that may finish each stage, for many of that point 150 riders are chasing 5 or so others with little change to the established order. In that point, the broadcasters clarify the whole lot about virtually the whole lot you’ll be able to see on display screen.
Organisers of biking races subsequently present the commentators with a Lonely Planet-style route ebook with details about castles, cities and people. After which it struck me: we’re not solely watching potential vacation locations, but additionally geological excursions. All we needed to do is present the commentators with geo-information.
So I assembled a group of 28 geoscientists and internet builders, a number of from my division at Utrecht College within the Netherlands, but additionally from institutes in France, Germany, Denmark, Spain, the UK and the US, who collectively wrote 29 blogs concerning the geology alongside the Tour de France levels, and translated these into seven languages.
For the lads’s tour, every weblog explains a geological phenomenon or course of whose signatures are seen alongside the stage route. We’re many various matters, from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the subduction zones of the Alps, and from the origin of the volcanoes of the Massif Central to the query why the Jura Mountains of stage 8 are a separate vary from the Alps.
Scientists used sand to indicate how the Alps and Jura might have fashioned in a single associated course of, regardless of being far aside.
The Tour de France Femmes begins on the day the lads’s tour finishes, and the ladies’s peloton will race over older rocks day by day within the Paris Basin and the Vosges mountains of jap France. Every weblog of the Tour de France Femmes explains what the world would have regarded like if the race was held when the rocks beneath the street fashioned. The blogs provide a 5 minute learn, however should you learn them day by day, you find yourself with a prolonged geology class.
Public and scientific advantages
The GeoTdF undertaking goals to be a light-hearted method to educate individuals about processes that impression our society, from landslides and earthquakes to the discovering of ore deposits that we’d like for the inexperienced power revolution. And the general public can reply and ask questions by means of Twitter.
However the undertaking additionally has scientific advantages. It offers geoscientists and our colleagues with a platform to showcase our findings, for all of us who wish to share data and perception freely and enthusiastically.
For this reason I just like the undertaking a lot. Scientists are at all times looking for the place they’re improper, for that’s the place they will study and advance. In consequence, they’re at all times scrutinising themselves and one another, by means of peer assessment, dialogue, debates. The criticism is vocal, the appreciation silent. That wears me down at occasions. The sense of neighborhood and enthusiasm across the GeoTdF undertaking is a pleasant change. So if in case you have one thing to inform or ask, please take part.
On the identical time, letting one thing as random as biking routes decide the order during which you learn up on geology seems to be an concept and data generator. Pure scientists logically have a tendency to decide on the boundaries of their research areas based mostly on interpreted system boundaries, and dig deeper into the main points to seek out how the pure world works, but it surely comes with the danger of tunnel imaginative and prescient.
I’ve studied plate tectonics and mountain constructing, by means of systematically discovering the identical geological methods and limits and reconstructing them (as an example within the Mediterranean area).
However biking route designers pressure me to cross all these boundaries. No geologist would learn up on a area alongside such a geologically non-organised and random route as a Tour de France stage – and doing so is eye-opening. I realized that the cliffs of Stevns Klint in Denmark near stage 2, and of Calais in north west France in stage 4 are the identical formation of higher Cretaceous chalks. And that the uplift prior to now 20 million years of the Ardennes hills of stage 6 and the Massif Central of stage 15 are each related to formation of intraplate volcanic fields which will counsel a typical underlying course of.
Many of those likelihood observations join items of information that I picked up throughout my profession, and a few of them problem methods that I believed I understood. As the author Isaac Asimov is believed to have mentioned, scientific discovery hardly ever begins with “Eureka!” however usually with “Hey, that’s humorous.” Whether or not the GeoTdF undertaking will result in the previous stays to be seen, but it surely actually is enjoyable.
Douwe van Hinsbergen receives funding from the Netherlands Group of Scientific Analysis (NWO) and Utrecht College.