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Two recent popular Earth science-related books

Cosmogenic Nuclides

DunaiThe development of powerful accelerator mass spectrometers (AMS) about 25 years ago was an important event that had a profound influence on a range of research issues in the geosciences. For the first time, technology allowed the use of cosmogenic nuclides to allow the direct dating of surfaces and boulders in a range of geomorphic environments. This small, nearly lab-coat-pocket sized book provides a well structured and no-nonsense approach to background concepts, principles and applications.

Developing upon training workshops sponsored by CRONUS-EU and CRONUS-Earth, the book is divided into four sections with the first two providing succinct reviews of the background physics of cosmic ray flux and resultant nuclides. Much of this is factual and presented as a manual on the different ‘useful’ nuclides with specific sections covering: definitions, inheritance, production pathways, retentivity and applications. The final part in the second section deals with sample preparation.

The third section is directed to production rates and scaling factors and is probably the most important part of the book. This is a key area of continuing research discussion because the resultant exposure ages and erosion rates are only as good as the accuracy of the production rates, which are known to change with elevation and latitude. The final part of the book is directed to the different applications of cosmogenic nuclides in geomorphology (“Earth surface science”, as it is termed here).

What is remarkable is the wide range of geomorphic research that has benefited from cosmogenic nuclides, and this has precluded a wide-ranging review of the literature. Rather the author has chosen a number of studies to demonstrate the present use and potential development of cosmogenic nuclides within research directed to many aspects of understanding the evolution of land surfaces. At the end of the book, two appendices are included giving protocols for sample collection and site reporting that fit nicely within the manual-style format of the text.

This book (or rather, manual) is a valuable addition to the literature, presenting a contemporary research statement on a rapidly developing scientific field. As such it will probably need revision as the two major international research programmes of CRONUS-EU and CRONUS-Earth present their findings and methodological improvements. However, the book is relatively cheap, and is topical with a comprehensive up-to-date reference list that makes it required reading within this field.

Reviewed by: Wishart A Mitchell, Department of Geography, Durham University

COSMOGENIC NUCLIDES TIMOR J DUNAI Published by: Cambridge University Press Publication: 2010 ISBN: 978-0-521-87380-2 Lst price: £35.00 187pp

The Forgotten Explorers: pioneer geologists of Western Australia,1826-1926

Glover/BevanThis unusual book will appeal especially to members of the History of Geology Group. Western Australia is one third of the size of the USA and covers one third of Australia. In the early days after British settlement the population numbered about 5000!

The first attempts by French explorer Baudin, and afterwards by the early British settlers at King George Sound (now Albany) and Swan River in 1836, were extremely courageous in reporting and sampling geology. This book tells the story of men travelling on foot or by horse and camel, working with meagre equipment and wearing quite unsuitable dress, in temperatures above 100°F and never sure of water supplies. They include Governors, farmers, surveyors, prospectors and men with limited geological training: the establishment of a proper Geological Survey was delayed and intermittent, due to a preference for prospectors, who did great work but were restricted to on-the-surface mineral finds. The Survey was brought together as an efficient organisation by the remarkable Andrew Gibb Maitland, who led it from 1895 to 1926.

This book describes this remarkable cast of characters, many of unusual origins, eccentric and some difficult to get on with, possessed with strong and often incorrect beliefs about the mineral potential of the State. There was great respect for Murchison, who pontificated about Western Australia’s potential for minerals without ever going there! Some prescient opinions were ignored.

My favourite tale is that of Robert Austin’s 1854 expedition to find pastoral country and minerals, in which one man accidentally shot himself dead and 85% of the horses died by eating poisonous vegetation. Water dried up, yet Austin led them back through unbearable heat to the last visited water hole, 40 miles away (finding it almost dry), and then on to lead mines near Northampton. Gibson, who gave his name to the desert, lost his wits and was never seen again. Lasseter was lost, and there were many vain searches for his fabulous gold lode, probably a chimera.

Patrick Brophy’s camel went 600 miles without water. Then there was ‘Major Patrick Pelly’, whose strange bald visage hung on the walls in the staff room at the Geological Department at the University when I worked there. ‘Pelly’ served diligently for years, getting the records straight, but was actually an ex-convict called Pearson, a Queensland bushranger nicknamed ‘Captain Starlight’ who stole another convict’s identity while in prison. He died by drinking cyanide instead of his medicine.

Jenny Bevan has collected an absolute treasure trove of old pictures, diagrams and documents, such that there are 140 illustrations enriching the text. This is a unique, splendid book.

Reviewed by: Joe McCall

THE FORGOTTEN EXPLORERS: PIONEER GEOLOGISTS OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA,1826-1926 JOHN GLOVER WITH JENNY BEVAN. Published by: Hesperian Press* * PO Box 317, Victoria Park 6979 and 65 Oats Street, Carlisle 6101, Western Australia. (Payment by credit +61 8 9361 2333) Publication: 2010 ISBN: 978-0-85905-473-7 List price: A$36.50 231pp.