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April 2010

Applied Geophysics in Periglacial Environments

Hauck, C and Kneisel, C (eds)
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 2008
ISBN: 978-0-521-88966-7 (hbk)
List price: £70.00
240 pp

Hauck et alThe book is divided into two parts, the first dealing with four specific types of geophysical method (electrical, electromagnetic, refraction seismic and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)). The second part comprises 12 overly brief case-histories, illustrating the use of the methods outlined in Part 1. The book concludes with an appendix listing geophysical parameters and comments on the use of the various geophysical methods in periglacial environments.

Of the textbook-style first four chapters, three conclude with a checklist aimed at helping with fieldwork planning. However, for the target readership the advice is superfluous and in places patronisingly basic – e.g. “save your data”. The principles of each method are covered more comprehensively and better in existing textbooks. However, the chapter on electrical methods very usefully describes aspects of the inversion of tomography data using the widely-available software package RES2DINV with specific reference to periglacial materials. The EM and seismic refraction chapters are far too brief to be of much help even at a basic level and are not supported by many of the case histories in Part 2.

Three of the 12 case histories cover GPR applications marginal to periglacial environments, with two being on glacial investigations and the third on frazil ice within rivers. While individually interesting, these three chapters are extraneous to the geographical focus of the book. The remaining case histories, although brief, are useful to the intended readership.

The book is well produced with clear illustrations including eight pages of colour plates. The references cited are strongly biased towards the work of the contributing authors and therefore lack the balance of a broader review of much more widely available literature. According to the preface, the book is intended as a reference guide for the application of geophysical techniques in mountainous and polar terrain, and as a handbook for planning and conducting field surveys. It is aimed at graduate and postgraduate students and researchers intent on using geophysical methods for the investigation of periglacial regions.

The limited space available could have been better used to concentrate on the applications to periglacial environments rather than trying to cover material that is available elsewhere. The book is likely to appeal to researchers serious about using geophysical techniques in periglacial environments, but they should also refer to more mainstream geophysics textbooks and field manuals. The scope of the content and price are likely to discourage other potential readers from buying the book.

John M. Reynolds

Heaven and Earth. Global warming: the missing science

Ian Plimer
Published by: Quartet Books Limited, London
Publication date: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7043-7166-8
List price: £25.00
504 pp

PlimerIn the opening paragraph of this controversial book, Ian Plimer makes his case that geology should be at the heart of discussions on the climate; what has happened in the past can teach us about the present. Plimer, himself a geologist and an Honorary Fellow of this Society, feels that few scientists are as well equipped as we are to take the necessarily broad, integrated view of the problem of climate change - except he does not see it as a problem, since he believes that in geological and historical times warmth tended to equate with a “bountiful” Earth.

He is uncomplimentary about the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and lambasts the narrowness of its science, its lack of rigour and errors, as well as the Panel’s reliance on computer modelling - omitting even to model clouds, which he says have a massive effect on climate. (The book was written before the recent controversies surrounding the IPCC.) The well-known IPCC ‘hockey-stick’ graph of Mann and others, purporting to show the 20th Century warming as unique, comes under particularly detailed attack.

Plimer accepts the evidence for 20th Century global warming although, as every geologist knows, Earth has warmed many times in the historical and geological past; and it cooled from about 1940 to 1976, and, according to Plimer, has again since 1998, notwithstanding the continued rise in CO2.

He devotes chapters to the Sun, Earth, ice, water and the atmosphere, and his arguments are dense and detailed, supported by no fewer than 2300 footnote references. His theme throughout is that climate systems are far too complex to be modelled by computers, and that the effect of anthropogenic CO2 is small compared with, for example, variations in solar and cosmic activity. CO2 undeniably absorbs infra-red energy, but water vapour has a far greater effect. Moreover, most of the absorption by CO2 is achieved by quantities up to about 200 ppmv; above that the ‘law of diminishing returns’ comes into play. In former geological times (particularly the Early Palaeozoic and Mesozoic) CO2 levels were many times their present level (385 ppmv) and yet there was no runaway greenhouse or ‘tipping point’ as alarmists warn.

There is much to ponder in this encyclopaedic tour de force, but even apart from the obvious (climate change adherents have already attacked it vociferously) it is not without irritations. For example, Plimer employs dozens of graphs to make his points, but annoyingly some plot time from left to right and others from right to left. Worryingly, from the unsupported assertions it contains, and contradictory statements it makes, one gets the impression the book was written in a hurry.

Nevertheless it is an important book, written in what the author perhaps sees as a repeat of his earlier campaign against Christian fundamentalist “Young Earth” creationism in Australia. In Plimer’s words: ‘Global warming has become the secular religion of today’. If this book encourages scientists to exercise their natural scepticism, it will have achieved its purpose. Plimer has little time for the ‘But there’s a consensus…..’ argument, mindful of the consensus of experts who steered the world economy into its present problems. Science does not progress by consensus, he points out, but through free-thinking.

Michael F Ridd