Scottish Fossils

Scotland has been the source of many important fossil discoveries, from the first ever soft body parts of the conodont animal, to Devonian fishes and early tetrapods. Yet, apart from a few very good books, there is next to nothing on the fossils that can be found here. Therefore, this little book comes as a welcome addition to this otherwise barren literary scene.

Introducing Mineralogy continues the high standard set by its predecessors in the Dunedin series of guides introducing aspects of the different sciences, especially the earth sciences. It is slightly larger than some of the others, but is still beautifully illustrated, nicely written and very informative.

Introducing Meteorology

The format of Dunedin books is always the same – authorative, but easy to understand text, interspersed by bold, full colour diagrams and photographs. And the topics of oceanography and meteorology certainly complement each other. The planet is two-thirds covered by water and the energy it contains massively affects the way the Earth system (especially climate) works.

Dunedin publishes a series of ‘Guide to’ books that are excellent little volumes for the beginner and the amateur, and this one is no different. Written by the ubiquitous volcano specialist, Dougal Jerram (aka Dr Volcano), it is a nice little summary of the basics of the science of volcanology.

I have been lucky enough to review several books by Dunedin – the others being on palaeontology, geology and volcanology. And this is as good as the others. However, it is not an easy book to read. The illustrations are, as always, superb – colourful and clear – but this book is more suitable for the more mathematically and scientifically minded, especially those who enjoy the science of engineering.

The Scottish Borders region is famed for their frontier history, and attendant myths and ballads. This book is concerned with their more ancient geological history, which is revealed by its rocks. These indicate that the area was once on the edge of a huge ocean – the Iapetus – which met its end between the inexorable crush of tectonic plates.

Iceland seems to set the hearts of certain geologists racing and, reading this field guide, it is abundantly clear why. Set out in this concise and authoritative book is the evidence of how this strange piece of rock – astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – is a “natural laboratory”, where the earth sciences can be watched in dramatic real-time.

In this book, you will travel back millions of years in time, as though a time-traveller, to join wildlife safaris and visit ancient environments teeming with life. As the fossils come alive, you will experience and understand the fauna, flora and landscapes seen at localities in the geological past of Scotland.

Notwithstanding the somewhat daunting use of the word “geophysics” in the title, this is another great book in Dunedin’s Introducing Earth and Environmental Sciences series of guides. In fact, that term may well discourage all but the most enthusiastic Earth Scientist.

As I said in my review of the first edition of this guide, I love geomorphology. In fact, I have loved it since my school days and deeply regret not having studied it at university. However, as I said in that review, I suspect many people are discouraged by its scientific name, but all it means is the study of the earth’s landforms and the processes that create the landscapes we see today.

I reviewed the 2nd edition of this guide a while ago and as I said then, iceland seems to set the hearts of certain geologists racing and reading this field guide and that previous incarnation it is abundantly clear why. Iceland’s fascinating geology is clearly set out in this concise and authoritative book. The island, astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is a ‘natural laboratory’ where the earth sciences can be watched in real-time. Rifting of the crust, volcanic eruptions and glacial activity are among a host of processes and features that can be observed in this fascinating land.

I think the reason why this book is such a success is that River Planet not only introduces readers to the fascinating palaeo-history of the world’s rivers (both existing and disappeared), but also reveals the author’s personal account of his experience of rivers, together with a bit of history and interesting (and relevant) anecdotes, in the most entertaining of ways.

This is a very ambitious work. The authors discuss the geology of Britain as a “geological legacy”, that is, they believe it is “an inheritance bequeathed to 11 millennia or so of its post-glacial inhabitants”. Therefore, the book covers the geological foundations of its landscape and its raw materials; and how both of these have been used by society and individuals in the visual arts and literature, as well as for mining, quarrying and architecture.

As the author, John McManus, writes: “The East Neuk of Fife was blessed with a mineral resource that was relatively easy to access”. This resource was coal – the driver of the industrial revolution and, even before then, a crucial element to the area’s industrial development from medieval times (or even Roman times) to the late twentieth century.

This Dunedin Academic press guide provides, at an introductory level, a succinct and readable guide to metamorphism. As readers will know, metamorphic rocks are one of the three main types of rocks.

In this second edition, Dougal Jerram has revised and updated the 2001 version, first published by Alwyn Scarth and Jean-Claude Tanguy. This is to reflect modern research and understanding of Europe’s volcanoes of the last 10,000 years (active, dormant and extinct).

Ever since Charles Darwin pointed out the problem, evolutionary biologists have been worried by the incompleteness of the fossil record. Fortunately, discoveries of formations containing exceptionally preserved fossils (conservation Lagerstätten) have provided fascinating and important information on the history life’s diversity.

By David N Thomas and David G Bowers The extent to which our planet is covered by oceans and seas (about 70%), and the increasing concern that right-minded people have about climate change, means that there is a both a desire and an urgent need…

I love the Scottish Highlands and I am proud to say that I have climbed many of the mountains covered in the glossy hardback. But, as I say in the other book review on this page, it is more than a picture book. It contains some excellent and fascinating science explaining their outstanding beauty.

Sea level change is something that probably everyone who does their best to keep up to date about climate change, thinks they know about and on which they will have an opinion. However, this guide clearly shows that there are important misconceptions about the topic, and recent newspaper articles, TV and radio presentations unfortunately tend to bear little relation to reality.

I like fossils, but it is always nice to have a brief but informative guide to the actual science behind one’s finds. And this Dunedin guide certainly fits the bill for amateurs and undergraduates alike.

In recent years, Graham Park has been prolific in his writing for Dunedin Academic Press. In this new tome, he has produced what I suspect is a really great introduction to a range of key concepts and geological processes for both undergraduates and the interested, moderately well-informed amateur.